Apple is two years ahead in the 3D face sensing race

Remigio Civitarese
Marzo 20, 2018

Seems like iPhone X's Face ID technology, which uses 3D sensing parts will remain unparalleled for at least two years, as after talks with components suppliers, Reuters has reached the conclusion that due to supply bottleneck, Android device makers will have to wait a significant period.

The development of new features for the estimated 1.5 billion smart phones shipped annually has been at the heart of the battle for global market share over the past decade, with Apple, bolstered by its huge R&D budget, often leading.

The 3D sensing technology is expected to enhance the next generation of phones, enabling accurate facial recognition as well as secure biometrics for payments, gesture sensing, and immersive shopping and gaming experiences.

Based on what Finisar, Viavi Solutions, and Ams AG have said, current production levels aren't adequate to supply these parts to Android phone manufacturers. With many VCSEL suppliers working to ramp up their production in 2019, one of the suppliers expect a second smartphone maker to introduce their own 3D sensing tech by the end of this year. Viavi, which makes optical filters needed to make 3D sensing systems, thinks that supply is quite limited right now.

Bill Ong, senior director of investor relations of Viavi said that Android producers will have to cross a lengthy hurdle before securing capacity in the supply chain. "In 2019 you clearly will see at least two or more android-based phones", he added. He didn't reveal any potential brand that can come up with a phone packing 3D face recognition before others.

Apple, Samsung, Xiaomi, and Huawei declined to comment on this. Apple signed a whopping $390 million deal with Finisar for VCSEL modules in December and will be the first in line to receive this component. Another is Apple's discussions with major cobalt producers to nail down supplies for lithium-ion rechargeable batteries that power its mobile phones. When it comes to new technologies like this and implementing them to new phones, it's one of the ways that Apple can really be aggressive, differentiate and take advantage of the position they have in the market.

The two-year lead is a big deal because Apple will have a substantial leg up over the competition for the rest of this year.

"Each customer has their own adoption timeline and rollout plan, which we can't discuss, but we expect the market opportunity for VCSEL technology to increase substantially in 2019", he says.

"As part of a combined external and internal VCSEL supply chain where an external volume production supply chain is available to us, we are now building internal VCSEL production capacity in Singapore", Moritz Gmeiner, head of investor relations for AMS, told Reuters.

Other VCSEL suppliers are emerging, but the industry consensus is that only small volumes will be available to other smartphone companies this year, with mass supply not available until 2019.

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