Apple made a big change in November 2017 when it launched the iPhone X: it ditched Touch ID fingerprint security for a new face-based biometric login tool called Face ID. The fingerprint scanner on most Apple products post-iPhone a Touch ID fingerprint.
Face ID could usher us into a whole new era of biometric technology, but it’s not without its critics. Touch ID fans and privacy advocates have criticized Face ID, but like it or not, it’s now part of the Apple ecosystem.
SEE: This article is also available for download: Apple Face ID: Cheat Sheet (free PDF).
What is facial identification?
Unlocking your phone with a fingerprint is almost a thing of the past. The modern smartphone user, as long as they have the latest Apple products, unlocks their device with a glance.
Available on most iPhones and iPads designed starting with the 2017 iPhone X or later, Face ID is Apple’s biometric system that scans the face instead of a finger.
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According to Apple, the chance that a random person can use their face to unlock someone else’s phone is one in a million. The odds of Touch ID are one in 50,000, making Face ID 20 times more secure. However, as always, keep your device updated to the latest version of iOS or iPadOS.
How does Face ID work?
Face ID maps faces in a similar way to how Touch ID maps fingerprints: it doesn’t store an image, but instead creates a map of the face using data points. When those data points match a face, an unlock is triggered.
Apple maps faces with its front-facing camera array called the TrueDepth camera system. In addition to an improved camera, the TrueDepth system uses a point map projected onto the face that is captured using infrared light.
Once captured with light, the point map is sent to the Secure Enclave on the device’s chip, where it is compared to existing records, like a fingerprint. Face ID can also be used for other things that Touch ID used to do, like paying with Apple Pay or verifying your identity with apps.
Benefits of Apple Face ID
The main benefit of Face ID is that it provides fast and secure biometric authentication for device access. Unlike password or PIN authentication, there is no need to enter or remember codes.
And unlike Touch ID, you don’t need to place a finger on a specific area of your device. Instead, all that is needed to authenticate and provide access is to simply swipe up while holding the device in a standard position so that the front camera has a view of your face (Figure A).
Disadvantages of Apple Face ID
For most people, there are few, if any, drawbacks to using Apple Face ID:
- People looking for maximum security might prefer to enter a long password made up of a string of letters, numbers, and random characters.
- People who oppose facial scans and have fewer security concerns might prefer to enter a PIN code.
- People with low or no vision may prefer to authenticate with a PIN, password, or Touch ID.
However, most people will find that Face ID offers reliable authentication quickly.
Those concerned about law enforcement using Face ID to gain access to a secure device need not worry either: A US judge ruled in January 2019 that forcing users to unlock devices using security methods Biometrics like Face ID violate both the Fourth and Fifth Amendments. to the US Constitution
What devices support Face ID?
While Apple has included Face ID on all iPhones except the iPhone SE in recent years, on tablets the feature will continue to be available only on iPad Pro devices starting in 2023. Recent generations of iPad, iPad Air, and iPad mini, for example, have Touch ID instead of Face ID.
SEE: Here’s everything you need to know about the iPhone 15.
These devices have specific technology (TrueDepth cameras) that are necessary for Face ID to work, so don’t expect older Apple devices to support Face ID in the future.
How to set up and use Apple Face ID
Setting up Face ID is similar to setting up Touch ID: the phone will display an image of your face, prompt you to move it in a circle so you can capture multiple angles, and let you know when it has enough data (Figure B). Unlocking a device or purchasing something with Face ID is as easy as looking at the device. It will automatically scan your face and unlock or complete the purchase.
If you have multiple looks (for example, you wear your hair significantly different to work, remove facial piercings, wear distinctive glasses, or wear a lot of makeup), that could affect your ability to use Face ID, but you can set up alternative looks in Settings. application.
With Settings open, tap Face ID & Password, then tap Set alternate appearance. You’ll need to repeat the setup steps above and you’ll be good to go, just like adding an extra fingerprint with Touch ID.
How to set up Apple Face ID to work with a mask
You can even set Apple Face ID devices to work when you’re wearing a commonly worn type of mask to minimize the risks of COVID-19 transmission (Figure C). There are two methods to unlock a Face ID-equipped mobile device when wearing a mask.
The first method involves using an Apple Watch. Starting with iOS update 14.5, you can unlock an iPhone using an Apple Watch. First, you need to install the iPhone update and then you need to update your Apple Watch using the watchOS 7.4 update or later. Next, you need to enable Apple Watch to unlock your iPhone by following these steps:
- Open Settings on iPhone.
- Select Face ID & Password.
- Enter your access code.
- Enable iPhone unlock option button.
- Confirm by pressing Power.
Once those steps are complete, while using your Apple Watch, swipe up on the iPhone screen as usual. As long as part of your face is visible, the iPhone should unlock.
However, the Apple Watch method can sometimes be a bit complicated. But in March 2022, Apple released iOS 15.4, which allows Face ID to work on iPhone 12 and later models when wearing a mask. The process essentially involves installing the update, then going to Settings, selecting Face ID & Password, enabling the Face ID with mask option, and following the setup steps.
How secure is Apple’s Face ID?
Although there are reports that users have unlocked their iPhone using Face ID with their eyes closed, even when an iPhone’s Face ID & Passcode menu option Require attention for Face ID is disabled, Apple states that “Face ID requires the camera TrueDepth see your face or your eyes.”
Face ID often works with one eye open, such as in sunlight, when you might squint. But Apple purposely took steps in the design of Face ID to ensure that an iPhone or iPad cannot be unlocked using your face unless your intention is specifically to unlock the device. That’s why Face ID recognizes if you have your eyes open and are directing your attention to the iPhone or iPad. Those requirements help prevent someone from unlocking your Face ID-equipped mobile device by holding the device in front of your face while you sleep.
Apple’s Face ID also cannot be unlocked using a photo or printed image. According to Apple, “Face ID compares depth information, which is not found in printed or 2D digital photographs. It is designed to protect against spoofing through masking or other techniques through the use of sophisticated anti-spoofing neural networks.”
Should you use Apple’s Face ID on business devices?
Face ID is safe to use on Apple mobile devices you use for work, as it helps reduce the chance that someone other than the authorized user or owner can access a device. Face ID typically works quickly and accurately to identify the user and allow access.
Compared to alternative device authentication methods, Face ID requires little effort from most people. Since Face ID is not yet available for macOS desktop or laptop devices, you’ll need to take other steps to protect those systems.
SEE: Explore all of TechRepublic’s cheat sheets and guides for smart people.
This article was originally reported by Brandon Vigliarolo, with additional edits and updates by Erik Eckel and Andy Wolber.