21 January 2020
Pixel 4 features a new technology that allows the phone to recognize the owner's face and sense their motion. Photo: Google
Pixel 4 features a new technology that allows the phone to recognize the owner's face and sense their motion. Photo: Google

Google may leapfrog rivals with innovative sensor

Smartphone fans are awaiting the latest offerings from Apple, Samsung Electronics and Huawei Technologies, which will come out in the next two months, but they may also have to consider what Google has to offer.

Google on Tuesday uploaded a video, “(Don’t) hold the phone”, to show off the latest features of its upcoming Pixel 4 phone. The 22-second teaser shows a girl who uses her face to unlock the phone and with the swinging motion of her hand is able to play a song.

That’s cool, many youngsters are likely to say. The Face ID feature is not really new. Apple introduced it two years ago to replace touch ID fingerprint authentication. But the use of motion to operate a mobile device is new: it reminds us of Tom Cruise’s motion-driven hologram computer in Minority Report.

Google said the two new features are made possible by Pixel 4′s new sensor called Soli, which is a motion-sensing radar developed by the Google Advanced Technology and Projects team.

A mini version of the radar on Pixel 4 senses tiny motions around the phone and allows the advanced hardware sensor to work with software algorithms. The phone, thus, is able to recognize gestures and detect if the user is nearby.

The Soli Motion Sense is likely to be the headline feature of Pixel 4. It will allow users to play and skip songs, snooze an alarm, and mute a phone call just by waving their hand. The feature will be available in select Pixel models and countries, although Google has not provided details.

Google said it has enhanced the facial recognition technology on its smartphone to make it easier and faster to use and a lot more secure.

Those using the iPhone X or iPhone XS must lift the device, pose in front of the screen and wait for the screen to unlock. Pixel 4 does all that in a much more streamlined way. As the user reaches for the phone, Soli automatically turns on the face recognition sensor and unlocks the phone.

The face unlock feature can work in almost any orientation even when the phone is held upside down. The sensor can also be used for payments and app authentication.

To protect the user’s privacy and guard against hackers, Google said, the processing by the facial recognition technology is done on the device, which means that the image data cannot be moved outside the phone. Also, it could not be saved on or shared with other Google services. That’s because the user’s face data is securely stored in Pixel 4′s Titan M security chip.

Over the past few years, Google has been outpacing other smartphone makers in terms of innovation, although its Pixel smartphone series is not available globally like its rivals. One major draw of the Pixel series is its camera feature. It introduced the Visual Core chip in the Pixel 2 series and Pixel 3, which greatly enhanced the quality of the pictures taken by its phone cameras.

Pixel Visual Core is Google’s first custom-designed co-processor for consumer products. The chip will enable third-party applications to use Visual Core-powered camera for taking HDR+ quality pictures.

The introduction of its own chips for a range of features, including image processing and motion sensing, indicates that Google is determined to push the limits of its smartphone hardware. And a customized hardware solution better allows the company to tailor its products to its software capabilities.

Although Pixel may not be a top seller, compared with the latest Samsung and Apple models or the major Chinese brands, its potential to outperform its rivals is enormous.

Watch the Google Pixel 4 video “(Don’t) hold the phone” on YouTube:

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EJ Insight writer