How does Face ID work?

The latest iPhone models since 2017’s iPhone X allow users to unlock the screen with their faces. And the 2018 models (XS, XS Max and XR) have removed Touch ID so you can no longer use your fingerprint to access your device. Apple is encouraging people to trust in facial recognition technology as the secure default option. Indeed, the company has said that the chance of a random person being able to unlock your phone with Face ID is 1 in 1,000,000. Touch ID by comparison was 1 in 50,000, so it’s a significant improvement.

Facial biometrics is a type of physiological biometric technology.  Apple’s Face ID works thanks to the company’s TrueDepth camera system that maps the geometry (or shape) of a user’s face. It does this by using a variety of sensors including a flood illuminator (a light), an infrared camera, a front camera, a dot projector, a proximity sensor and an ambient light sensor.  The Fface detection and face match processes for verification/identification are very fast. ​​

When you turn on the phone for the first time, you’ll be asked to have your face mapped. You can also turn it on later by going to Settings -> Face ID & Passcode.

The TrueDepth camera captures your facial data by projecting and analyzing over 30,000 invisible dots to create a depth map of your face. At the same time an infrared image of your face is also captured. This is then turned into mathematical representation and each time you want to unlock your phone, your face is sensed again and compared to the stored data. If it’s a match, the phone unlocks. For added security, your facial data never leaves the phone and is not transferred so no one can access it.

Another smart feature is Face ID’s ability to evolve as your face changes. So, if you apply make-up or grow a beard, you’ll still be able to log in.


One question many people have is can the Face ID system be tricked or hacked?

First up, Face ID cannot be fooled by a photo of your face. Some have tried making a 3D sculpture of a user’s face but this is a very sophisticated approach that takes hours so user’s shouldn’t worry about it.

Also, it is worth pointing out that even if someone fools or spoofs the iPhone into unlocking, they have no way to access your actual facial recognition data. That information is stored securely, and no one can extract it.

Facial recognition technology is secure and a very convenient way to access your device. It’s also interesting because more people will get used to using it and start paying for things and accessing services. Furthermore, the increased use of eGates in airports for quick and secure ID verification in air travel, mean that we’ll be able to harnessing the opportunities that facial recognition brings more quickly. It’s all part of a movement to create secure biometric authentication that uses multiple techniques (such as face and fingerprint) to ensure you are who you say you are. Let us know if you have any questions about Face ID or biometrics.