Yep, it's something you'll see on all manner of devices, and to be honest, it was seen before Apple submitted its patent application in December of 2005. You can see the evidence below in a video: the 2004-2005 Neonode N1m, which was a Windows Mobile device and had a similar feature.
In fact, a Dutch court in August ruled the Slide to Unlock feature as obvious and therefore invalid. The prior art question of the Neonode N1m was also brought into play in the Dutch decision.
However, the USPTO didn't see it that way, and awarded Apple the patent. Granted, Android now has a facial unlock feature, or at least, will with Android 4.0 (Ice Cream Sandwich) so this is not likely to be an issue going forward. Even Android 3.x uses a different method to unlock than 2.x.
It does, however, show how broken the U.S. patent system is.
Comments from the blogosphere were pretty clear that most thought the decision was as ludicrous as declaring corporations people:
The whole patent war is coming to a head. I don't feel gestures like this are patentable. If so, then someone like Ford could prevent any automobile being turned on with a key. There has to be a common shared experience with all systems or we all pay a price for extra training or pay exorbitant prices on our equipment that we use for licensing fees. If I were Xerox, I would start suing both Microsoft and Apple for infringing on their patents.
and yet we've all experienced the blatant prior art in this case, if you've ever used a sliding lock on a door IRL! http://twitpic.com/5zpbt3
BOOM - and we have another stupid patent. Is not it clear to everybody that on a touch screen device every action happens when "contact with the display corresponds to a predefined gesture"? What an invention!
I love Apple, but I hate this patent. The entire patent situation has gotten completely out of hand. You shouldn't be able to patent an idea, period. The action of sliding to unlock should not be protected by patent. Apple's technical methods for making that a reality should be. This isn't Apple's fault. This is the fault of a legal system run amok. Consumers are the ones who suffer, and innovation is ultimately stifled by this kind of ignorant ruling.
And plenty more ...