How Apple’s iPhone X is using the old ‘happy Mac’ icon to make Face ID less creepy

How Apple’s iPhone X is using the old ‘happy Mac’ icon to make Face ID less creepy

 

Following Apple’s big day on Tuesday, some people seem to be pretty damn skeptical about the iPhone X and its next-level intrusive biometric Face ID system. 

From concerns about the police being able to arrest you and simply point the smartphone at your face to get your data, to the notion that thieves might use brutal measures to get you to point your face at the device’s True Depth Camera system, some people are worried. 

But despite Apple’s wistfully optimistic presentation, there’s strong evidence that the company knows exactly how creepy this all looks. That awareness is best embodied in the return of the warm and fuzzy icon of Apple’s past known as the “happy Mac,” which now appears, in a slightly modified form, in Face ID. 

As pre-event leaks revealed last week, a happy Mac style icon guides you through the process of registering your distinct mug with Face ID, first in a square. Then, after you’ve successfully registered, you’re greeted with the same happy Mac icon overlaying your face in a pleasantly benign circle.

It’s the one touch on the iPhone X that we can be certain Steve Jobs would have approved of. 

The system startup symbol, which was retired back in 2002 in Mac OS X Jaguar, still evokes memories of the well-meaning and scrappy startup Apple used to be. 

“I always aim to create icons that are meaningful and memorable,” Susan Kare, who designed the symbol, told me after confirming that she had no part in Face ID or the current iteration of her well-known icon. “So glad this face has been enduring, because I hope its appeal means that it evokes good feelings about the Mac heritage.” 

And it does. 

But with Apple now frequently listed as one of the most valuable companies on the planet, those upstart days—and the benefit of doubt they afforded Apple—are over. 

Apple is the beast. The Man. The institution. The … well, you get the point. Apple is now the Iron Bank of Braavos, so to speak, and we can stop pretending it still uses a rainbow logo or has any granola crumbs still clinging to its corporate hippie beard. 

Japan, one of Jobs’ business culture touchstones during his initial rise, is known for employing cute icons and mascots (called yuru-kyara) in the service of promoting things as boringly bureaucratic as government agencies and as deadly serious as the local police. They’ve mastered the art of getting you to focus on the cute while gulping down a sometimes bitter swig of business you can’t avoid. 

This is the tactic being employed by Apple’s Face ID on the iPhone X. But a quick look at Twitter will tell you that not everyone is buying the cute, even if it’s not on sale until next month. 

So when you get your hands on it, and point the new iPhone X at your face, instead of warming up to that old familiar anthropomorphic happy Mac grinning back at you, you’d do well to remember that this is the first step in a march toward a future in which your password is your body. 

And that very well might turn out to be less than ideal for many of us because, at some point in the future, for any number of reasons, you may not want to use your body authenticate yourself for a phone function or payment (or bank loan, hospital visit, or police stop). 

But because of that good ole Apple efficiency and popularity, you may not have a choice. Don’t let that cute little smiling guy fool you, iPhone X users, Face ID is not a game. 

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