Face ID on iPhone

Face ID is a facial scanning system that Apple implemented into the iPhone X as a biometric identity replacement for Touch ID. Apple claims there is one-in-a-million chance that Face ID will unlock with another person's face thanks to the use of seven different sensors attached to the front-facing camera. It will automatically scan and confirm your identity without you even having to press a button, which is good because Apple also got rid of the Home button in iPhone X.

What is Face ID

Face ID uses multiple neural networks that are built into the dual-core A11 bionic neural engine to process the facial recognition data.

It takes a mathematical model of your face and checks it against the original scan of your face that you first registered.

The information is stored on the A11 chip on your iPhone X and not sent to Apple's servers, so your facial identity is kept private.

It uses Attention Awareness in order to work. That means, you have to be looking at your iPhone for it to scan, You can't be asleep or looking away for it to unlock your iPhone.

What's this TrueDepth camera all about?

The TrueDepth camera is the hub of Face ID. Similar to the way Touch ID uses focused sensors on the Home button that takes a high-resolution picture of your fingerprint, the TrueDepth camera uses depth mapping to get a detailed picture of all of the features of your face. The TrueDepth camera is made up of eight different parts, which when used together, allow for the depth needed for proper facial scanning. The TrueDepth camera uses:

  • 7PM camera
  • Infrared camera
  • Flood illuminator
  • Front camera dot projector (30K dots)
  • Proximity sensor
  • Ambient light sensor
  • Speaker
  • Microphone

How does Face ID know it's really me?

Apple explained that the advanced scanning sensors in conjunction with the A11 bionic processor make it nigh-impossible for someone to spoof your facial scan. It doesn't work with photographs. It doesn't work while you're asleep. It doesn't even work with detailed silicon masks that look just like you. It works kinda like magic, only the effort that went in to perfecting facial recognition is anything but magic.

What if I grow a beard, wear glasses, or change over time?

Face ID uses 30,000 infrared dot scanners and pushes then through that neural network mentioned above. It doesn't just do a quick image scan. It's not like Faces in the Photos app. It's much, much deeper.

It adapts to your facial changes over time. It learns your face. If you start wearing glasses (including sunglasses), or cut your hair. It will still identify your face. If you gain or lose weight or grow old, it will still know it's you.

If you wear a little or a lot of makeup, if you look like a completely different person when you wake up in the morning, it will still recognize the structure of your face, which doesn't change whether you're wearing makeup or not.

If you experience some complete facial change, like swelling or disfigurement due to an accident, or if the structure of your face changes due to facial reconstruction, you can re-scan your face for a new Face ID identification. These are more permanent changes, and not simple a matter of you looking different when you wake up in the morning.

How does Face ID work with identical twins?

It doesn't. Apple noted in its demo of Face ID that if you have an "evil twin" (in other words, identical twin), you're just going to have to use a passcode if you don't want that twin to access your iPhone.

What about people of color? Did Apple finally get facial recognition right?

We don't really know yet for sure how well it works. Apple did, however, included people of color in its video demonstration, so it's clearly trying to let us know that all the different facial features have been taken into consideration, not just the typically-white ones. We'll see in-practice if this actually works.

How is 'Attention Awareness' supposed to work for people with facial quirks?

Attention Awareness means you have to be able to somehow show the iPhone that you are aware of its scan by looking directly at it. This ensures that someone can't just scan your face while you're sleeping or looking away, unknowing that someone else has your iPhone. There are definitely people that won't be able to perform the actions required for Attention Awareness.

Apple included the ability to disable Attention Awareness in the Accessibility settings. We don't currently know who will be affected by Attention Awareness yet. We'll learn more once the iPhone X gets into our hands. We'll update you when we have a better idea.

Can more than one person register their face with Face ID?

Nope. Sorry. You and your spouse can't use Face ID on the same iPhone right now. It only registers one face. If you want to allow someone else to have access to your iPhone X, you'll just have to give them your passcode.

What does Face ID work with?

Face ID will definitely work with Apple Pay in participating retail stores and online. The same way you use Touch ID to pay for things at your local coffee shop of favorite online store, you can instead use Face ID.

Face ID also works with third-party apps that currently support Touch ID. From what Apple explained in its summary, Face ID code will simply replace Touch ID code. So all of your favorite Touch ID apps should also work with your facial imprint, too.

What about privacy concerns?

Similar to the way Touch ID keeps your fingerprint scan private and secure, a lot of work went into making sure that your facial scan privacy is protected. The information collected when your face is scanned goes directly into the A11 Bionic chip and stays there. It is never uploaded to Apple's servers and there is no possible way it could be. No one else has access to your facial scan but you.

As for someone being able to simply hold your iPhone up to your face against your will to unlock it, Face ID requires Attention Awareness, which means you have to be looking at your iPhone to trigger the unlock. Sure, there are circumstances under which you could be forced to unlock your iPhone with your face under duress, but the same goes for Touch ID, and for that matter, your passcode (though the U.S. government can't legally force you to give up your passcode). Basically, you can be physically forced to do a lot. What you can do, if you sense that the security of your locked iPhone is about to be forcibly compromised, is quickly press the Side button (also known as the Sleep/Wake button) to trigger SOS/Power Off. You don't have to call emergency or power off your iPhone, but it will automatically disable Touch ID until you enter your passcode.

If you're worried about someone spoofing your face to unlock your iPhone, there is currently not enough testing in-the-wild to know for sure that spoofing is as impossible as Apple claims. But, based on the technology Apple showed off in the TrueDepth camera, it's highly unlikely anyone will be able to use a picture or video of you to unlock your iPhone. If someone is going to go through the time consuming and expensive effort to create a super detailed mask of your face, just to spoof Face ID, you'll probably have had enough time to simply wipe it remotely before anyone can finish the mold.

I'm not saying that Face ID is lock-down secure and that no one will every be able to access your iPhone as long as you use it. I'm just saying that there is a lot of fear surrounding security and privacy of Face ID that should be put on hold until the public (and security experts) know a little more about it.

iMore Editor in Chief Rene Ritchie wrote a thoughtful editorial on Face ID and why we should hold off on being too concerned just yet.

Any questions?

Do you have any questions about what Face ID is or how it works? Put them in the comments and we'll help you out. We'll also be building a comprehensive guide to setting up and using Face ID as soon as we get our hands on the iPhone X.

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