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Face ID: Info and opinions about the new authentication method for iPhone X

Since Tuesday’s Apple event, some additional information about the Face ID authentication used on the upcoming iPhone X has been uncovered. Check out these facts and opinions about the marquee feature of Apple’s iPhone X.

Face ID didn’t fail at Tuesday’s event

Remember when Craig Federighi was beginning his demo of Face ID, picked up an iPhone X, and it wouldn’t let him in? A number of pundits immediately jumped on this as a failure of the new authentication method, predicting doom for the iPhone X and Apple.

As usual, the pundits were wrong. Federighi immediately picked up a backup iPhone X and was able to continue with his demo. So what happened with the first device? As Apple explained it, apparently people who were setting up the demo equipment moved the first iPhone X several times, causing it to “look” for the face of the person who was apparently trying to unlock the phone. Since Face ID didn’t “see” Craig Federighi after a few moves, it did what it was supposed to do — ask for a passcode instead.

Face ID was doing what it was supposed to do, trying to ID the user and then requesting a passcode after not seeing Federighi’s face. One question, though — would Face ID recognize Federighi if he cut his hair? (that’s a joke — of course it would!)

Face ID only recognizes one face per device

Currently, it’s possible to set up Touch ID for multiple people by capturing their fingerprints. This is useful in cases where multiple people may need to use one iPhone or iPad, and is set up by just capturing another fingerprint from another person. That won’t be possible, at least at first, with Face ID.

At present, Face ID can only recognize one face, that of the primary user. Hopefully, it will be possible to “add another face” in the future for device sharing.

You can disable Face ID temporarily

There are certain times where it might be a good idea to disable Face ID. For example, it’s increasingly common for people entering the US to be asked to unlock their iPhones and hand them over to CBP personnel. We found today that Face ID can be temporarily disabled by pressing buttons on both sides of the iPhone X. Craig Federighi responded to Apple fan Keith Krimbel, saying that this was done in case a person was asked to hand over the phone to a thief or law enforcement personnel — gripping the buttons near the top of the phone when handing it over will disable the feature. 

Sunglasses? No problem

Krimbel also asked about Face ID’s reaction to sunglasses, and Federighi responded that “most sunglasses let through enough IR light that Face ID can see. your eyes even when the glasses appear to be opaque. It’s really amazing!”

Senator Franken gets it wrong… again

Mediocre comedian turned United States Senator Al Franken once again showed his ignorance of how anything technological works by immediately holding a press conference and blasting off a letter to Apple CEO Tim Cook expressing his concern about how Face ID is going to capture the facial characteristics of millions of Americans. 

Had Franken either watched the event or checked out Apple’s explainer page about Face ID, he’d know that none of the facial recognition data that’s captured by the TrueDepth camera system is transmitted to Apple or any service. Instead, it’s stored in the secure enclave on Apple’s SoC (the A11 Bionic Neural) for immediate authentication. 

He also expressed concern that Apple had not used a diverse set of faces to set up the system, obviously a) not paying attention to the fact that the people used in the videos and website explanations are of many races and of both genders, and b) not understanding that to create a system that works for everybody, you need to test it against a wide variety of faces — not just white male faces.

Franken did apparently get the fact that Apple tested the algorithms used for Face ID against one billion photographs, because he demanded to know where Apple got the photos. There are literally trillions of photographs online now; Apple’s training of the neural network probably just had it searching for pictures of human faces through online services. No human was involved; no human could process one billion face images in time to get Face ID to market. 

I guess we shouldn’t be surprised by Franken’s “demands” to Apple. He did the same thing in 2013 when Touch ID debuted on the iPhone 5s. One would almost think that Franken uses Apple announcements to get a chance to do press conferences and get his face in front of TV cameras…

Opinions expressed here are those of the author. Due to the political nature of the last section of this post, comments have been disabled.

Steve Sande
the authorSteve Sande
Steve is the founder and former publisher of Apple World Today and has authored a number of books about Apple products. He's an avid photographer, an FAA-licensed drone pilot, and a really bad guitarist. Steve and his wife Barb love to travel everywhere!