Interview

Phil Schiller: 'Face ID data isn't shared with third party developers'

8 december 2017 12:14

In this exclusive interview with Bright.nl Apple executive Phil Schiller talks about Face ID, augmented reality and smart homes.

It has been a big year for Apple. The highlight was the introduction of the iPhone X, the ten year anniversary phone that said goodbye to the iconic Home button and is Apple's template for smartphones for the next decade. But does the entire industry agree that this is a revolutional device, like it did with the original iPhone, or is this just Apple’s point of view?

A person who might hold the answers is Phil Schiller, Apple's senior vice president of Worldwide Marketing. Schiller has been an Apple board member for the past fifteen years, and he's therefore one of the most powerful men of the world’s most powerful company. He is also known as one of the spokesmen during Apple product keynotes, during which he often speaks about the tech specs of new devices. He might be responsible for Apple's marketing, but Schiller’s is a techie through and through.

It was Schiller who claimed the iPhone X was 'the smartphone dictating the next ten years ' during its presentation at the new Apple Park in Cupertino. Does that apply to the entire sector or just Apple? Schiller answers cautiously: "Oh, I’m thinking only of us. If we pick the right things and they work as expected, they end up influencing the whole sector. Because when we do things really good, others like to copy us", he chuckles.

FACE ID: "Third parties don't have access to Face ID-data"

Schiller points out a couple of features to measure ​how much of a leader in the smartphone industry the iPhone is, according to Apple. The first one is Face ID, the new security technology that enables users to unlock the iPhone X with their face. "Ultimately what we are doing there is making privacy security even easier to do so that we all want to do it", says Schiller. According to Apple, Face ID is much safer than its predecessor Touch ID, that unlocks iPhones with a fingerprint. Schiller has a quick answer to the commentary that other smartphone makers had a face or iris recognition before Apple did: "They all stink."

He nuances: "They don’t work in all the ways we need Face ID to work. We're very aware that through the years this simple thing, the Home button, that started as the way you click to get to the Home screen, grew into doing so many things for us. We added Touch ID, it took you to the multitasking screen, paged Siri, activated Apple Pay. All through this one mechanical button. So for Face ID we needed the best way we know of to enable us to easily unlock our device with our face, in a protected way with the Secure Enclave, and support all these other things. We had to solve all of that. Other things that people have tried with face haven’t been anything like that. Face ID is a very unique implementation."

Apple has the reputation of caring more about privacy than other tech giants like Google or Facebook. The news that data from the TrueDepth-camera that's used for Face ID is being shared with third party developers, was met with concern. Schiller takes his time for this question. "What data is being used? Where is it going? Who has access to it? What rights do I have? Those are questions as a society we should all be asking. We care deeply about this at Apple. We ask those questions all the time."

Regarding Face ID: "I think we’ve worked really hard to maintain the trust we have with users about how this information technology is and isn’t used. First of all, no Face ID data goes to third parties. So what you enroll with Face ID, what you use to unlock your phone, that's an algorithm that is created and encrypted by the Secure Enclave. No third party that uses the iPhone camera has your Face ID data. We did create an API so developers can use the cameras to track facial movements, to do things like wrap stickers on your face (like Snapchat, ed.) That’s different than Face ID. They don’t have all the access to the data that Face ID has for that.

Schiller stresses the separate guidelines and strict policies developers have to adhere in order to get acces to that facial data. "We thought ahead to the same concerns you raised. For example, developers must be clear in their user privacy policies that they are using face data and what they are doing with that. So that you know. You have a choice to make whether you want to do that or not. You are in control. And also, every application that want to use face data must go through a special level of app review. We look at them specifically to understand what they are using the data for and does the user understand that. So uphold developer to do the right job for customers and ultimately let the customer decide."

Schiller is careful to answer whether a single notification window that asks a user permission for their facial data is enough. "We will see. We think it is. Users need to understand that the camera is the way how their face information is being used and that they have control of that. And that they can turn that off, that feature, at any time. If it isn’t enough we will apply stricter guidelines and policies. We try to be vigilant on this stuff."

AUGMENTED REALITY: "A giant mainstream market"

Back to the future. Apple is betting big on augmented reality. Will AR reach the big audience where VR is still struggling? Schiller looks far ahead. "With AR and VR, we spent a long time studying these technologies and how they will ultimately benefit users. They will both exist in the future. It’s not either or. We found VR to be a great solution for​ specific use cases and mostly right now for people who are creating VR content. It’s not a big end user market yet but the content creators are working on it. We think it’s important they will be able to do so on a Mac. Our first step is to create VR extension on macOS."

When Schiller starts about AR though, he takes it up a notch. "AR on the other hand is technology that has incredible broad mainstream applications and can have the potential to change almost every major software category that exists. Because here you’re bringing digital information into the real world around us. It’s a perfect application for a device like the iPhone that has the performance, the camera's and all the technology you need to do great AR and it’s with you out in the world. We have figured out that we needed to somehow light up the ability to do AR on hundreds of millions of iPhone and iPads. Our first step there of course was ARkit. With ARkit we’re creating a software foundation to make it easy for any developer to build AR into their apps. By doing this we’re enabling millions and millions of developers to experiment and test and discover collectively with all of us all the many uses of AR."

SMART HOME: "We need more time"

Apple's only truly new product this year is the HomePod. The smart speaker was announced this summer by Phil Schiller at Apple's annual developer conference WWDC in San Jose. It would go for sale this month in the US, the UK and Australia, but Apple's had to delay it until early 2018. That doesn't happen to Apple often and it's painful. More so because many say Apple was already lagging behind Amazon with its Echo speakers with Alexa, and Google with Google Home.

"We feel bad we aren’t able to deliver Homepod for the holidays. We’re going to take the time to do it right and make sure it’s great when it comes out. We need more time to make it right." Schiller emphasises how important this new product category is for Apple. "Music sits deep in Apple’s DNA and is at the center of what Homepod is about. The reason Homepod is called that way is because it’s a little hommage to the iPod. It’s about great design of speakers, great intelligence on how you can place it and get the best music quality out of it, it’s about Siri being even more knowledgeable about music so you can ask it even richer questions about styles and artists, it is deeply connected with Apple Music. As for the way it gets the music for you, it doesn’t use Bluetooth to your speaker from your iPhone or your computer, it get the music straight from the music library in the cloud. So when you talk to Homepod, it gets the music from the cloud service with a huge library and all of your playlists. You can literally just say to Homepod: play something I like."

That sounds like a smart speaker, but not as the linchpin of the smart home many had hoped for."Homepod is first and foremost a great music experience. It is also deeply integrated with Homekit. It isn’t either or. They’re equally important. It has a built-in home hub so if you have a Homepod you can now access all your Homekit equipment and stuff from outside the home because of Homepod. It plays the same role as Apple TV. It integrates with Siri to control all of your devices in your home. Our vision is you can just walk into a room, the Homepod will be there and you can just say turn on the lights, close the curtains and whatever you like to do and it will do that. It has a very important role to the smart home in the future for Apple."

THINK DIFFERENT: "Be bold"

Phil Schiller had worked for six years at Apple before, but returned in 1997 when Apple-founder Steve Jobs came back and radically changed the course of the company. Apple was almost broke, their product range had lost its way and the trust of its customers had hit rock bottom. Jobs had to give a strong, clear signal. That became the Think Different campaign, which reminded both customers and employees what Apple stands for.

The company got its mojo back, introduced iconic products like the iMac, iPod and iPhone, lost its spiritual leader Jobs and might become the first company in history with a market value of over a trillion dollars. Does the motto Think Different need an update after twenty years? "It had a lot of meaning for us all. The idea of Think Different is as important and true today as it was twenty years ago for Apple. The situation is different but the importance is the same. People were really wondering why Apple should exist. It is why Apple needed to work hard and get back into the game and survive and earn our customer’s trust in business. It was about innovation, it was about design, it was about taking responsibility for the whole user experience to create great hardware and software that worked together again. That was what Think Different was about."

Schiller calls AirPods exemplary for the company's philosophy. "So many customers call it their favorite Apple product of all time. It’s such a simple focused product. And they do such a simple thing, like you can take them out of your ear and the music automatically pauses. You can put them back in and the music starts again. But to make that possible, took an incredible amount of technology. They’re really two separate computers that you put in your ear. That’s quintessential Apple. We tapped into an eternal truth for Apple. It's about as core to the DNA of Apple as you can get. Think Different should stay very close to true for a long time."