Ever since the iPhone X was unveiled, Apple’s Animoji have been lauded as the greatest innovation to grace smartphones since multi-touch. So advanced, in fact, that Apple had to create a fancy new sensor just to map your mug to a poop emoji.
Sarcasm aside, it turns out animoji apparently don’t need Face ID to work at all.
Marques Brownlee, tech YouTuber extraordinaire, made the point in his iPhone X review. Animoji work fine even if you cover up all of Face ID’s TrueDepth sensors, and only stop working if you cover the regular RGB camera. See for yourself (start around 11:40):
In other words, it doesn’t seem there’s a clear reason Animoji can’t work on the iPhone 8 and 8 Plus. Was Apple lying to us this whole time?
Well, probably not, but it’s complicated. Animoji use ARKit and – as seen above – the single front camera can suffice for face-tracking shenanigans. However, Apple currently doesn’t allow ARKit to work on the front camera for any iPhone other than the iPhone X.
I couldn’t find a real answer as to why; after all, ARKit works just fine on the single rear camera of the iPhone 8, and all of Apple’s 2017 phones use the same processor. My guess is that Animoji primarily use the RGB camera and call on TrueDepth for additional detail like fine muscle movements, even though at first glance I can’t see any animation degradation when the TrueDepth camera is covered up. Another possibility (I’m totally theorizing by this point) is that Face ID’s sensors are used for an initial depth map, and then the RGB camera takes it from there.
Yet another explanation is that Apple plans further refinements with TrueDepth that will only be possible on the iPhone X, but clearly the company thought Animoji were good enough to ship as is. In any case, the fact that it works well with infrared sensor covered shouldn’t be a huge surprise; plenty of Snapchat and Facebook masks track faces just fine without any fancy camera hardware. Of course, they’re probably less accurate because of it.
We’ve contacted Apple for more information, and will update this post if we hear back. In the meantime, it looks like Animoji Karaoke will be exclusive to the iPhone X club.