9to5Google can report today that Google’s original plan was to release the Pixel 6 Pro with face unlock, but the feature was pulled relatively close to launch.
According to sources familiar with the matter, Google intended to announce the Pixel 6 Pro with support for face unlock to complement the under-display fingerprint sensor. The capability was only intended for the larger flagship and not the smaller Pixel 6, which helps with something we previously speculated based on code.
The hardware difference between the two phones is an 11.1 MP front-facing camera with an “ultra-wide” 94-degree field of view on the 6 Pro compared to 8 MP and 84 degrees on the $599 Pixel 6. Otherwise, there’s no dedicated hardware (IR cameras, dot projector, or flood illuminator) as seen on the Pixel 4 in 2019. There’s also nothing like Soli Radar to speed up the unlock process.
Face unlock with Soli technology on Pixel 4
Presumably Google relies solely on what that selfie camera captures to authenticate that it’s you. This has always seemed like the most Google-y approach, using mostly software to tackle tough problems. It was also something that the Galaxy Nexus with Android Ice Cream Sandwich took advantage of.
It is to be expected that there have been notable advances in processing and accuracy in the last 11 years, especially with the presence of dedicated hardware like Tensor. For example, Google touts its chip as enabling faster and more accurate face detection, in photographic contexts, due to integrated subsystems, while consuming half the power compared to a Pixel 5.
The relatively last-minute decision to retire face unlock is reflected in how early and launch-day marketing material referenced the ability. This included a print ad in German (albeit erroneously claiming it was for the entry-level Pixel 6) and a launch page from a UK carrier that showed “Face and Fingerprint Unlock” on a live image from the Customer Service Center. Android 12 security. That reference, as well as one in a screenshot of the Play Store listing, was later removed. Since then, there have been additional stray references to the capability of actual Pixel 6 Pro devices.
One of the sources told us that Google is still working on adding face unlock to the Pixel 6 Pro, and that it’s targeted for the next major quarterly Android update, though plans may yet change.
If that’s still the plan, it’s pretty interesting that Google is updating the Pixel 6 Pro with a major new feature so close to the end of its annual product cycle. It will definitely be a welcome addition for current owners and those who continue to have questions about the fingerprint reader. In the meantime, this face unlock method will presumably be a staple on future Pixel devices in the future.
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