Face Unlock Is Coming To Chromebooks, Maybe Sooner Than You Think

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A recent change to the Chromium Gerrit has kicked off speculation that Google may be preparing facial recognition-based unlocking features for Chrome OS starting with the launch of its Pixelbook 2.

The change, spotted by Chrome Unboxed, doesn't necessarily have much to do with the Pixelbook 2 — tentatively codenamed Atlas in the Gerrit. Instead, it expands on facial recognition-related libraries already implemented in the code for Intel devices to include MediaTek chips, which should pave the way for other ARM-based chipsets moving forward. Specifically, it adds a node explicitly for "Face Detection."

That small change, coupled with recently reported 'confirmation' that Google's next-generation Pixel smartphone will ship with advanced face unlocking features, seems to suggest that the search giant is eager to keep Chrome OS caught up with Android.

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Doing away with passwords

Other indicators that Google might be looking to implement face unlocking can be surmised from not only Google's addition of a fingerprint scanner to the Pixel Slate — although there's no guarantee the Pixelbook 2 will ship a built-in sensor for that. The company has also already been pushing to replace passwords with biometrics across all of its platforms and in multiple ways for quite some time.

Among recent endeavors in that direction, Googlers have added the ability to use smartphones as physical hardware keys in Chrome OS and pushed hard to implement aspects of FIDO2 and WebAuthn in Chrome. Those standards are applicable to Android devices too, as of February and as long as they're running version Android 7.0 or newer.

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Each of those steps pushes passwords closer to obsolescence and Google almost certainly isn't done on that front yet. The company's ultimate goal seems to be to bring biometrics-enhanced security solutions to bear instead, and face unlocking falls squarely into that category.

The chief caveat to that will be found in how secure (or not) that is in any given Chromebook when this finally does begin rolling out.

That's because how advanced the unlocking is or isn't will come down to the hardware in use. If Google plans to introduce the feature alongside its new Pixelbook, with consideration for its planned unlocking on the Pixel 4 smartphone, it will almost certainly introduce new camera hardware to improve the feature.

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That could mean that other devices will be comparatively insecure since they'll be using older hardware that is primarily comprised solely of webcam technology — as opposed to special hardware made to take accurate 3D scans and depth measurements.

The proposed expectation is that face unlocking will supplement logins, letting users log back in with their face after entering their password once during startup.

What else might Pixelbook 2 bring to the table

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Assuming 'Atlas' actually refers to Google's Pixelbook version 2.0, users probably shouldn't expect massive improvements when it does launch. Details uncovered so far and benchmarks presumably leaking the device's internal specs indicate that the device won't be much more powerful than the Google Pixel Slate Chrome OS tablet.

In fact, the specs that are hinted at so far seem to suggest the two gadgets will be almost identical.

With regard to models that have shown up outside of the Chromium Gerrit code repository for Chrome, indicating that the device will ship with at least two options for processors. Those include an Intel Core i5-8200Y model and an Intel Core i7-8500Y model. Both of those are dual-core, four-thread chips and are the same as those found in the premium Pixel Slate devices.

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While those are also still clocked at the standard 3.9GHz and 4.2GHz found in their tablet counterparts, they will be coupled with 16GB of RAM, or at least with that as an option. So there is at least some improvement.

Information about the camera hardware that should be expected and other aspects remain mostly a mystery. Rumors and various commits have pointed to better adaptive screen brightness and audio tuning as well as up to a 4k display but those details could ultimately mean nothing since those apply to the test environment rather than something that's necessarily being built.