At Apple’s event on Tuesday, Apple’s senior vice president of software engineering Craig Federighi demoed the iPhone X’s Face ID feature and the software failed to register Federighi’s face, prompting him to type in a password instead.
Federighi, without skipping a beat, picked up a second iPhone X. The device promptly recognized his face and the demonstration proceeded without any further setbacks.
Of course Face ID’s apparent failure prompted the interwebs to go nuts and the headlines read: Face ID had failed.
Howver, Face ID performed perfectly as it appears somebody at Apple set up the phone incorrectly. According to Apple, the issue was a simple matter of typing in the wrong password too many times.
“People were handling the device for stage demo ahead of time and didn’t realize Face ID was trying to authenticate their face,” said an Apple spokesperson.
“After failing a number of times, because they weren’t [Federighi], the iPhone did was it was designed to do, which was to require his passcode… Face ID worked as it was designed to.”
We have no reason to suspect Apple isn’t telling the truth, as the message on the phone’s screen after Federighi tried to Face ID-unlock it confirms Apple’s story.
This is the message you see when you restart your iPhone X, rather than just waking it. With other iPhones, if you wake your phone, you can unlock it with your fingerprint but if it’s been off, you have to enter your password manually, every single time. The same procedure is carried out on Samsung phones.
It’s a security measure, meant to prevent others from accessing the phone to get your fingerprint data. Your fingerprints aren’t actually stored in your iPhone. The iPhone stores numerical representations of your fingerprints in something called the Secure Enclave. When you place your finger on the Home button/sensor, it compares the numerical representation of your fingerprint scan with what is stored in the Secure Enclave.
Your passcode is required when you restart because it unlocks the Secure Enclave. Without entering your passcode at restart, your iPhone cannot recognize your fingerprint(s), because the Secure Enclave is not accessible until after you enter the passcode.
Exactly the same system is at work on the iPhone X. You can unlock a sleeping phone with face recognition but if the phone has been restarted or shut off, you still have to enter your password manually.
Somebody, in the process of setting up Federighi’s demo phone, had restarted it before the show. The “passcode is required” message protected Federighi’s stored face data, just the way today’s phones protect your stored fingerprint data.
So in effect, Apples Face ID demo actually worked flawlessly.