Apple Face ID: How It Drives the Commercialization of ToF and the Prosperity of the 3D Sensing Industry Technology

In recent years, with Apple’s extensive adoption of ToF (Time of Flight) laser radar technology developed by Sony in its iPhone and iPad series, 3D sensing has once again become a focus. Apple’s Face ID facial recognition system officially introduced ToF technology into the field of smartphones. Face ID leverages the strengths of both ToF and structured light (SL) technologies, not only enhancing identification performance, but also boosting system reliability.

   In fact, the origins of 3D sensing technology can be traced back to Microsoft's 2010 Kinect gaming machine. After Apple released Face ID in 2017, Android phone manufacturers followed suit. Many Chinese phone brands have also launched ToF 3D facial recognition. As the technology gradually matures in the smartphone market, its applications in automotive, robotics and other fields are also growing rapidly.

Advantages of ToF Technology

Compared to SL, ToF is expected to have advantages in cost and integration, making it more likely to achieve mass market popularity. STMicroelectronics’ ToF components use single photon avalanche diodes, allowing wide application. The ToF method also has the potential to take greater market share over SL.

   The Apple Face ID system leverages core components including VCSEL lasers and ToF receivers to achieve good recognition performance. Apple's move has also driven rapid development of ToF components.

    Looking ahead, more manufacturers are expected to install ToF 3D cameras in their flagship models. As the technology continues to mature, the 3D sensing market will continue to expand. However, technologies like ultrasonic and millimeter wave radar will also pose competition to it.

Commercialization of ToF Technology Promotes Industry Chain Development

       The commercialization of ToF relies on the collective efforts of upstream and downstream partners across the industry chain. On the sensor side, Sony and other players' SPAD sensor component technologies are becoming more mature. VCSEL lasers have also seen rapid development, with Chinese manufacturers actively targeting this space. Optical focusing structure design and manufacturing is another key field.

  On the vendor side, companies like ST, Sony and Howa are actively targeting the ToF components market. AMS, TriLumina and others also play important roles across the supply chain. For system integration, Apple is a pioneer and promoter in applying ToF technology, while Android manufacturers are also accelerating their expansion.

   For LiDAR computing algorithms, Apple relies on in-house R&D, while Android vendors source from third-parties like Megvii. As commercial application of ToF expands to more scenarios, related algorithm development will also accelerate.

  In summary, driven by Apple, ToF and other 3D sensing technologies demonstrate huge market potential. With the gradual improvement of the industry ecosystem, ToF is expected to achieve large-scale application in smartphones and other terminals, which will also stimulate thriving growth across the industry chain.