When the bezel-less iPhone X launched in November 2017 it bought with it the latest Apple tech, wireless charging and an edge-to-edge display. The edge-to-edge screen comes at a cost - there is no longer anywhere for the Home Button to live. As a result Apple has added facial recognition as a way to identify you and unlock your iPhone.
The facial recognition tech, called Face ID, is the replacement for Apple's Touch ID tech - the fingerprint scanner located in the Home button. Apple claims that Face ID is more accurate than Touch ID, and that only 1 in 1,000,000 faces will be able to unlock your iPhone. (Find out how Face ID compares with Touch ID here.)
Generally Face ID works, but sometimes it doesn't. Here, we explain how to set up and use Face ID on the iPhone, as well as offering advice on how to get Face ID to work better, what to do if Face ID stops working for you, how to make Face ID more reliable, and how to make Face ID work quicker.
Those worried about the security aspect of using Face ID should take a look at our article on Face ID security. And for advice on other aspects of the new device, see How to use iPhone without a Home button.
How to set up Face ID
Once you get your hands on an iPhone with no Home button, here's how to set up Face ID (if you skipped it during the initial setup for whatever reason):
- On your iPhone, go to Settings > Face ID & Passcode and enter your passcode.
- Tap 'Enrol Face' in the Face ID section.
- Tap 'Get Started' and follow the on-screen instructions.
- Position your face in the onscreen frame, and move your head around slowly so it can be properly scanned.
- Note, while Face ID should recognise you with or without glasses, we recommend that you wear glasses when scanning your face even if you only wear them sometimes.
- Wait while Face ID scans your face twice. If there are any gaps around the edge of the circle that aren't green Face ID is indicating that it needs to scan that area of your face again.
- When Face ID is finished, tap Done.
- After setting up Face ID you will need to create a passcode if you haven't already got one. Make sure that it's a good one as the iPhone is only secure if nobody can guess your passcode. That's right: all someone needs to unlock your iPhone is your passcode - they don't need your face.
It's as simple as that! You should only need to set up Face ID once, and it should adapt and recognise you even if you grow a beard or dye your hair.
How to unlock your phone with Face ID
Once you've set Face ID up, it's time to start using your looks to unlock your phone. All you need to do is:
- Lift the iPhone up or position it so it can 'see you'. Ideally you might hold it as you would if you were taking a selfie or making a FaceTime call (but later on in this article we will discuss why you might not need to do that).
- Look at your iPhone (by default Face ID will only unlock when it detects you are looking at the iPhone, this is so that it can't unlock when you don't mean it to).
- Your iPhone should unlock near instantly.
- Swipe up to get to your Home screen.
As we mentioned above, you need to make eye contact. One reason for this is so that your phone won't unlock when it's sitting beside you on your desk, or if you are holding it in your hand while chatting to someone. It's also to stop people being able to unlock your phone when you're asleep or unconscious. (By default, anyway. You can turn this security measure off by going to: Settings > Face ID & Passcode > Require Attention for Face ID and switching the slider from green.) If you are trying to unlock your iPhone while wearing sun glasses it may not work for this reason.
Note that although Face ID unlocks the device (you can tell this has happened because the locked padlock icon at the top of the screen changes to an unlocked padlock), it doesn't automatically take you to the Home screen.
To get to the Home screen you need to swipe up from the bottom of your iPhone screen. You can also activate any features available from the lock screen in the usual way, such as tapping on Notifications.
How to make Face ID faster
There are a few ways in which you can speed up Face ID. You might want to do this if you are finding it takes a lot longer to unlock your iPhone, or use a service like Apple Pay since switching to Face ID from Touch ID.
- Turn on Raise to Wake in Settings - this will mean you don't need to swipe or tap the display to wake the phone during unlocking. Go to Settings > Display & Brightness > and switch the slider beside Raise to Wake to green.
- Disable attention detection - as we explained above, by default Face ID won't unlock your iPhone if you aren't looking directly at it. This is a safety feature that would stop someone being able to unlock your phone while you were asleep or unconscious. Or just by holding it up to your face. Go to Settings > Face ID & Passcode > Require Attention for Face ID and switch the slider from green.
How to unlock your iPhone while wearing a mask
If you are wearing a mask due to Coronavirus there is a way to set up Face ID to unlock your iPhone. Read: How to use Face ID to unlock an iPhone wearing a mask.
What to do if Face ID is not working
This shouldn't happen often; Apple assures us - and reviewers back this up - that Face ID is sophisticated enough to see past beards, glasses, hats and more and still recognise you.
However, if Face ID fails to unlock your phone this may be due to a few reasons:
- Face ID won't work if your battery life is below 10%.
- You may have just restarted your iPhone (you will always be required to enter your passcode the first time you unlock the phone after a reset).
- If you if you haven't unlocked your iPhone in 48 hours you will need to enter your passcode.
- If you haven't used a passcode in the last six and a half days and Face ID hasn't unlocked the device in the last 4 hours you will be required to use a passcode.
- If you (or someone else) have used Find My iPhone to lock your iPhone you won't be able to unlock it with Face ID.
- If you use Emergency SOS by pressing and holding the volume button and the side button simultaneously for 2 seconds the iPhone X won't unlock with Face ID (this is presumably to stop muggers getting you to unlock your iPhone by looking at it).
There are a few other reasons why Face ID might not work first time:
- Make sure you aren't covering part of your face - you may need to remove sunglasses or a hat and scarf. Maybe you were attempting to unlock the phone with half your face obscured by your pillow (the first thing we all do when we wake up in the morning).
- Speaking of pillows, users who have reported that Face ID doesn't work in bed have tended to solved their issue by holding the iPhone a little further away from their face. This seems to be a common problem.
- Check you are running the latest version of iOS.
- Or perhaps there is no logical reason why Face ID has decided not to recognise you, other than the fact that you were just showing someone your new iPhone. We address some ways to improve the accuracy of Face ID in the next section.
If Face ID doesn't work you will immediately be asked to enter your passcode, which will confirm to your iPhone X that you aren't an imposter. By this means Face ID is able to learn a bit more about your appearance, so that next time you attempt to unlock your iPhone X it will hopefully be a bit better at recognising you. Over time you should get fewer failures and Face ID should get better at recognising you.
If someone else enters your passcode, Face ID shouldn't be fooled into adapting its data on you to include their features - unless they look like you. If you have an identical twin or a similar-looking sibling who enters your passcode after failing to unlock your iPhone, Face ID's data on you may be updated to include them, it may even start to let them unlock your iPhone too - this is exactly what happened when we tested this with some identical twin friends.
We look at solving these problems in more depth in a separate article: How to fix 'Face ID not working problems on iPhone.
How to get Face ID to work better
Here are a few ways in which you can improve your chances of Face ID working first time:
- Avoid wearing sunglasses. Face ID needs to see your eyes to be sure that you are looking at it. It uses Infra Red to do this and since some sunglasses block those waves it may not be able to work.
- You may get better results if you turn off the default setting of "Require Attention for Face ID. Then the iPhone X will only need to see your face, it won't also have to detect the fact that you are looking at it. (Certain medical conditions may mean you would get better results if you deselected this feature). To disable it go to: Settings > Face ID & Passcode > and deselect Require Attention for Face ID.
- If you are wearing a hat or a scarf make sure it's not obscuring too much of your face. If your scarf is right over your chin Face ID probably won't recognise you.
- Similarly don't expect Face ID to work if you are wearing a balaclava. (Or if you cover your face for religious reasons).
- Check the lighting - Face ID will work better when your face stands out. Face ID uses a Flood Illumination feature to beam Infra Red light at you, which means it can even see you in the dark, but in certain lighting conditions it can struggle. For example, if you are outside in bright sunshine Face ID may not see you as clearly because it will find it harder to distinguish you from the surroundings. For the best results make sure the sun isn't behind you and position yourself somewhere with a plain backdrop.
- For similar reasons, don't move around. Face ID needs a stationary target to work.
- Although, we have heard that Face ID is more successful if you move the iPhone slightly while it attempts to recognise you.
- Avoid pulling silly facial expressions when you are using Face ID. Your iPhone doesn't want to see you looking at it like that. You'll have better luck if your facial expression is similar to how it was when you set things up. Sticking your tongue out, for example, may change the way your chin appears to Face ID.
- Make sure your display is clean and the 'Notch' uncovered. If some dust or dirt is obstructing the TrueDepth camera that's concealed inside the 'Notch' area at the top of the iPhone X, if won't be able to do it's job.
- Hold your iPhone at arms length - Face ID works better if your iPhone is 25–50 centimetres, or 10–20 inches from your face. Imagine you are taking a selfie or making a FaceTime call.
- Speaking of which, if you are trying to unlock your iPhone first thing in the morning and can barely raise your head off the pillow, all you need to do is hold your iPhone further away - it should still recognise you, even if half your face is partially obscured by the pillow. This is because the iPhone X uses a dot projector to beam 30,000 infrared dots at your face to create a 3D map of what you look like - this even works in the dark. The problem when you are in bed isn't that your iPhone can only see half your face, it's that it isn't far enough away from you for this process to work.
- If Face ID is really struggling to recognise you our advice is to reset it and re-register your face. Go to Settings > Face ID & Passcode and start again.
What does Face ID do on the iPhone?
Face ID is used for more than unlocking your iPhone X. You will also use it to verify it's you when making Apple Pay payments at payment terminals, online, and in apps. You can use it to unlock any apps that would previously have unlocked via Touch ID, such as banking apps.
Here's how Face ID is used with certain features of your iPhone:
How Face ID works with Apple Pay
With the removal of Touch ID on the iPhone X, Face ID can be used to authenticate Apple Pay purchases. It's a relatively easy process:
- Double tap the Side button (which is no longer referred to as a power button).
- Look at your iPhone to authenticate.
- Hold your iPhone near the contactless terminal to complete the transaction.
If you're using Apple Pay online or in an app your iPhone will already have recognise you, but you will still need to double-press the side button to confirm the transaction.
The transaction must be completed within 30 seconds. If you don't hit this deadline, you'll have to double-press and authenticate again.
Read more about how to use Apple Pay on the iPhone here.
Apple has developed a new type of emoji dubbed Animoji. Why? These are animated emoji, of course, but not just any kind of animated emoji - they use your voice and your facial expressions. You can choose from over a dozen type of emoji, including the poop emoji, easily created via Apple's Messages app, and can help to convey a range of messages.
If for nothing else, it'll be fun to send an Animoji of a talking poop.
Apple has confirmed that third-party developers will be able to make use of the Face ID technology in their apps. Snapchat, for example, will offer high-end filters for iPhone X users with improved facial tracking/mapping.
What is Face ID?
Apple describes Face ID as "the future of how we will unlock our smartphones and protect our sensitive information".
The reason why it's exclusive to the iPhone X? It's due to the sheer amount of tech crammed into the front-facing camera at the top of the edge-to-edge display.
The area at the top of the iPhone X display, also known as the notch, is dubbed the TrueDepth camera system by Apple. It's comprised of several components: a flood illuminator, IR camera and a dot projector alongside the standard elements (proximity sensor, front camera, speaker, etc) to provide one of the most sophisticated facial recognition systems available at the moment.
How does Face ID work?
Face ID should be simple to use - the idea is that every time you glance at your iPhone, the TrueDepth camera system should recognise you and unlock your iPhone for you. It uses the flood illuminator to detect your face, even in the dark, then uses the IR camera to take a photo and finally uses the dot projector to map your face with over 30,000 invisible infrared dots.
The system then processes this information via neural networks built into the A11 Bionic chipset to create a mathematical model of your face, and compare that to the stored credentials on your iPhone.
Although this sounds like a long process, it all happens instantaneously, with early Face ID demos showing a near-instant unlock process. It's thanks to the A11 Bionic - Apple's chipset was built for machine learning algorithms, and has the power to process an incredible 600 billion operations per second.
Face ID has apparently been hacked - we have the low down on this and other problems with the iPhone X here.
Animoji uses the same camera as Face ID - if you'd like to find out how to send these fun animations that mimic your facial expressions read our complete guide to using Animoji on the iPhone X here.