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 good reason Animoji can’t work on the iPhone 8 and 8 Plus. Was Apple lying to us this whole time?
Well, it’s complicated. As far as I can tell, Animoji only need ARKit and – as seen above – the single front camera 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 clear answer as to why; after all, ARKit works just fine on the single rear camera of the iPhone 8. It’s possible Animoji primarily use the RGB camera and call on TrueDepth for additional fine detail, but I couldn’t immediately notice any animation degradation with the TrueDepth camera covered up. Perhaps Face ID’s sensors are needed for an initial depth map, after which the RGB camera will suffice.
Another explanation is that Apple plans further refinements with TrueDepth that will only be possible on the iPhone X, but the company clearly thought Animoji were good enough to ship as is. In any case, the fact that it works well without TrueDepth shouldn’t be a huge surprise; plenty of Snapchat and Facebook masks track faces just fine without any fancy camera hardware.
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 remain an iPhone X-only club.