iPhone X facial recognition: Hands-on with Face ID, the biggest feature in Apple’s new phone

UK exclusiveThe Independent's tech critic David Phelan was given rare early access to the new iPhone, and found that Apple is keeping your secrets safe using what feels like black magic

David Phelan@davidphelan2009
Tuesday 31 October 2017 10:37
iPhone X: Review with David Phelan

This is one of the standout innovations on the new iPhone. Once Apple had taken the decision to make the screen cover as much of the phone’s front as possible, there was no room for the Home Button with its Touch ID fingerprint sensor used to unlock the phone, and authenticate Apple Pay and some apps.

Apple immediately looked into whether facial recognition could be the way to replace this – I’m told no time was spent trying to embed the sensor under the display, on the back or anywhere else.

Instead, they utilised the smarts gained from PrimeSense, an Israeli 3D sensing company Apple purchased in 2013. Even at first analysis, it looked like it was almost as good as Touch ID and obviously it’s been highly refined since.

Raise the phone to your face and the padlock which sits at the top of the lock screen quickly swings open. In fact, you don’t have to wait for this animation, as you look you can swipe up to go straight to the home screen. It’s mighty fast.

And it’s very reliable, more than rival systems I’ve tried.

You don’t have to pick this iPhone up to wake the screen. Along with Raise to Wake, the iPhone X uniquely includes Tap to Wake. So, if the phone is lying on the table, one tap turns it on and if you’re looking at it just right, it unlocks.

This is about the only time I found it didn’t work. Though with trial and error I found that providing I wasn’t too close or at the wrong angle, it would recognise me from this position, too.

There are times, incidentally, when you won’t want to swipe up the screen to go to the Home screen too quickly.

When a notification arrives, it displays on screen. If this is a recent credit card transaction, say, you may not want whoever happens to be near your phone to see how much you’ve just spent.

No worries, the screen simply says Notification, only telling you which app has sent it (News, Messages, Mail, whatever).

However, when the iPhone recognises you, the notifications reveal their secrets. It feels personal and intimate.

Similarly, when the phone rings and you look at it, the ring volume is dialled down. It’s a tiny touch but again it makes the whole thing feel especially personal.

Touch ID is used for Apple Pay and for some other apps where you’d opted to use fingerprint recognition instead of a password. All of these are automatically reconfigured to work with Face ID instead.

This does require a slightly different interaction. While you could invoke Apple Pay by resting your thumb on the sensor, without looking at it at all, now you must double-press the side button while looking directly at the phone.

This is different, but not much more work. I have friends who have never mastered Apple Pay because they press on instead of touch the sensor. It’s Touch ID, not Press ID, I would feebly insist as their over-zealous press launched Siri. Again.

If you are one of these people, rejoice, you can’t get it wrong with the iPhone X. Double-press, let the iPhone see your face and you’re away.

The system works by seeing your eyes, nose and mouth, so if your hand is over your mouth, it won’t work.

It had no problem recognising me through my glasses, or with or without contact lenses. My sunglasses don’t work with Face ID, but many do. It’s the infra-red wavelength that decides this: it won’t work with sunglasses that block a particular wavelength.

If Face ID failed to recognise me too often, or accepted someone else as me, it would be a failure. But it’s not. Though there have been very occasional times where I’ve had to do it twice for it to be sure it’s me, it has never unlocked for anyone else.

It feels secure. Not to mention personal, speedy and, dare I say it, a bit like black magic.

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