How To Use Face ID On Your iPhone

Learn how facial recognition works with Apple devices

Face ID on iPhone
image credit: Apple Inc.

Face ID a facial recognition system that replaces Apple's Touch ID fingerprint scanner on some devices. It uses sensors arrayed around the iPhone's front-facing camera to scan your face and, if the scan matches the data on file, perform certain actions (typically unlocking the phone).

What Is Face ID Used For on iPhone?

Face ID is used for many of the same things as Touch ID. Most important among these is:

What Devices Support Face ID?

The only device that currently supports Face ID is the iPhone X.

It's a safe bet that, just like Touch ID started on the iPhone and has been added to other devices like the iPad, Face ID will appear on other Apple devices sooner than later.

How Does Face ID Work?

The notch at the top of the iPhone X's screen is where the sensors used by Face ID are. These sensors include:

  • Dot Projector—This projects 30,000 invisible dots onto your face. The dots are used to map the structure and depth of your face. That builds a three-dimensional "unique facial map," according to Apple.
  • Infrared Camera—This camera reads the dots from the Projector and captures an image. 
  • Flood Illuminator—This additional infrared light helps ensure that the system works even in the dark.

The facial map captured by the infrared camera is matched against the data stored on your iPhone to unlock or authorize the Apple Pay transaction.

The system is smart and sensitive enough, according to Apple, that it can recognize you even if you change your haircut, wear glasses, grow or shave a beard, and age.

Is My Face Scan Stored in the Cloud?

No, Face ID face scans are not stored in the cloud. All face scans are stored directly on your iPhone. They are held in the "Secure Enclave," one of the iPhone's chips that's dedicated specifically to securing sensitive data. This is also where fingerprint information created by Touch ID are stored.

How Secure Is My Face Scan?

The way that the Secure Enclave works makes Face ID even more secure. Your facial scan itself isn't actually stored on your iPhone. Instead, when the facial scan is created, it's converted to a number that represents the scan. That's stored in your iPhone.

Even if a hacker were able to access the data in your iPhone's Secure Enclave, all they would get is a number, not an actual scan of your face. That means they would not be able to use the data to submit your information to another facial recognition system.

How Does Face ID Compare to Other Smartphone Facial Recognition Systems?

Face ID hasn't been released yet (since the iPhone X hasn't been released yet), so it's impossible to compare to current systems. However, there's one major phone out there with this kind of technology: Samsung S8. Unfortunately, that system has been shown to be very easy to fool, including by holding up a photograph. Because of this, the Samsung system appears to not be terribly secure. Samsung won't allow its facial scans to approve financial transactions (the way Touch ID can on an iPhone).

How to Set Up and Use Face ID

As of now, we can't provide instructions on how to set up or use Face ID. That's because it's only available on the iPhone X, which hasn't been released yet. Once the X is available, we'll update this article with all the details about how to set up and use Face ID.

How to Disable Face ID

If you need to quickly disable Face ID, press the iPhone's side button and volume down buttons at the same time. In order to enable Face ID again, you'll need to re-enter your passcode.