Face ID vs Touch ID

Which is the best way of un­lock­ing an iPhone, in terms of speed, re­li­a­bil­ity and se­cu­rity? Mar­tyn Casserly re­ports

iPad&iPhone user - - FEATURE -

At the re­cent iPhone event Ap­ple un­veiled a new fea­ture that will al­lows users to un­lock their iPhone X sim­ply by look­ing at it. Witch­craft, we hear you cry. But no, this is Face ID, a cam­era-based fa­cial recog­ni­tion sys­tem that Ap­ple is po­si­tion­ing as the fu­ture of smart­phone se­cu­rity.

Here we look at how Face ID works, why the face looks set to re­place the fin­ger­print as a means of bio­met­ric se­cu­rity, and how Face ID and Touch ID com­pare for speed, re­li­a­bil­ity, se­cu­rity and pri­vacy.

What is Face ID?

Since the launch of the iPhone 5s, Touch ID has been the fast and ef­fi­cient way to un­lock an iOS de­vice thanks to the fin­ger­print sen­sor hid­den in the Home but­ton.

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.

With the in­tro­duc­tion of the iPhone X (pro­nounced ‘ten’) comes Face ID, which uses the new TrueDepth cam­era to cre­ate a 3D map of your face. This means that, just as your fin­ger­print was scanned on Touch ID to open your phone, now your looks will get you every­where.

How does Face ID work?

The TrueDepth cam­era on the iPhone X is made up of sev­eral dif­fer­ent el­e­ments, all of which com­bine to make your 3D fa­cial im­age.

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.

Read­ing this map is the in­frared cam­era, which records the place­ment of ev­ery dot, then sends the data di­rectly to the Se­cure En­clave within the iPhone X’s A11 Bionic pro­ces­sor chip.

Here it is checked against the pre-scanned im­age to en­sure that the cor­rect face is be­ing seen, all with­out any info be­ing sent out to ex­ter­nal servers. If a match is found, the phone is un­locked, all within a blink of an eye.

Don’t blink too slowly, though, as Face ID only works if your eyes are open and you’re look­ing di­rectly at the cam­era. This is a sen­si­ble se­cu­rity fea­ture to pre­vent

any­body lift­ing your phone while you sleep and us­ing your slum­ber­ing coun­te­nance to ac­cess the de­vice. (Some have won­dered how well this will suit those with dis­abil­i­ties that pre­vent them from open­ing their eyes, but it ap­pears you can turn the op­tion off in ac­ces­si­bil­ity set­tings.)

Thanks to the Flood Il­lu­mi­na­tor also found in the TrueDepth cam­era, Face ID can even see you in the dark, so the sleep sce­nario isn’t as far-fetched as it might sound.

Hope­fully there is some way for the de­vice to also reg­is­ter when you’re in the cin­ema, so it can res­o­lutely refuse to let you use your phone dur­ing a screen­ing. If not then we can only hope that the Bri­tish ver­sion of the iPhone X is re­sis­tant to loud, an­noyed tut­ting.

How re­li­able will Face ID be, com­pared to Touch ID?

As Face ID is yet to make its way into the wild, we can’t be cer­tain how ac­cu­rate and ro­bust the recog­ni­tion pro­to­cols will be.

On its first pub­lic out­ing the fea­ture ac­tu­ally failed to open for Ap­ple ex­ec­u­tive Craig Fed­erighi, which 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

demon­stra­tion Face ID worked im­pec­ca­bly, open­ing the de­vice on sev­eral oc­ca­sions.

Just as Touch ID can have a habit of not rec­og­niz­ing fin­ger­prints from time to time (for ad­vice on deal­ing with th­ese, see What to do if Touch ID is not work­ing), Face ID will no doubt have its dodgy mo­ments. This is noth­ing to worry about, though, as users are re­quired to cre­ate a pass­code while set­ting up the fea­ture, so you’ll never truly be locked out of your iPhone.

Is Face ID more se­cure than Touch ID?

For years we’ve all 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. Some­how, it feels like a cam­era look­ing at our face is less se­cure and re­li­able. What if the lens

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