The iPhone X, Apple’s brand-new, mega-fancy, $1,000 smartphone has finally arrived — missing, conspicuously, the home button that every iPhone has had since the very first model. No home button means no fingerprint-sensor Touch ID, and no fingerprint-sensor Touch ID means, please pause here for dramatic effect, that you use your face to unlock it.
Apple executive Phil Schiller announced the new feature, Face ID, and described it as an almost impossibly convenient and safe technology — making sure to downplay Touch ID, a technology that Apple essentially pioneered. Does it work? Another Apple exec, Craig Federighi, tried to do a live demo of the new technology, and, uh, well, it didn’t exactly work. But once Craig got things under control, here’s what we learned about the new feature built into the $1,000 phone.
Face ID relies on the iPhone X’s front-facing camera.
Called the “true depth camera system,” the front of the iPhone X is equipped with a microphone, sensors, cameras, a dot projector, an illuminator, and a proximity sensor. As Apple describes it, this equipment works in concert to recognize your face each time you look at the device by creating a “mathematical model” of what you look like. (How accurate a description of the technology at play this is, I couldn’t say.) It’s similar to how phones with Touch ID map your fingerprint. Except … with your face.
The camera is apparently smart enough to recognize you even if you change up your look.
Shave your head. Pull your hair into a ponytail. Don a baseball cap or a fedora. Throw on some glasses with a fake mustache. Apple says that Face ID, using the model of your face, will still know who you are and unlock your device.
The one thing you can’t do is look away: Eye contact matters.
Face ID won’t work if your eyes are closed or you aren’t looking at the device. (Whether this is a good enough way to avoid being forced to open your phone by law enforcement is a question for law enforcement.)
Apple isn’t building up a database of pictures of your face.
All processing is done on your device, and photos aren’t sent or stored anywhere once the phone is unlocked. Which means your information should remain private. Assuming you’re the kind of person who trusts technology or thinks that anything web-enabled can ever be truly “private.”
Chances are good that nobody else’s face will unlock your phone.
According to Schiller, the odds of somebody who isn’t you being able to successfully access your phone with their face are one in a million. That’s significantly more secure than Touch ID, which was one in 50,000.
Unless, of course, there’s another you running around out there somewhere.
If you’ve got an identical twin, you might want to watch your phone. Schiller noted the odds change for people attempting to open your phone who are genetically related to you. Parent Trap 2: Rise of the iPhone X.