Here’s Why Apple’s Face ID Has a Two-Year Advantage Over Android Alternatives

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Apple’s Face ID face-scanning feature in the iPhone X won’t have a real competitor until next year, a new report says.

A combination of Apple’s control over the supply chain and a shortage of parts means Android-based smartphone makers, like Samsung, LG, and Google, might need to wait until 2019 to deliver a true Face ID competitor, Reuters is reporting after discussing the matter with parts suppliers. Those Android smartphone makers need to source vertical-cavity surface-emitting lasers, or VCSELs, to get a true 3D face scanner to work. But Apple’s early sourcing of them and manufacturing “bottlenecks” mean they might have trouble until next year.

Apple unveiled its Face ID face scanner in the iPhone X last year. The feature uses components, including lasers and sensors, on the front of the iPhone X to create a 3D scan of a person’s face. It then matches that information to facial data saved on the iPhone to determine whether the authorized owner is trying to access the handset’s operating system or verify purchases on Apple Pay. If it checks out, the user is allowed to move forward. If not, the iPhone X remains locked.

Other smartphone makers, including Samsung, offer face scanners in their devices. However, those face scanners are only capable of developing 2D scans, which makes them less accurate and not as secure as Apple’s Face ID. In the Galaxy S9 and Galaxy S9+ Samsung released last week, the company is offering a feature called Intelligent Scan that scans both a person’s face and irises. However, the facial component is still a 2D scan and therefore less secure than Face ID.

In an interview with Reuters, Bill Ong at Viavi, a supplier of a critical component that goes into the 3D-sensing components, said that his company should be able to start producing some units for Android manufacturers by the end of this year. Mass production on the components won’t begin until 2019, however, so most popular device makers, like Samsung, will need to wait.

Apple, meanwhile, isn’t letting up. The company took a first-mover advantage last yearby investing in facial scanners and continues to place orders for more units. It’s also reportedly planning at least two iPhone models this year that will use Face ID. Those orders mean Apple is getting the lion’s share of the components need to offer 3D scanners. In order for component makers to catch up to Android customer demand, they’ll need to expand capacity—and that isn’t expected to happen until next year.