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iPhone X’s Face ID is hit and miss, but that doesn’t mean it’s any less magical

by Danny Zepeda | January 30, 2018January 30, 2018 2:00 pm PST

While roaming the halls of CES, I was using my iPhone X as my main device. I used it to email, organize meetings and navigate my way around the Las Vegas Convention Center.

But there was a major issue that kept popping up: Face ID was acting particularly unreliable. While wearing a pair of sunglasses, the lock at the top of the display kept nodding in disagreement. Taking the glasses off, I peered into the notch and stretched out my neck hoping for the satisfying verification. Still nothing. It wasn’t until I locked the device and started a fresh batch of recognition cycles when Face ID finally recognized my face and unlocked the iPhone.

That left me with one conclusion: Face ID needs work.

This has been the story since I got my iPhone X back in November. In the beginning, Face ID was a magical experience. I just needed to look at my phone and voila, it was unlocked.

But after a while, the magic wore off. When wearing a hat and shades, Face ID never works for me. Take either off and my luck improves dramatically, but it’s a compromise I never had to make with Touch ID. Same thing when I’m lying in bed. Face ID can never complete the full scan of my face and I am again rejected. I just tend to accept my fate in these situations and enter my passcode.

It’s the plight of a first generation product and we all should have seen it coming. If we continue criticize Face ID for it, begrudging its mixed bag of results, we only have ourselves to blame.

The main problem we run into is that we can’t help but compare it to Touch ID. It was Apple’s go-to biometric sensor before it introduced the new facial scanning technology with the iPhone X. Featured in every phone since the iPhone 5s, Touch ID was allowed to go through the growing pains that Face ID is going through right now.

The iPhone 5s was not the first fingerprint scanner to be featured in a device—that distinction goes to the Motorola Atrix—but it was the first to offer a usable experience. It wasn’t perfect, but it worked well. In an eerie repetition of events, the iPhone X was not the first smartphone to offer a face-scanning biometric sensor—that was the Galaxy S4’s Face Unlock—but it is the best one to date.

Today, it’s hard to remember when Touch ID was not so great. Few might remember that the home button was mushy and the fingerprint scanner suffered from lag. But those drawbacks were slowly improved.

A year later in 2014, Apple released a second generation version of Touch ID on the iPhone 6 with improved tactileness and improved recognition. Come 2015, Apple somehow improved the scanning abilities of Touch ID to near instantaneous levels. By 2016,  Touch ID was perfect. That is four years of development.

We should give Face ID a similar timeframe to reach its full potential. Apple is already planning on minimizing the notch needed to house the True Depth sensors as well as utilizing the camera to better verify faces. Enhancements to Face ID are on the way, we just have to be patient.

It’s hard to be patient when you want the latest and greatest at your fingertips right now, but it’s a sacrifice we need to make to explore new technologies. Expect the same growing pains for the in-display fingerprint scanner that is already debuting this year. Vivo is the first smartphone maker to offer it with the V20 Plus UD. I got a chance to try it out at CES and it works impressively, just with a slight lag. But this was in perfect conditions. Who knows how it’ll handle dirty or sweaty fingers.

Face ID is not great, but it’s only because our expectations are so high; even wondrous technology doesn’t impress us anymore. Instead of being awed because a phone can scan our face, we’re annoyed it doesn’t do it fast enough.

Apple does have its work cut out. It still needs to refine the hand off between Face ID and passcode. The process right now is wonky, especially when Face ID tries to read your face and fails. It always take longer than it should. And even though Apple originally never intended for Touch ID to work with multiple users, it proved to be very useful. The same function should make its way to Face ID.

That will come in due time. For the time being, let’s lay off Face ID and appreciate it. It won’t work all the time and that’s okay. It’s unfair to expect it to do so. If you have any other issues with it, Apple still sells the iPhone 8 with the perfected Touch ID sensor.

Face ID isn’t that great, but I still find it mesmerizing and just as magical as Apple promised. It works roughly 80-percent of the time and that’s good enough for me. I’ll take it if it means I get to use a feature of the future.


Danny Zepeda

Born and raised in Southern California, Danny grew up on a steady diet Pixar, Star Wars and Steven Spielberg movies. Unbeknownst to him, this was...

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