Apple Inc. has been granted an official patent on a technology that uses facial recognition to unlock mobile phones.
Published by The U.S. Patent and Trade Office Tuesday, the patent document shows that Apple has been developing this iPhone feature since at least 2011.
"In an embodiment of the invention, an unlocked mobile device is configured to capture images, analyze the images to detect a user's face, and automatically lock the device in response to determining that a user's face does not appear in the images," reads the patent application.
The file goes on to describe the way this technology works.
Photos match, phone unlocks
Essentially, a user would bring the phone up to his or her face, at which point a sensor would trigger a processor to capture an image. That image would then be analyzed against an image of the user's face that was presumably taken when he or she set the feature up. If the faces in both photos match, the phone would automatically unlock.
Apple also notes that this technology could be used to identify additional authorized users, much like the biometric fingerprint scanner it unveiled in 2013 with the iPhone 5S.
As Recode's Dawn Chmielewski points out, Apple is not the first mobile phone producer to show interest in facial recognition technology.
Most contemporary Android phones already have a feature that automatically unlocks a phone upon recognizing an owner's face, though "Google warns this is less secure than, say, a password, since someone who looks like you also could unlock the phone," Chmielewski writes.
Apple's technology would also improve upon the existing Android feature in that users wouldn't have to activate their screens by pressing any buttons—instead, Apple tracks the phone's movements to see if a user is holding it up.
You can read the full, freshly-approved patent for "locking and unlocking a mobile device using facial recognition" right here.