Touch ID not working well for you? Here's how to fix it!

Touch ID is Apple's fingerprint identity sensor, currently only available on the iPhone 5s. It allows you to unlock your device and make purchases from the iTunes and App Stores by touching and briefly holding your finger against the Home button. When it works, it's magical, and you want it everywhere - your iPad, your car, your house. When it doesn't, you want to throw your iPhone across the room. What can make Touch ID failures even more frustrating is figuring out why they're failing. From the outside it seems like the stereotypical black box. A fingerprint goes in and then it either works or doesn't, and if it doesn't, there's no way for us to see what went wrong, why, or how to fix it. Maddening. There are, however, some things you can do to make it work better and more often...

When the capacitive ring around the Touch ID sensor detects a finger, a triggers a high-resolution image capture. That image is converted into a mathematical representation, which is then sent through the hardware channel to a secure enclave on the Apple A7 chipset. If the representation matches what's stored in the enclave, a "yes" token is released and the unlock is authenticated or the purchase authorized. If not, a "no" token is released, and all you get is a digital head shake. Every time Touch ID scans a finger and recognizes it, it adds additional detail to the representation, theoretically to make it register even faster and better in the future.

So what can go wrong, and how can we prevent it from going wrong?

  1. During the registration process, make sure you move your finger around enough that the entire surface gets scanned during the first stage, and then every edge gets scanned during the second phase. When you're setting up Touch ID, you're right in front of your phone. When you're using it in the real world, you'll be coming at it from every angle.
  2. Any sweat or liquid on your finger at all can interfere with the scan. Wipe both your finger and the Home button off and dry then completely before using Touch ID.
  3. The sequential improvement process can sometimes go off-track (i.e. instead of getting better, an error can occur and it can get worse). When that starts to happen, delete the fingerprint and re-register. That'll return it to its base state and prevent chaos from swallowing the process whole. (Guy English had some smart ideas about how Apple could improve this part, hopefully he'll write them up...) (Hi Guy!)

There's a theory on the 'net that registering the same finger more than once, including variants like doing it again upside down, can improve Touch ID speed and reliability. I don't have enough information to determine whether, long term, that's true or not. Since Touch ID is always updating registered prints, I don't know if conflicts or collisions can occur.

Currently, I have 3 fingers registered, no duplicates. I re-registered them all once about a month ago, and Touch ID works for me immediately about 90% of the time, after 2-3 tries 8% of the time, and fails completely (requiring me to enter a Passcode) about 2% of the time (not counting reboots when Passcode is mandatory). However, I'm aware of people who have much, much lower success rates, and how rage inducing it is when you're denied the future today.

Let me know how Touch ID is working for you in the poll above, give me the details in the comments below, and if you have any Touch ID tips to share, please do!

Update: Serenity Caldwell of Macworld has posted some excellent trouble-shooting tips for Touch ID. Check them out!

Rene Ritchie

Editor-in-Chief of iMore, co-host of Iterate, Debug, ZEN and TECH, MacBreak Weekly. Cook, grappler, photon wrangler. Follow him on Twitter, App.net, Google+.

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There are 55 comments. Add yours.

Allyson Kazmucha says:

Works fine for me but the girlfriend's is wonky. It'll work fine for a few weeks after she registers her prints. Then over time it sucks again and she has to repeat the process. She's tried upside down, sideways, etc.. doesn't seem to ever make a difference.

beenz says:

Same here. I have to re-register my print (I only use my right thumb) every few weeks.

Solamar says:

My mom has to as well, she uses a lot of hand lotion. Do you or does your friend? I'm wondering if that messes up the print.. either during or over time as you might get various changes depending on the amount of lotion on your fingers, or in my moms case, build-up of it on the button? Cleaning the button often seems to have helped it stay working for her this go around.

Me, I did it the first time, at release, and it's worked about 90-95% of the time, never had to re-do it. I use NO lotion though.. ever.. I'm just a wash my hands and go person..

Orinicon says:

Since registering the same fingerprint five times, my success rate is near 100%.

vinny jr says:

Gave up on it, upgraded from the iPhone 5 to 5S because of the scanner. Very frustrating.

worknman says:

Yeah, just remember that the next time somebody tells you how Apple products 'just work'. It's like they said - new is different, right is hard :P

seanthesean says:

Mine works about 95% of the time on the first try. I bought it the first day it came out, and I haven't updated or re scanned my finger prints still working from day one. My wife's finger works pretty well, and she has really vague finger prints.

Aenean144 says:

Works fine for me. Some misses. Also some surprising fast reads too.

It's a scanner or a digital imager for your skin. If you have not scanned the part of your skin that you use to touch the home button, it isn't going to work well. I also believe it doesn't yet read fast enough for people who tend to have shaky fingers or don't hold their fingers still enough long enough.

Some surprises in my usage:

1. I sometime don't actually touch the whole home button. There are times where my finger only touches half the button or 2/3rd of the button or 3/8th of the button.

2. I basically use every single part of the tip of my finger depending on the phone's location. Both sides. A small part of the tip. The meaty flat part of the finger tip is likely used least, and that's where Touch ID trains you to use.

So, like Siri, I think a big part of Touch ID is that there needs to be more training time for the scanner. The imprint training tries to cover a large part of your finger surface, but it's not enough. There really needs to be a one week to one month training mode where all its doing is capturing your imprints as you use the phone. It does mean that you can let anyone else use the phone during the training period.

The current Touch ID imprinting just doesn't use enough of your finger. It really has to be every single piece of skin north of the last knuckle. All the way to the fingernails.

Overall, I've found it to be tremendous net positive for the wife and I. We used to use very simple 4-digit pass codes, easy for people to observe. Now, for intents and purposes, our phones are a whole lot more secure.

mjfadaway says:

Mine worked great at first, but over time it's like my phone has forgotten who I am :(

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mike5 says:

Same w/me. Started perfectly. Now, I might be recognized 20% of the time on my 1st try.

Captn Bob says:

This time of year my fingers tend to get dry from the cold. If I calibrate the touch id, and then a few days later my fingers are getting dryer the touch id doesn't work as well. I've discovered that using hand cream to keep my fingers in shape has the side effect of also improving the touch id performance over time. Another sort of obvious issue is that if I change my iPhone cover to one that has a higher 'lip' it changes the angle my thumb rests on the sensor, so I need to re-calibrate.

Alice Thaggard says:

How do you re-calibrate. I know I can add another finger by just rescanning the finger I use most often. But I do not understand how I go about starting the process over from scratch?

Captn Bob says:

Go into settings. General>Touch ID & Passcode>Touch ID and then click on 'Edit' in the upper right of the screen. You can then rename the Fingerprints or delete one or all and start over.

spencerdl says:

Works 99% of the time, no problems what so ever. I set it up on the first day of purchasing the iphone 5s, I washed my hands throughly and dried them throughly. Wiped the home button with a micro fiber cloth and the touch sensor has worked FLAWLESS

Bama91 says:

I register 2 prints for my R and L thumb. 1 near the tip, 1 in center of thumb to account for different placements. Works every time.

If I have issues, typically it is due to weather changes, skin is dry, etc. I re-register and success rate goes back to 100%.

Faloopa says:

I have found that it works great with my right thumb, which is the one I use most often, but it seems like it has gotten worse with my other thumb, which I use much less often.

n3rfh3rd3r says:

The feature works flawlessly without anything on or around the home screen button, so the iPhone is "naked". I have about an 85% or better success rate with the Lifeproof case designed for the 5S. I had a slightly better experience with the Bodyguardz tempered glass screen protector, but the noticeable ridge around the home screen button (for me) results in more inaccurate scans than with a "normal" screen protector.

I appreciate the additional security that I get out of the fingerprint scanner. I also think it is a great conversation piece when folks are whipping out their iPhone 5's, 5c's or a Windows Phone / Android device. You certainly don't have to use the scanner by any means, but once you get it working - consistently - the absence of the feature being used elsewhere in the OS is more pronounced, and you wish that other applications could take advantage of it.

Now, if a year from now we are all in shock that someone managed to get digital fingerprints off an iPhone 5S and used them to commit a crime I will gladly go back to the traditional unlock methods.

PKnorr10 says:

Since adding my finger print more than once, my is working much better. Thx!

IIJBII says:

Mine hardly works. I've tried all the suggestions and no luck. Apple store said it might be my fingers.

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jpf22467#IM says:

Of course it is your fingers. Did you ask the experts at the Genius bar how much a set of Apple fingers would cost? I am going to get a set tomorrow at my store.

This has turned into such a joke. Can you imagine if a mew Samsung phone was doing this. The Apple fans would be talking about how Samsung is crap.

jayzero76 says:

That's the other way! All the apple haters jumping on something doesn't really is a problem!

I know what I am talking about had a nexus 5 and liked it but the iPhone works better for me and no way to that apple or android is bad!

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Chris Kurth1 says:

Easy fix here - Take a sledge hammer to your little Tonka Toy and get a real phone. I'm sure Toys R Us has a return policy.

finn5975 says:

That is a great point. I was at Toys R Us today Christmas shopping for my daughter and saw a slew of the android and windows phones you're referring to. Return policies too!

Frank Cavaliero says:

Works about 65% of the time but I always have to re enter iTunes password to make purchases If it's been more than a day since I last entered it. Very annoying ...

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Rowanova says:

Seldom ever a problem here. When there is a problem it seems to be traceable to:
1. wet and/or dirty fingers
2. or I wasn't on the scanner properly
3. or I had movement of the finger while trying to scan
If mine does fail I've been able to lift the finger off the scanner for a brief moment then rescan and I'll near always work.

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asuperstarr says:

I've place my finger scan three times and haven't had any issues.

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g_diddy says:

My iPhone resprings often coming out of the lock screen when using touchID, Apple already replaced the phone once and still doing the same. I even wiped and installed the phone as new.

GlennRuss says:

It may read too fast, or I am too slow, but before I raise my registered print, Siri pops up. I find it is easier to push the home button, then lift completely off, then touch it. 99.9% it works that way.

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Graison Swaan says:

It's terrible for me. typically i'll register both thumbs twice and once for each index finger.
Doesn't really help though, I'll usually have to erase all the stored prints and start over.

williamsbh76 says:

I have noticed that since the weather has gotten colder and drier having dry skin works against me just like moisture.

zdn1042 says:

I'm surprised to see a lot of comments here stating the scanning gets less accurate after some time. If I were in their situation, yes it can be a little frustrating sometimes but we also have to consider that there are many factors that might be affecting these things and that this is the first time Apple, or even a smartphone manufacturer, had incorporated this technology into their products that is actually very usable.

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ZanKuvy says:

Haven't had any issues with it, works great for me, I just keep everything as clean as possible.

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wateron says:

Mine only works about 50% of the time. Got frustrated & got a new phone, no improvement. I have the same problem as mentioned earlier with app store purchases, have to enter my Apple ID, won't even let me use a fingerprint. Seems like this is a big problem, there is a 47 page forum on this on the Apple website;

https://discussions.apple.com/message/24096456?ac_cid=tw123456#24096456

davidbowser says:

Since nobody else has made the Anchorman reference yet...

"60% of the time, it works every time."

I have no problems with mine (95%+), my wife's stopped working maybe 2 weeks ago. I tease her that it's because she says bad things about Siri (doesn't work for her either).

Vanautgaerden Steven says:

Worked flawless for couple of weeks, after starts to work less and less, reprogram scans, works for a few days top and doesn't work most of the time again, changed new phone, exactly same problem.. Any reason forums give is ruled out IMO as it reads perfect steadily for couple days to weeks and than suddenly doesn't and by reprogramming does again, it proved it hasn't have anything to do with cold/wet/dirt and so on.. It has to be the software that "learns on the go" that corrupts the prints. Hope they fix the software bug ASAP it's frustrating, just turn off the learning process, it works perfect already why need to "learn more"

jabbaspalace84 says:

As a guitar and bass player whose fingertips change bi-weekly at best, Touch ID is constantly losing the ability to recognize a finger once I've rescanned it. This is especially true for my fretting hand, which is my left and dominant one. The only thing that seems to help is relying on the middle part of my fingers halfway between the tip and the...line of the first segment thingy. Which, just like that last sentence, feels very awkward.

cward1216 says:

Trust me, I feel the pain. I picked up a 5s on launch day, and the Touch ID was amazing to use. But, after about 24 hrs the sensor began degrading. Day 2 resulted in one rejection, Day 3 proceeded to 2 rejections, or having to enter my passcode. Not fun. My wife got her 5s in November and didn't have any of the issues I was experiencing. Led me to believe it was hardware related, specifically with launch day phones. My feeling proved correct when I brought it back to the Apple store and swapped it out for a new one. Now, I have roughly 95% success on the first try. Amazing to see the difference between both devices and their Touch ID's.

jayzero76 says:

I think that apple changed something in the production! Same when I had the iPhone 5 the Alu was so bad quality I had scratches all over and after I changed it and it was better never got some many scratches anymore!

Same with touch ID if they had the first rushed out and changed it after!

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karmski says:

My fingers are not good as too much blood testing from Type 1 Diabetes. I found that scanning below the usual place (kind of behind the top knuckle) works along the same percentages as in the article. I've only scanned both thumbs in this way and with much improved success.

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Lance Collins says:

No touch I'd for me yet :( still in the Stone Age still with my iPhone 5 lol.

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AndroidArmageddon says:

It's strange I never had any issues with Touchid on my 32 gb 5s. I exchanged it for the 64gb to hold all my files and media in the palm of my hand.

TouchID is more miss than hit now. I've re-registered my thumbs and index fingers. It still works most of the time but I've noticed that it takes a second attempt now whereas before I didn't even notice it at all. Obviously when you wash your hands or come out of the shower it would always fail on first scan.

One of the annoyances with touch id however is the fact when I restart my iphone I need to enter my pin after a restart. And the iTunes purchases is almost useless unless you download more than one app per day. I'm sure all of these things are for my security but it kind of defeats the purpose of TouchID

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skyhawk85u says:

I've tried multiple fingers and registering the same thumb more than once. It works OK. But, like Siri, OK just isn't good enough. It has to work much, much closer to 100% if I'm going to use it. That's why I don't use Siri much - it just doesn't work often enough for me. I finally went back to just a simple passcode once per hour and I'm much happier. My phone consistently opens when I want it to.

PeterMillard says:

50/50. About half of the 50% when it doesn't work is down to a springboard panic/relaunch. More impressed with it than I am with Siri, though that isn't saying much tbh...

Gazoobee says:

I don't have a scanner but I suspect that the low failure rate is probably down to user error. It's the same with the virtual keyboard. There were instructions about how to go about using it so it "learned" your habits effectively but there was always a subset of people who had problems with it, basically because they ignored all the instructions.

If you take the people that TouchID "never" works for and examined their approach, I'm sure you will find that they are just "doing it wrong" or not following the instructions etc. Most people are idiots, and you have to factor that in every time.

cboyajian says:

I am extremely frustrated by this problem. Glad to see I'm not completely alone however. Apple even swapped out my phone saying this fingerprint problem was due to the phone being defective. It worked just fine while in the Apple store and after 30 minutes in my way home it stopped reading once again. I hate it. I've redone it over and over and same thing happens. Works fine (ergo my initial set up worked fine ) and I re-did it many times thinking I'd BURN it's memory this last time while it was working and then, in about an hour it stopped again. I'm concerned as I'm an old-time loyal Apple user. On another note, how do I delete the finger scans anyway?

kingofkats says:

I'm a VERY unhappy touch id fail whale. Have tried every single remedy that makes the slightest bit of sense. No matter how carefully I register my fingerprints, my phone forgets my prints within a few hours. Let me give a digest of what I've written up for Apple's discussion groups:

SOLUTIONS I'VE TRIED INCLUDE:

1. I've tried erasing the phone and setting it up as a new one, several times. No joy.

2. I've tried registering my prints differently. I have tried several different techniques, including the one detailed excellently by Joe_Fo on an Apple discussion thread. Nada

3. I've tried swapping out my phone for a new one. The wonderful folks at my local Apple store have actually done this for me twice., so I've now seen touch ID fail every few hours on three different phones. Nothing

4. I've tried scrubbing my hands squeaky clean. I have then tried registering when my fingers are moist, slightly moist, completely dry and many stages in between. Not a danged bit of improvement -- except I can verify Rene's comment that wet fingers don't work at all.

So I think that takes care of every "cure" described here or elsewhere. None of them work for me. But I HAVE noticed some clues that may lead to a real cure.

CLUES:

1. I can make my phone forget my finger prints almost immediately, and fairly reliably, by playing a video podcast while using a navigation app -- in other words, pushing the memory, graphics and CPU pretty hard.

2. I can make my phone "remember" my fingerprints a bit better -- not forever, but a bit longer and faster -- by using an app called SYS-ACTIVITY Manager, which can free up about half a GB of RAM. It's the only thing I've tried that works.

SO WHAT IS THE CURE?

I know next to nothing about the A7, but it seems to my unschooled brain that either I'm really, really, really unlucky or else my failures aren't caused by defective hardware. I also believe that the act of fingerprint-recognition is fairly processor-intensive and demanding of memory. And I have read that the print-data is cached in the processor. So I reason there MUST be a bug that can be triggered by using demanding apps together -- ESPECIALLY apps, like video podcast catchers and maps, that are allowed to multi-task in real time.

I also don't believe this problem is confined to just a few of us. I've heard from too many others with similar problems to believe this. For example, 24 hours after posting a longer version of this summary on an Apple "Erratic Touch ID" thread, I found dozens of additional posts from people in the same boat, and I'm starting to see more and more articles about the issue.

This gives me hope that someday my problem might be fixed. Meantime I'm miserable. The only reason I sold my iPhone 5 and bought the 5s was for the touch ID, and now it doesn't work. If anybody has a fix that I haven'y already tried, I'm dying to hear it.

PS to Rene: If you remember me from Twitter, you know that I'm usually very positive about Apple, and this is the first time in my fairly extensive experience with Macs and iOS devices that I've ever bumped into a problem that hasn't yielded to a couple of weeks of asking around. My business maintains two Mac Minis, a MacBook Pro w/Retina and three iPads, and our home has Apple TV upstairs and down. We love 'em all, and FWIW I love everything about my 5s except for the frigging touch ID.

All that said, I think touch ID is a bigger problem than Apple is letting on, partly because I've noticed they have yet to let me use it for App Store purchases -- not even downloads of stuff I already own -- nor have they let me use it for anything else except unlocking my phone. AS long as this bug persists, touch ID cannot be said to be secure, because SOMETHING is plainly gaining access to the sequestered data in my SoC and either corrupting it or deleting it entirely. So I do have hope they will eventually fix this.

BBooDad says:

I have to re-register every few days. Replaced first 5S to see if that would improve, to no avail. Maybe is due to washing so much and typing so much as a physician?

Ste Wilkins says:

My hands get messed up badly sometimes including my fingers so Touch ID doesn't work all that great for me, but i did mange to fix this problem by simply turning it off & using password instead as this works 100% of the time :)

korayberk says:

After seeing all the press about the issue I started to experiment with it. When the scan fails 4 times, before the fifth, I wipe the touchID sensor with a dry cloth. The 5th attempt worked so far, with 100% success ratio.

Clean your fingers, people!

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ambitiouslemon says:

It's been working great for me (near 100%), with no change since I bought my phone the morning of the launch. I immediately registered both thumbs and both pointer fingers. It's only failed on me a handful of times, but it was because my fingertip was either wet or dirty. Each time, after drying/cleaning off my finger, it worked like a charm.

hearmeoutx says:

It works fine for me 90% of the time, however when my fingers are cold or there is the littlest amount of anything on my finger it doesn't work which I expect. I rarely have to go more than one attempt when trying unless it is one of those two circumstances.

jayzero76 says:

I had a galaxy S3 to try something different and changed it for a black iPhone 5 which I like but never a big fan of black so was waiting for the iPhone 5s to get the white one so sold my iPhone and got a golden iPhone 5s and never had a pass lock because it bothers me to unlock it but now I don't feel the differents and touch ID works awesome for me never any problem! Just like it leaving it in my office when I go on the production floor!

When I heard touch ID I was thinking useless but now I wouldn't try something else

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Emma Carter1 says:

Last night my touch id wasn't working, I couldn't even click on it in my settings. So today, I completely reset my phone thinking that would fix it, but now the touch id is not even an option to create on my phone.... I got this phone not even a month ago so I'm very confused

Ben Slater says:

Touch ID and summer in Australia is NOT a good combination at all - my failure rates have gone from maybe 5% to as high as 90% over the past 4 weeks...and after experiencing it so seamlessly in the preceding months it is quite a frustration :( At the moment even deleting all fingers and training them again make no difference...

Marc reinhardt says:

My fingerprint ID was working superbly, now, 2 weeks after buying it has just STOPPED WORKING!

It doesnt seem to even register my finger print (doesnt even say try again).
I deleted all my current fingerprints registered, however now it wont even let me register any (i put my finger over the sensor, it reads it, but then loses the reading straight away without vibrating etc).

So sad :(