9to5Google can report today that Google’s original plan was to launch the Pixel 6 Pro with face unlock, but the feature was pulled relatively close to launch.

According to sources familiar with the matter, Google intended to announce the Pixel 6 Pro with support for face unlock to complement the under-display fingerprint sensor. The capability was only meant for the larger flagship and not the smaller Pixel 6, which corroborates something we previously speculated based on code.

The hardware difference between the two phones is an 11.1MP front-facing camera with 94 degree “ultrawide” field of view on the 6 Pro compared to 8MP and 84 degrees on the $599 Pixel 6. Otherwise, there’s no dedicated hardware (IR cameras, dot projector, or flood illuminator) as was seen on the Pixel 4 in 2019. There’s nothing like Soli radar to speed up the unlocking process either.

Soli-powered face unlock on Pixel 4

Google is presumably relying solely on what’s captured by that selfie camera to authenticate that it’s you. This has always seemed like the more Google-y approach, which is primarily using software to tackle difficult problems. It was also something that the Android Ice Cream Sandwich-powered Galaxy Nexus leveraged.

There have hopefully been marked processing and accuracy advancements in the past 11 years, especially with the presence of dedicated hardware like Tensor. For example, Google touts its chip as allowing for faster, more accurate face detection – in photography contexts – due to integrated subsystems, while consuming half the power compared to a Pixel 5.

The relatively last-minute decision to pull face unlock is reflected in how early and launch-day marketing material referenced the capability. This included a German print ad (though that mistakenly claimed it was for the entry Pixel 6) and one UK-carrier launch page that showed “Face and Fingerprint Unlock” in a live image of Android 12’s Security Hub. That reference — as well as one in a Play Store listing screenshot — was later pulled. Since then, there have been additional straggling references to the capability on actual Pixel 6 Pro devices.

One of the sources told us that Google is still working to add face unlock to the Pixel 6 Pro, and that it’s targeted for the next major quarterly Android update, though plans might still change.

If that is indeed still the plan, it’s quite interesting for Google to update the Pixel 6 Pro with a major new feature so close to the end of its annual product cycle. It will definitely be a welcome addition for current owners and those who continue to have qualms about the fingerprint reader. Meanwhile, this method of face unlock will presumably be a staple on future Pixel devices going forward.

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About the Author

Abner Li

Editor-in-chief. Interested in the minutiae of Google and Alphabet. Tips/talk: abner@9to5g.com