Accessibility Software Suffers Following Apple's Faceshift Acquisition
Back in September, MacRumors uncovered evidence that Apple had acquired Zurich-based real-time capture firm Faceshift, in a move possibly related to the development of biometrics for unlocking devices or authorizing payments through facial recognition techniques. Apple later confirmed the purchase in a statement.
Before the acquisition, Faceshift worked closely with game and animation studios on technology designed to quickly and accurately capture facial expressions using 3D sensors.
One of the lesser known aspects of Faceshift's business was licensing out its face tracking SDK to other companies, one of which was Xcessity, a small Austrian firm that specializes in designing human-computer interaction software to improve accessibility.
One of the most popular products made by the firm is KinesicMouse, which enables disabled people and those with degenerative conditions like Parkinson's disease to control a mouse through facial expressions. The functionality of the KinesicMouse software – which is also used in hospital settings – depended heavily on the SDK developed by Faceshift, which received a royalty fee for every purchased license.
Earlier this week, Xcessity CEO Markus Pröll revealed in a tweet and a post on the Xcessity forum that Faceshift had revoked the license following Apple's acquisition of the company, and that he would no longer be able to develop or offer the software:
The Faceshift SDK is the result of a research team that focused on this topic for several years at the university ETH Zürich. Whilst it would not be impossible to create such a software it would take way too much time and resources. Believe me after about four years of development I have tried about everything.
I don't know who or why the decision was made to cancel the existing license agreement. I want to explicitly mention that I don't make any claims that Apple or Faceshift is responsible for the cancellation. On this part I am left in the dark just as you are. All I can tell is that the guys from Faceshift have been very supportive through all those years.
The news came as a blow to users of the software, and Pröll says he has received "quite a few messages" from people who really depend on the app. One user of the software told MacRumors:
People like me depend on this affordable solution to access computer games. It brought me back to gaming although I have suffered from muscular dystrophy since I was a child. Shame on Apple for locking down such a solution.
If the license cancellation is indeed linked to Apple's acquisition of Faceshift, the KinesicMouse software would appear to be an unfortunate casualty, given Cupertino's stated commitment to accessibility. MacRumors has reached out to Apple for comment and we'll update this story with any forthcoming response.