Face ID: Apple’s face unlock system explained

Face ID: The new way to unlock your iPhone X, and soon the only way to unlock an iPhone?

When Apple introduced the iPhone X towards the end of 2018, it was a striking shift away from a design formula it had stuck to for many years.

One of the biggest changes was the removable of Touch ID; the fingerprint scanner that had sat below the display since the iPhone 5S. In its place was Face ID. If the rumours are to be believed then the upcoming iPhone XS and iPhone 9 (neither of which have been officially announced yet) will also use Face ID.

What is Face ID and how does it work?

Due to the virtually edge-to-edge display on the iPhone X, there isn’t enough room on the front of the phone for the home button that has so far sat below the display on every previous iPhone.

Instead, there’s a TrueDepth front-facing camera and infrared sensor that can scan your face. This isn’t entirely new for smartphones, the Samsung Galaxy S9 has a similar feature and even an iris scanner, but it’s the first time Apple has utilised something like this.

Related: iPad Pro 2018

Setting up Face ID is very similar to the Touch ID setup process. Just head into Settings and then security, or you’ll be prompted to do this when you boot the phone for the first time.

The camera and infrared sensor will scan your face as you move around. It works with glasses, and even if you have hats and scarves on. It also works well in the dark, something other face unlock solutions struggle with.

You will of course have to setup a pin-code too and this is used if for some reason your face isn’t recognised.

Like Touch ID, Face ID isn’t just for unlocking your phone. It can also be used to authenticate purchases from iTunes and apps that previously used fingerprint unlock.

Is Face ID secure?

Apple says it is. It says your face data is stored in the protected enclave inside the A11 Bionic chip, and not sent anywhere else. It’s also not possible, in our tests anyway, to fool the system with a photo.

Which phones have Face ID?

Face ID is a headline feature on the iPhone X, however it’s rumoured that the upcoming iPhones for 2018 will rely on Face ID as the main method of unlocking and authentication. 

Touch ID vs Face ID: Is Touch ID dead?

The answer to this is currently no. At the time of writing Touch ID still resides on a number of iPhones Apple sells and of course on other products like the iPad Pro and MacBook Pro.

However, it is rumoured that the new iPhones will eschew fingerprint sensors completely and only have Face ID.

Do you prefer Face ID or Touch ID? Let us know @trustedreviews