Apple's New Face ID Biometric System Works in the Dark and When Your Face is Obscured by Hats and Beards

In the new iPhone X, Face ID, a facial recognition system, replaces the Touch ID fingerprint sensor we've grown accustomed to since it was introduced in the iPhone 5s.

Because Face ID is a new biometric system, there are a lot of questions about its accuracy and how it will work in various conditions, all of which Apple has answered both in the keynote and on its website.

faceidstats

How Face ID Scans Your Face

Face ID is enabled through a TrueDepth front-facing camera on the iPhone X, which has multiple components. A Dot Projector projects more than 30,000 invisible dots onto your face to map its structure.

iphonextruedepthcamera
The dot map is then read by an infrared camera and the structure of your face is relayed to the A11 Bionic chip in the iPhone X and transformed into a mathematical model. The A11 chip then compares your facial structure to the facial scan stored in the iPhone X during the setup process.

iphonexdotcounter
As with Touch ID, if there is a match between the two face scans, the iPhone X will unlock. From there, you can swipe upwards to get to the Home screen.

Face ID in the Dark

Face ID uses infrared to scan your face, so it works in low lighting conditions and in the dark. The TrueDepth camera also has what Apple calls a "Flood Illuminator," aka an infrared light that illuminates your face in the dark so the dot map and the infrared camera can do their jobs.

Fooling Face ID

First of all, Face ID can't be fooled by a photo because it takes a 3D facial scan to unlock a device. Face ID is also "attention aware," a feature Apple implemented for extra security.

Face ID will only unlock your device when you look in the direction of the iPhone X with your eyes open, meaning Face ID only works when there's a live person in front of it. Attention aware is optional, though, and can be turned off if you choose. Most people will want to leave attention awareness on, but for users unable to focus their attention on the iPhone, turning it off will allow the iPhone X to unlock with just a facial scan.

Face ID is also sensitive enough to tell the difference between you and someone who is wearing a mask of your face. Apple trained Face ID with hyperrealistic masks created by Hollywood studios, ensuring a mask of a person wouldn't be able to fool the Face ID system.

faceidmasks
According to Apple, Face ID is more secure than Touch ID because there are slimmer chances of a mismatch. There's a 1 in 50,000 chance someone will be able to unlock your iPhone with their fingerprint, but a 1 in 1,000,000 chance someone else's face will fool Face ID. That doesn't count for twins, though -- if you have an identical twin, that error rate increases.

Touch ID locks a device after five failed attempts, but with Face ID, Apple is only allowing two failed attempts. After two incorrect scans, the iPhone X will lock and require your passcode to unlock again. You can also discreetly disable Face ID by pressing the side button and volume buttons at the same time. This will lock it and require a passcode to access your device.

Face ID With Hats, Beards, Makeup, and Glasses

Face ID works with hats, beards, glasses, scarves, and other accessories that partially obscure the face. According to Apple, this is because the A11 Bionic chip in the iPhone X uses machine learning and a neural engine to recognize changes in your appearance.

It's also likely that Face ID, like other facial recognition systems, has a match threshold that's below 100 percent, so even with part of the face not visible, it recognizes the part that is visible.

faceidhatscarf
Face ID also adapts to changes in your appearance over time, so it will continue to recognize you as you grow a beard or grow your hair longer.

Update: Apple software chief Craig Federighi has confirmed that Face ID will work with most sunglasses. The infrared light used by Face ID can penetrate all but the darkest sunglasses.

Face ID When Unconscious or Sleeping

If someone knocks you unconscious or attempts to unlock your iPhone X with your face while you're sleeping, it's not going to work.

As mentioned above, you need to look at your iPhone for Face ID to grant access to your device.

Face ID Privacy

On iPhones with Touch ID, your fingerprint data is stored in a Secure Enclave on the device, and the same is true of Face ID. Your facial map is encrypted and kept in the Secure Enclave, with authentication happening entirely on your device. No Face ID data is uploaded to iCloud or sent to Apple.

Multiple Faces in Face ID

When using Touch ID, multiple fingerprints can be added to a device so more than one person can unlock it. That is not possible with Face ID. Face ID makes a map of a single face and that's the only face that can unlock the iPhone X. To add a new face, the existing face must be removed.

Face ID at an Angle

You don't need to hold the iPhone X right in front of your face for it to make a Face ID scan. On stage at the keynote event, it was shown held at a comfortable viewing angle and held flat downwards while making an Apple Pay payment at payment terminal.

faceidangle

Face ID and Apple Pay

Face ID replaces Touch ID when authenticating Apple Pay purchases. When checking out with Apple Pay, a glance at the iPhone X will authenticate a payment, and a double click on the side button of the device will confirm it.

faceidapplepay
Face ID will also work in lieu of Touch ID for confirming iTunes payments, accessing secure apps, and more. All third-party apps that use Touch ID will also be able to use Face ID.

Face ID Special Features

With the "attention aware" feature, the iPhone X knows when you're looking at it. Face ID will display notifications and messages on the Lock screen when you look at the iPhone X, it will keep the screen lit, and it will automatically lower the volume of an alarm or ringer when it knows your attention is on the iPhone X's display.

faceidmessagesunlock

Face ID Neural Engine

Face ID is powered by a two-core neural engine built into the A11 Bionic chip. It works in real time and can process more than 600 billion operations per second.

To train the neural engine, Apple used more than a billion facial images and created several neural networks.

Face ID Growing Pains

Touch ID was slow and imperfect when it first launched, and Face ID may not be perfect right away either. iPhone X hands-on reports were generally impressed with the Face ID feature, but there were some reports of problems with the feature not working until the display was turned on and off.

Apple will likely refine Face ID in software updates to further work out bugs, and future iPhones will undoubtedly come with more advanced Face ID systems that further improve the feature's functionality.

Apple says Face ID is the future of how we will unlock our smartphones, suggesting Face ID will be the de facto Touch ID replacement in devices going forward.

Top Rated Comments

OldSchoolMacGuy Avatar
54 months ago
It continually updates the face map so it always recognizes you.

Imagine someone seeing a picture of you with and without a beard. Big difference. But if you take a picture each day or even many times a day as that beard grows, the change is far less drastic and the difference isn't much.

There are a LOT of people crying about this feature without ever using it. People cried about Touch ID too because they had the chance to use it. I recommend trying it before you whine about it.
Score: 45 Votes (Like | Disagree)
Futhark Avatar
54 months ago
It failed at the demo. Even if there is a valid reason they need to get 3rd party sites to verify it really does work as quickly as possible.
It didn’t fail it hadn’t been setup properly for the demo. Every new reboot you have to put in your passcode first before touchID or faceID will work.
Score: 22 Votes (Like | Disagree)
EugW Avatar
54 months ago
This article almost sounds like someone cut and paste (or paraphrased) some Apple press info.

It didn’t fail it hadn’t been setup properly for the demo. Every new reboot you have to put in your passcode first before touchID or faceID will work.
Nope. That wasn't the issue. It failed twice, which is the limit for Face ID apparently, according to updated information posted today.

Update: Face ID is disabled after two unsuccessful attempts, requiring the user to enter the device passcode in order to be re-enabled, as described in Apple's developer beta documentation ('https://developer.apple.com/documentation/localauthentication/lapolicy/1622327-deviceownerauthenticationwithbio'), implying that Federighi was unable to authenticate the first device.
Score: 21 Votes (Like | Disagree)
roland.g Avatar
54 months ago
Sunglasses could be a big deal.
Score: 19 Votes (Like | Disagree)
JGIGS Avatar
54 months ago
Face ID is really intriguing but touch ID was so easy and convenient. I was a little shocked at how they said 1-50,000 could beat a fingerprint ID vs 1-1,000,000 with face recognition. I thought we all had unique fingerprints? Like snowflakes. :)

I will say I still much rather face ID than an awkwardly placed rear touch ID.
Score: 18 Votes (Like | Disagree)
Relentless Power Avatar
54 months ago
Does it though..?
Obviously it does. Do you really think Apple would release a security feature that they didn't spend an immense amount of time protecting one's privacy and security over something they didn't have complete faith in?
Score: 16 Votes (Like | Disagree)

Related Stories

studio buds family

Beats Studio Buds Debuting Today With Active Noise Cancellation, Stemless Design, and More for $150

Monday June 14, 2021 8:00 am PDT by
We've seen a lot of teasers about the Beats Studio Buds over the past month since they first showed up in Apple's beta software updates, and today they're finally official. The Beats Studio Buds are available to order today in red, white, and black ahead of a June 24 ship date, and they're priced at $149.99. The Studio Buds are the first Beats-branded earbuds to truly compete with AirPods...
YouTube Picture in Picture Feature

YouTube Premium Subscribers Can Now Use iOS Picture-in-Picture: Here's How

Wednesday August 25, 2021 3:55 am PDT by
Google has rolled out picture-in-picture support as an "experimental" feature for YouTube premium subscribers, allowing them to watch video in a small window when the app is closed. If you're a premium YouTube subscriber looking to try out picture-in-picture, follow these steps: Launch a web browser and sign into your YouTube account at YouTube.com. Navigate to www.youtube.com/new. Scroll...
gradiente iphone white

Brazilian Electronics Company Revives Long-Running iPhone Trademark Dispute

Tuesday May 19, 2020 1:06 pm PDT by
Apple has been involved in a long-running iPhone trademark dispute in Brazil, which was revived today by IGB Electronica, a Brazilian consumer electronics company that originally registered the "iPhone" name in 2000. IGB Electronica fought a multi-year battle with Apple in an attempt to get exclusive rights to the "iPhone" trademark, but ultimately lost, and now the case has been brought to...
youtube apple tv

YouTube Discontinuing 3rd-Generation Apple TV App, AirPlay Still Available

Wednesday February 3, 2021 3:09 pm PST by
YouTube is planning to stop supporting its YouTube app on the third-generation Apple TV models, where YouTube has long been available as a channel option. A 9to5Mac reader received a message about the upcoming app discontinuation, which is set to take place in March.Starting early March, the YouTube app will no longer be available on Apple TV (3rd generation). You can still watch YouTube on...
ryanscoolios13thumbnail

Apple Releases iOS 13.1.3 With Bug Fixes for Phone, Mail, Health, and More

Tuesday October 15, 2019 10:09 am PDT by
Apple today released iOS 13.1.3 and iPadOS 13.1.3, minor updates to the iOS 13.1.2 software that was released two weeks ago. This is the fourth update to the iOS 13 operating system that came out in September. The iOS and iPadOS 13.1.3 updates are available on all eligible devices over-the-air in the Settings app. To access the updates, go to Settings > General > Software Update....
bluetti eb70 main

MacRumors Giveaway: Win a Bluetti EB70 Portable Power Station and 200W Solar Panel

Friday September 3, 2021 11:13 am PDT by
For this week's giveaway, we've teamed up with MAXOAK to offer MacRumors readers a chance to win a Bluetti portable power station and an accompanying solar panel. Bluetti makes a range of portable power station options that are useful for camping, emergencies, power outages, off-grid living, and similar situations. The Bluetti EB70 is a solid middle of the road option that offers 716Wh and...
M1X MBP Feature

Leaker: Upcoming MacBook Pro to See Price Hike Over Current Model, Equal Performance Across 14 and 16-Inch Sizes

Tuesday August 24, 2021 5:28 am PDT by
The upcoming 14-inch MacBook Pro is set to be more expensive than the current 13-inch MacBook Pro and both the 14 and 16-inch models will offer the same performance, according to the leaker known as "Dylandkt." The leaker shared the information on Twitter, explaining that both of the upcoming MacBook Pro models, expected to come in 14 and 16-inch sizes, will feature the same performance due...
iphone 13 teal with text

Apple Expecting iPhone and iPad Supply Constraints in September Quarter

Tuesday July 27, 2021 2:34 pm PDT by
During today's earnings call covering the third fiscal quarter of 2021 (second calendar quarter), Apple CFO Luca Maesteri said that Apple is expecting supply constraints to affect the iPhone and the iPad in the coming quarter. "The supply constraints that we've seen in the June quarter will be higher in the September quarter," said Maestri. The constraints will impact iPhone and iPad sales...
os x mountain lion macs 16x9 2

Apple Makes OS X Lion and Mountain Lion Free to Download

Wednesday June 30, 2021 12:19 pm PDT by
Apple recently dropped the $19.99 fee for OS X Lion and Mountain Lion, making the older Mac updates free to download, reports Macworld. Apple has kept OS X 10.7 Lion and OS X 10.8 Mountain Lion available for customers who have machines limited to the older software, but until recently, Apple was charging $19.99 to get download codes for the updates. As of last week, these updates no...
maxresdefault

Craig Federighi and Greg Joswiak Discuss iPadOS 15, macOS Monterey, Privacy, Shortcuts on Mac, and More

Saturday June 12, 2021 6:12 am PDT by
As is tradition, Apple executives Craig Federighi and Greg Joswiak joined Daring Fireball's John Gruber in an episode of The Talk Show to discuss several announcements that Apple made over this weeks WWDC, including iPadOS 15, macOS Monterey, and a large focus around privacy. Federighi kicks off the conversation discussing the common architecture, now thanks to Apple silicon, across all of...