21.11.2019

A short list of times my iPhone X’s FaceID couldn’t recognize my face this weekend

On Friday, I stood next to a construction site for an hour to purchase a $1,149 new smartphone from Apple.

Over the weekend, I used my iPhone X so much that I managed to drain its battery both days before the evening, as I spent so much time showing off its new features and testing them myself. To do that, I needed to unlock my phone each time. That meant using one of Apple’s latest features.

In the iPhone X, Apple has replaced the home button fingerprint scanner that’s been on every iPhone since the 5S with a new facial-mapping technology called FaceID. It’s supposed to be so secure that the technology will only open your phone for your face, but early reviewers have found that twins and brothers can fool the system. It’s also supposed to be advanced enough that it can recognize you if you grow a beard, wear sunglasses, put on a lot of makeup, age, gain weight, and all the other things that might change your appearance.

I found after a couple days of using the phone that the FaceID detection system was often confused, much like we all observed when it was introduced to the world. Here’s a few examples of when my phone wouldn’t unlock immediately:

  • When I’d just woken up, in the dark of my room, without my glasses on
  • When I put on my sunglasses and a baseball cap inside
  • Walking outside with my sunglasses and cap on
  • When my phone is on a table and my face is not directly parallel to it
  • When I was brushing my teeth
  • In a poorly lit bar
  • When I sit at any desk with my hand covering my mouth, which is how I sit all the time

It’s worth noting that in most of these instances, the phone would eventually unlock after a few attempts, but it took far longer than my old iPhone 7 with its fingerprint scanner. Apple has said that FaceID will improve its map of your face with each scan, so hopefully it’ll get better with time. But then, the fingerprint scanner worked just fine from the day I took the phone out of the box until I handed it over for the X.

Most of these might seem like inconsequential instances of the technology not working, but I was often frustrated that I couldn’t get into my phone whenever I wanted to. You have to wait for FaceID to turn on, scan your face, not recognize you, and then bring up the backup passcode screen. It’s annoying that I have to change my behavior to open my phone (remember to move my hand from my face, not have anything blocking my face, or take off my hat) when the technology that FaceID replaced didn’t require me to do any of these things.

It’s just another example of the software frustrations that seem to be plaguing Apple these days—in the last few weeks, our phones have forgotten how to add, and what the letter “i” is. It’s no wonder Samsung has once again started mocking iPhone owners in its latest commercials.

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