Apple's Face ID: Everything iPhone X users need to know

Whether you're looking forward to Face ID or dreading it, Apple's facial recognition technology is coming with the iPhone X. Here's what you need to know about Face ID.

A new generation of iPhone is here, and with it comes innovations. One of the most exciting is Apple's new method of unlocking the iPhone X: Face ID.

The fingerprint scanner is gone, and in its place is a new camera array capable of capturing a face map that is, according to Apple, 20 times less likely to be hacked than a Touch ID fingerprint.

Craig Federighi's Face ID presentation during the keynote at Apple's September 2017 event may have been less than perfect, but that doesn't mean it's doomed. In fact, Face ID could bring us into a whole new age of biometric technology.

TechRepublic's smart person's guide about Face ID is a quick introduction to Apple's new form of biometric security, as well as a "living" guide that will be updated periodically.

SEE: All of TechRepublic's smart person's guides

Executive summary

  • What is Face ID? Face ID is Apple's newest form of biometric security. Instead of using a fingerprint, as with Touch ID, Face ID uses the owner's face captured using the front-facing camera on an iPhone X.
  • Why does Face ID matter? Face ID has the potential to make devices more secure, and to create an all new norm for interacting with technology.
  • Who does Face ID affect? Face ID affects anyone who plans to use an iPhone X, as that's the only device that will have the feature available for now. All-new hardware in the X-series iPhone is required for it to function properly. Tech professionals will also need to be ready to address questions and issues that users, developers, and CIOs may have about Face ID.
  • When will Face ID be available? Face ID is coming along with the launch of the iPhone X on November 3, 2017.
  • How do I use Face ID? Enrolling in Face ID is similar to setting up Touch ID—you scan your face and move it to slightly different angles to get a total map that the phone can recognize.

SEE: Mobile device computing policy (Tech Pro Research)

Image: Apple/Screenshot by CNET

What is Face ID?

Still unlocking your phone with a fingerprint? How primitive! The modern smartphone user, provided they get an iPhone X when it launches, is unlocking their device with a glance.

Apple's Face ID is its next-generation biometric system that scans the face instead of a finger. According to Apple, the likelihood of a random person being able to use their face to unlock someone else's phone is 1:1,000,000. Touch ID's odds are 1:50,000, making Face ID 20 times more secure.

Face ID maps faces in a similar way to how Touch ID maps fingerprints: It doesn't store an image, but instead makes a map of the face using data points. When those data points match up with a face, it triggers an unlock.

Apple maps faces with a new front-facing camera array called the TrueDepth camera system. In addition to an improved camera, the TrueDepth system uses a dot map projected onto the face that is captured using infrared light.

Once captured using light, the dot map is sent to the Secure Enclave on the A11 chip, where it is checked against existing records, just like a fingerprint.

SEE: Cybersecurity in an IoT and mobile world (free PDF) (TechRepublic)

Face ID can also be used for other things that Touch ID used to do, like paying with Apple Pay or verifying your identity with apps. Another important note: There is no Touch ID sensor on the iPhone X, so if you want one of those devices, you had better be comfortable with Face ID.

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Why does Face ID matter?

Touch ID isn't perfect, nor is any biometric technology. Apple seems to believe it's struck gold with Face ID, and it may be right if the technology is as smooth as the company's marketing makes it out to be.

For starters, Face ID could be a huge boost to smartphone security—with 20x less likelihood it could be cracked by a random person, Face ID might make breaking into a device much harder than it was in the past.

In addition, Apple claims it has taken steps to specifically rule out Face ID being fooled by a photo or a 3D mask/model of a face. If that holds true, it may eliminate one of the largest fears opponents of biometric security have.

SEE: iPhone X's Face ID: How does it handle beards, makeup, wrinkles? Apple explains (ZDNet)

Face scanning technology is by no means new. Android has had Trusted Face unlocking since Lollipop. Google, however, warns that Trusted Face is less secure than a PIN, pattern, or password: "Someone who looks similar to you could unlock your phone," it said.

Apple's Face ID matters because it has improved on facial recognition. If Apple is correct in the power of its TrueDepth system and the way it stores Face ID data, it may push the industry toward wider use, acceptance, and trust of face-based biometrics.

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Who does Face ID affect?

Face ID affects people who buy the iPhone X, as hardware that's only present in Apple's new flagship phone is necessary to make it operate.

Face ID also affects anyone who has to manage iOS devices in an IT environment. Tech professionals will need to become familiar with setting up Face ID and helping users understand its abilities and limitations. There are plenty of people who will want an iPhone X, only to find themselves unfamiliar with the device due to its lack of fingerprint scanner and forced adoption of Face ID.

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When will Face ID be available?

Face ID will be available with the release of the iPhone X on November 3, 2017. The iPhone X is the only device that will be able to use Face ID, so don't expect a software update to enable it on an older device.

Additional resources

How do I use Face ID?

Using Face ID to unlock your device is, according to Apple, as simple as picking it up and looking at it with your eyes opened (it won't scan if your eyes are closed).

Setting up Face ID is done similarly to Touch ID, though the exact steps aren't known yet since Face ID hasn't yet been released. TechRepublic will be testing Face ID once the iPhone X is released; this section will be updated with the results of our tests.

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About Brandon Vigliarolo

Brandon writes about apps and software for TechRepublic. He's an award-winning feature writer who previously worked as an IT professional and served as an MP in the US Army.

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