A recently filed patent application suggests that future iOS devices and MacBooks might be able to recognize their owner, and respond accordingly. Though many Apple patents amount to nothing, this new patent (which builds upon two previous applications) describes a kind of facial recognition that sounds workable, useful and altogether possible.

The patent application (depicted above) came to our attention via Patently Apple. According to the website:

On December 29, 2011, the US Patent & Trademark Office published a patent application from Apple that reveals one of the next chapters for device security. In 2009, Apple’s presence detection patent first came to light in relation to future MacBooks. Then in November of this year, Apple revealed a heavy duty 3D face and object recognition system that could be used for home and enterprise security applications. In today’s revelations, Apple introduces us to a more down to earth and practical security system for our portable devices. For simple home or personal use, the system could be setup to recognize your presence and face to quickly turn on your device. This would bypass the need for entering a password or even having to touch the home button to get to your homepage. For use at work, the facial recognition system could be set to higher levels of security. All in all it sounds like a very promising security system is in our future.

Already, Google has dabbled with this kind of technology and has included a facial recognition unlock in Android 4.0 (Ice Cream Sandwich). However, as PCMag notes, a still image of the handset’s owner can unlock the Android-powered smart phone, and legitimate attempts to unlock via facial recognition don’t always work.

However, Apple’s facial recognition software would work quite differently, Patently Apple explains:

Particular implementations of the subject matter described in this specification could be configured to realize one or more of the following potential advantages. The techniques and systems disclosed in this specification could reduce the impact of lighting and emphasize skin variance. By acquiring images with the appliance’s own image capture device, the approximate location and orientation of face features could be pre-assumed and could avoid the overhead of other face recognition systems. The disclosed methods could ignore face biometrics, and rather use feature locations to normalize an image of a test face. Further, the face recognition techniques are based on a simple, weighted difference map, rather than traditional (and computationally expensive) correlation matching.

This would be great with a Siri-powered iPad – just imagine: the tablet, if shared between family members, could recognize who is using it and adjust settings (and greet that person) accordingly.

We’ll keep you posted on the status of this patent and will let you know if more news becomes available. In the meantime, feel free to share your thoughts in the comments.