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New Tech Gives Much-Needed Face to Apple in China

© AFP 2021 / JOHANNES EISELE A Chinese customer sets up her new iPhone 7 during the opening sale launch at an Apple store in Shanghai
A Chinese customer sets up her new iPhone 7 during the opening sale launch at an Apple store in Shanghai - Sputnik International
Some observers have been dismissive about Apple's forthcoming 10th anniversary iPhone, which is believed to enable face unlocking. But their scorn won't keep the new phone from heralding a new era of featuring face swiping in the world's largest Internet market.

The slide in Apple's shares since the US technology giant's first product launch event at the Steve Jobs Theater in mid-September seems to have taken the shine off the iPhone maker despite its announcement of three phone models simultaneously at the event. The embarrassment has been compounded by the chilly reception in China's market in particular for two of the three new iPhones — the iPhone 8/8Plus — that have already hit the shelves.

Nevertheless, the company that redefined the mobile phone industry with the first-generation iPhone 10 years ago is still expected to help set the pace for a new trend as its hotly anticipated all-new iPhone X, sporting face recognition capacity, will become available in November.

It might be especially the case in China where the massive number of tech-savvy users, the increasing sophistication of face recognition technology, and the government's push for world domination in artificial intelligence (AI) have the world's second-largest economy well-prepared for a leap into Face ID-powered tech prosperity.

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In fairness, the chase after the iPhone X is believed to have dampened demand for the iPhone 8, which has unimpressive options that don't include facial ID. Nonetheless, the iPhone X's high price tag and safety and privacy concerns over face recognition might scare off some users.

It is likely that Apple's new premium iPhone and a handful of new Chinese devices including some that have facial recognition functions will make face an indispensable element of the technology world. In late July, Gome Telecom Equipment unveiled its face recognition unlocking phone, the GOME S1. Two other Chinese phone vendors, Xiaomi and Vivo, have also recently taken the wraps off their answers to the iPhone X — the Mi Note 3 and the Vivo X20.

The availability of the iPhone X and its more affordable Chinese alternatives is undoubtedly a major step forward for the world's largest smartphone market, which has been showing signs of "upgrade fatigue" after years of explosive growth. Compared with fingerprint technology, the 3D facial recognition on the iPhone X is apparently much cooler and more riveting.

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For Chinese Internet users, who are on average much younger than their US counterparts (the average age is 28 versus 42 according to a white paper on China's Internet economy released in early September), to be cool makes a lot of sense. So the new feature, despite potential security risks, will be more warmly received in the Chinese market.

After all, the unfortunate situation of being forced to hand a Face ID unlocking phone over to a robber who can easily authenticate a payment isn't likely to happen to many people. In any case, the Face ID function on the iPhone X, for instance, can be temporarily disabled if the buttons on both sides of the gadget are gripped.

Other than the user savviness, it's also worth pointing out that many Chinese tech companies have earned a reputation for providing the technology backbone of facial recognition and other AI-powered technologies. Among them are not only Internet behemoths such as Baidu, Alibaba and Tencent, but startups like Face++, which is capable of detecting an unlimited number of faces. The growing strength in AI technology certainly lays the groundwork for features such as facial recognition and voice recognition to achieve mass popularity in China.

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The fast adoption of voice recognition cements the belief that facial recognition is less likely to fail. In a sign of the increasing maturity of voice recognition technology, Baofeng TV, the television arm of Beijing-based Internet company Baofeng Group Co, unveiled a newer version of its AI-powered TV in September, four months after its introduction of the first model. The machine enables voice-activated far-field human-machine interaction and phases out the use of remote control. The newer version can also identify multiple voices.

All these advances are being underpinned by the national plan to be the world leader in AI by 2030. It could be said that China, already a global champion in many areas including smartphones and mobile payments, will most likely turn out to be an early adopter of facial recognition technology and a leading power in a future driven by AI technology.

This article, written by Li Qiaoyi, was originally published in the Global Times.

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