Quite a bit has been made about the apparent failure of Face ID during the “Let’s meet at our place” iPhone X keynote. Many claimed that Face ID failed to recognize Apple’s senior vice president of software engineering Craig Federighi, leading to doubt about the reliability of the security feature. The evidence, and a statement from Apple, proves quite the opposite. Face ID did what it should have done.
Too Many iPhone X Handlers
Yahoo’s David Pogue, certain that all of the naysayers had to be mistaken, persistently reached out to Apple. What he learned from Cupertino, ultimately, was that the problem was not one of the security feature failing. In fact, Face ID was requiring a password because there had been too many failed attempts to authenticate.
FINAL UPDATE: Tonight, I was able to contact Apple. After examining the logs of the demo iPhone X, they now know exactly what went down. Turns out my first theory in this story was wrong—but my first UPDATE theory above was correct: “People were handling the device for stage demo ahead of time,” says a rep, “and didn’t realize Face ID was trying to authenticate their face. After failing a number of times, because they weren’t Craig, the iPhone did what it was designed to do, which was to require his passcode.” In other words, “Face ID worked as it was designed to.”- David Pogue
One key difference between Touch ID and Face ID can be gleaned from this misstep in Apple’s keynote. Touch ID will require a passcode or password after five failed attempts. With Face ID, on the other hand, two failed authentication attempts are all that’s needed to prod the iPhone X to ask for a password.
Face ID Did What It Should
A familiar message, an iPhone asking for a password after too many failed attempts to authenticate by, in this case, Face ID
Our own Trevor Sheridan was able to get a screen capture of the misbehaving iPhone X during the keynote. It clearly shows a familiar message: “Your passcode is required to enable Face ID.” Many of us have seen this before. It’s almost the same message that you receive when someone has been trying to unlock your iPhone with their own, unregistered, fingerprint.
The backup iPhone X, by the way, worked flawlessly, likely because fewer people had been handling it. We don’t know yet how reliable Face ID is going to be, but the brief hands-on period after the keynote provided mixed results. While most people were impressed with Face ID, at least one person saw the feature fail until the display was turned on and off.
Since Face ID uses infrared scanning to create a mathematical model of the user’s face, it should work in the dark and in low lighting conditions. Additionally, since it’s relying on heat signatures to create and authenticate the model, Apple says it will work fine with hats, glasses, beards, makeup, and other items that might partially obscure the face.