The technology could be implemented in a future generation of iPhones.

The technology could be implemented on phones, PCs or even ATMs

Apple has been awarded a patent for a system that uses a phone owner’s face to unlock and control their device.

The patent describes a “personal computing device control using face detection and recognition” which could apparently be implemented in a number of devices, including mobile phones, personal computers and even ATMs.

There are three processes described in the patent that would work together: a face detection app to locate the user’s face, a facial recognition system that pairs the user’s face to a pre-existing facial image, and also an input/output control system that allows the device to carry out a number of functions.

One possible practical application is outlined in the patent. It involves the ‘passive’ user, who uses the device without physically interacting with it (while watching a video, for example). The author of the patent notes that, in the case of the video-watcher, a screensaver could interrupt viewing unless the device is actively interacted with. With the facial recognition system, the device would constantly be aware of the viewer, and would know not to turn on the screensaver.

Another practical application has been outlined by Apple Insider. During an incoming phone call, the device might be able to sense that somebody is looking at the phone. If that person is authorised, then all the usual information, such as caller ID, would be displayed on the screen. If an unauthorised user is detected, then the screen could remain blank, with only the ringtone sounding.

Many have made a connection between this patent and Apple’s recent acquisition of PrimeSense, the Israeli-based motion tech specialists behind Microsoft’s original Kinect. The purchase itself has already led to a fair amount of speculation on Apple’s future direction, and now, with this patent, that speculation is set to continue.