Face ID vs Touch ID

Thinking of buying an iPhone X but don’t know whether you will regret kissing goodbye to Touch ID, your trusty companion for so many years? In this article we will look at the good and bad of both technologies. Find out whether Face ID will prove a worthy replacement for Touch ID, or if securing your iPhone with your face is too risky.

Which iPhones have Face ID?

The only iPhone with Face ID is the iPhone X. You can’t get Face ID on the iPhone 8, which Apple announced alongside the iPhone X in September 2017.

Face ID uses the TrueDepth camera on the front of the iPhone X. This camera is made up of several different elements, all of which work together to take a 3D image of your face.

First there's the Dot Projector that, as the name suggests, projects a number of invisible dots on to your face: 30,000 of them, in fact! These mark out the various contours of your visage, creating a detailed map.

An infrared camera records the placement of every dot, then sends the data directly to the Secure Enclave within the iPhone X's A11 Bionic processor chip (nothing is stored on Apple’s servers) where it is checked against the pre-scanned image to ensure that the correct face is being seen. If a match is found, the phone is unlocked, all within a blink of an eye.

Just as your fingerprint is scanned for Touch ID to open your phone, now your looks will get you everywhere.

Which iPhones have Touch ID?

Apple introduced Touch ID with the iPhone 5s in 2013. Since then Apple has added Touch ID to the iPhone SE, 6, 6 Plus, 6s, 6s Plus, 7, 7 Plus, and the iPhone 8 and 8 Plus. You can also find Touch ID on the iPad Air 2, iPad mini 3, iPad mini 4, iPad Pro models, and the iPad 5th generation. And the MacBook Pro with Touch Bar also has a Touch ID pad.

Touch ID is a fingerprint recognition feature that allows you to unlock your device and authenticate Apple Pay payments.

A sensor built into the home button passes a small current through your finger to create a "fingerprint map”. Up to five fingerprint maps can be stored in the Secure Enclave on your iPhone (as with Face ID, this means nothing is stored on Apple’s servers).

A stainless steel detection ring built into the home button is able to detect your fingerprint when you touch it. Unlocking the iPhone if the fingerprint matches one on record.

While this has proven to be a reliable method of security, it does pose one problem: what happens if you need to get rid of the big button on the front of the phone to make room for more screen space?

Many Android devices have already addressed this by placing fingerprint sensors on the back or side of their devices, meaning the front is a smooth panel of uninterrupted glass. Apple, of course, decided to Think Different. And the result of that was Face ID, discussed above.

Face ID v Touch ID: Ease of use

Face ID

We have a detailed tutorial about using and setting up Face ID here, but to summarise:

How to set up Face ID:

  1. Open Settings on your iPhone.
  2. Go to Face ID & Passcode and enter your passcode.
  3. Tap ‘Enrol Face’ in the Face ID section.
  4. Tap ‘Get Started’ and follow the on-screen instructions.
  5. Position your face in the on-screen frame, and move your head around so it can be properly scanned.

How to unlock your iPhone with Face ID:

To unlock your iPhone with Face ID all you (should) need to do is look at your iPhone. In fact the iPhone won’t unlock if you aren’t actually looking at it - so if it’s laying on the desk beside you it shouldn’t unlock itself unless you look straight at it.

  1. Look at the iPhone
  2. Swipe up from the bottom of the screen if you want to see the Home Screen

Some have wondered how well this will suit those with disabilities that prevent them from opening their eyes, but you can turn the option off in accessibility settings.

If you want to allow your significant other to unlock your iPhone you won’t be able to add their face to Face ID in the same way as you could add one of their fingers to your five fingerprint scans. But, that shouldn’t be a concern as Face ID can of course be bypassed using passcodes - although that fact may well be a concern, as we discuss below.

Touch ID

We have a detailed tutorial about how to use Touch ID here and how to setting up Touch ID here. But to summarise:

How to set up Touch ID:

  1. Open Settings on your iPhone.
  2. Go to Touch ID & Passcode and enter your passcode.
  3. Tap ‘Add A Fingerprint’.
  4. Press one finger to the Home Button and hold it there until the iPhone or iPad vibrates.
  5. Continue to tap the Home button, slightly changing the angle of your finger each time.

You can add up to five different digits to Touch ID, so if you want to allow another family member or friend to unlock your iPhone you can (or if the phone belongs to a child and you wish to be able to unlock it too).

How to unlock your iPhone with Touch ID:

To unlock your iPhone with Touch ID just press the Home button. Your finger can be oriented in any direction. If you are using Touch ID to pay for something with Apple Pay you need only touch your finger on the Home Button.

  1. Press the Home Button
  2. Your iPhone will instantly go to the Home Screen.

Face ID v Touch ID: Accuracy

Face ID

According to Apple, Face ID should be able to recognise you if you are wearing a hat, glasses, a scarf and even if you grew a beard. It may have an issue with some sun glasses though.

Face ID will also work in the dark as there is a Flood Illuminator located in the TrueDepth camera, which means Face ID can see you at night and it can see you with the lights turned off.

However, Apple’s attempts to convince people that Face ID is accurate weren’t helped when, on its first public outing the feature failed to open for Apple executive Craig Federighi. This caused a moment of embarrassment in front of millions of viewers.

On deeper inspection, it looks like the iPhone had been turned off, or idle for some time, which triggered the need for a passcode to be entered before it would open. This is a security feature also found on Touch ID-enabled devices, but one that was unwelcome at the prestige event.

Federighi recovered with his usual panache, and for the rest of the live demo Face ID worked impeccably, opening the device on several occasions.

There are factors that can influence the accuracy though. Apple does advise that there are a few factors that could affect how well Face ID operates, for example:

Face ID won’t work if you have your eyes closed.

  • You have to be looking directly at the camera. Giving your iPhone the side-eye shouldn’t cause it to wake.
  • Face ID won’t work if you are wearing a balaclava or a hijab. So to get the best results with Face ID we’d recommend that you make sure that your Face isn’t covered.
  • If you are still young (Apple says under 13) your facial features may change over time, which might affect the accuracy.

We, rather morbidly, have wondered whether Face ID will still work if someone is disfigured in an accident. We don’t yet have the answer to this, but it shouldn’t be an issue as users are required to create a passcode while setting up the feature, so you'll never truly be locked out of your iPhone.

Touch ID

We’ve been using Touch ID for a number of years now, and in our experience it works well. However, there are some factors that affect how well Touch ID operates and they are as follows:

Wet fingers

  • Cold weather
  • A dirty scanner
  • The case
  • Using the wrong finger - it happens to us a lot

We do have an article where we run through what to do if iPhone/iPad fingerprint scanner isn't working.

As with Face ID Touch ID can be bypassed using passcodes. So, if you can’t unlock your phone for one reason or another you can always use your passcode.

Whether you are using Face ID or Touch ID, there will be times when you have to use your Passcode to access the iPhone. These times, as outlined by Apple, are as follows:

  • The device has just been turned on or restarted.
  • The device hasn’t been unlocked for more than 48 hours.
  • The passcode hasn’t been used to unlock the device in the last 156 hours (six and a half days) and Face ID has not unlocked the device in the last
    4 hours.
  • The device has received a remote lock command.
  • After five unsuccessful attempts to match a face.
  • After initiating power off/Emergency SOS by pressing and holding either volume button and the side button simultaneously for 2 seconds.

Face ID v Touch ID: Security & Privacy

Face ID

Apple claims there is a 1 in 1,000,000 chance that someone would be able to open your phone using Face ID (compared to 1 in 50,000 chance of having the same fingerprint as you.) This figure is presumably based on the likelihood that someone else would look just like you. Obviously if you are an identical twin the chance of someone looking like you is greater than 1 in 1,000,000.

Following a lot of concern about Apple’s security claims, the company went on to publish a white paper explaining that there are a few cases where the probability of someone else hacking into your phone might be a little higher. In it’s Face ID Security guide Apple says:

“The probability of a false match is different for twins and siblings that look like you as well as among children under the age of 13, because their distinct facial features may not have fully developed. If you're concerned about this, we recommend using a passcode to authenticate.”

So it may be the case that siblings could unlock your phone if they look sufficiently like you.

We can’t help but think that the 1 in 1,000,000 figure is a little inaccurate given that the chance of finding a person who looks like you is higher if you have a large family. Finding someone who shared your fingerprint would be a lot more difficult.

It’s also very important to remember that Face ID can be bypassed using passcodes. So it’s not really any more secure than using a passcode. But, as with Touch ID, the simplicity of the feature should mean that more people lock their phones than would have used a pin.

Those wanting to find out more about the security aspect should take a look at our article on how secure Face ID is.

As for privacy, Apple is also quick to point out that the Face ID identification information is stored on your iPhone and not on Apple’s servers. So there is no need to be concerned that Apple will share this data with advertisers who will be targeting you in shopping malls when they recognise your face.

Our concern here is that if all someone has to do is hold the iPhone up at your face to unlock it it may to easy for a mugger to unlock your iPhone before escaping with it. We assume that the emergency SOS toggle feature will disable Face ID like it does with Touch ID.

It’s worth noting that you do have to be awake with your eyes open for Face ID to work, while you could unlock an iPhone with a fingerprint when the owner was asleep. So its swings and roundabouts.

Face ID has apparently been hacked - we have the low down on this and other problems with the iPhone X here.

Touch ID


For years we've been told about the uniqueness of our fingerprints. In many ways, this contributed to the public's quick adoption of Touch ID as a security feature, and even as a way to pay for things by using Apple Pay.

However, when Apple introduced Face ID, it stated that there was a 1 in 50,000 chance that someone would be able to open your phone with their fingerprint (compared to 1 in 1,000,000 chance of being able to crack Face ID).

That figure is suppose to represent the chance of someone having the same fingerprint as you. But, since the introduction of Touch ID it has been cracked, for example using PVA Glue to take a cast of the finger or play-do.

We think that finding another person with the same fingerprint as you, or creating a mould of your fingerprint and using that aren’t really likely scenarios (unless you are a celebrity, or a spy, perhaps).

As we said above, Touch ID, like Face ID, can be also bypassed using passcodes - so it’s not really any more secure than using a passcode. Again, it’s the simplicity of the feature that should mean more people lock their phones.

In terms of privacy, as with Face ID the fingerprint information is stored locally in a secure enclave on the Apple chips, not in the cloud. So again, there is nothing to share with anyone who might want to use the information in a way that would affect your privacy.

However, there is one way that Touch ID can be used that Face ID can’t and that’s to unlock an iPhone when the owner is asleep. As we said Face ID requires you to have open eyes, while Touch ID only requires a fingerprint. There are good and bad things about this. In an accident it would be easy to unlock your iPhone and contact a family member. While with Face ID it might be necessary to hold your eyes open to unlock the phone and we’re not sure this would work.

And in our case with the mugger, sure they could get you to touch your finger to the Home Button, but it would be a lot easier to hold it up to your face. Given that Touch ID was a feature was intended to deter theft we wonder how well Face ID will manage this.

OUR VERDICT

So, which is best Touch ID or Face ID?

We love Touch ID and we feel secure using it. However, perhaps it’s just that we are used to using it, and used to the idea that our Fingerprint is secure. When we start using Face ID for a while we will know how we really feel about it and we will update this article then.

There is one very important point to make though: It doesn’t matter if you use Face ID or Touch ID if you have a passcode that’s easy to guess.

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