Facial Recognition in iOS 10

One of the big delightful features in iOS 10 is the automatic tagging and organizing of photos into Faces and Memories. I’ve been giving these features a workout over the past few betas, and I think I’ve had enough time to at least talk about Faces in iOS 10 beta 3 (a.k.a. Public Beta 2).

The way that iOS starts to recognize faces is when the device is plugged in and on Wi-Fi — for most people this will mean while the device is charging on the bedside table as you sleep. This gives the device a solid few hours to cast its magic on your photos and start to group photos together into like faces.

You’ll find all of these faces in an album called Faces (surprise!). But this isn’t really like the albums you’re used to on your iPhone. Unlike other albums on iOS, the only way to add new content to Faces is to use its special menus to select and approve people that iOS has recognized for you.

There’s an “Add People” button that you tap on, which shows you a huge gallery of all the faces that iOS has been able to identify so far. This “Select People” process is pretty comprehensive, and I’m usually able to find yesterday’s photos have been recognized if the phone was on the charger overnight. If you’ve ever tagged Faces in the Photos app on OS X, you’ll find this process fairly familiar. The most-recognized faces will be grouped together and rise to the top. So if iOS 10 recognizes 10 similar pictures containing the same face, it will present them to you as a single tappable Face. The idea is to select a few of these grouped faces and then click “Add” in the bottom-right corner, which officially adds them to the Faces album.

I’ve Just Seen A Face

From there, you can decide to merge several faces together if they are all of the same person. Tapping on a face will enter an album view of that particular face, which allows you to name the person. A video will headline the album, and playing it will show you a random assortment of photos of that person, cut to music on iOS or from your personal music library (assuming you have any DRM-free music to use). These little videos are actually quite a lot of fun, especially once you realize you can save them as Memories and then edit them. It’s cute to see what iOS 10 chooses as your favourite moments, but it’s more fun to really be able to tailor the pictures to include your best / most embarrassing moments with friends.

Another thing that you can only do within this face-specific album is reject pictures. iOS 10 is pretty good at grouping like faces together, but in the cases it doesn’t get it right, you can tap on the Select button in the top-right corner and then choose the “Not This Person” action from the Share menu. That will remove the picture and delete any of its associations with that person.

Faces Don’t Sync…So Far

I really love organizing my personal data, so having Faces tagging make its way to iOS 10 is really exciting for me. The big caveat is that, for privacy reasons, the feature is still device-specific. That means that my iPhone 6S Plus will do its own facial recognition processes that are completely separate from the ones on my iPad Pro on iOS 10. You can spend hours upon hours going through the Faces on just a single device, and it’s too bad that the feature isn’t working yet.

As for when it will work, the jury is still out. This Reddit thread points out that Apple’s release notes only discuss that this features doesn’t work in beta 3 yet, but there’s also another mention later on in the release notes that says this feature will not be included in iOS 10.

So as of right now, I’m not sure how much work I want to put into this feature. I’m only tagging faces on my iPhone 6S Plus right now so that I don’t have to redo the work on my Mac or iPad. I’m still really happy to see this feature here, but I think for it to become truly useful in the context of iCloud Photo Library, iOS 10 will need to sync tagged faces across all of my devices.

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