Is the iPhone 6s Touch ID 2 sensor too fast?

Touch ID sensors on multiple iPhones
Touch ID sensors on multiple iPhones (Image credit: iMore)

Touch ID 2 made unlocking the iPhones 6s incredibly fast. So fast, some have complained it's now too fast. Specifically, too fast to see lock screen notifications. So, is it? And if it is, what can be done about it?

Spoilers: The answer is: "it depends". If your goal is to access lock screen information or options, then yes—it's demonstrably too fast. If your goal is to unlock your phone, then no—it might still be too slow.

Before reading this, it's worth going back through the recent articles by Craig Mod, Dr. Drang, and Joe Cieplinski for context. It shows how challenging it is to meet every expectation and make everyone happy.

The legacy problems

The iPhone and iPad have very few hardware buttons: Home, Sleep/Wake (On/Off), and Volume up and down. That's it. Yet, for technical reasons, two of them have historically performed the same job on single click: Wake up the device and present the lock screen.

Presenting the lock screen is important because that's the interface that prevents accidental or unauthorized access to the device. Before Touch ID, whether you clicked Home or Sleep/Wake, you had to slide to unlock and, optionally, enter a code to get in. They were two distinct buttons whose behaviors were conflated.

Since the lock screen was effectively the primary landing point for the iOS interface, Apple began adding conveniences to it like notifications, notification center, control center, fast camera access, Siri, continuity and suggested apps, and more. At the same time, to prevent bypasses, Apple has hardened its security. So, the lock screen became both status board and gatekeeper.

Then came Touch ID. With it, the iPhone or iPad wouldn't simply wake on click but authenticate and open on contact. That meant the two distinct buttons started to have distinct behaviors. The difference remained fuzzy at first because of the time it took the original Touch ID to register. After the initial click, you could still glance at notifications and even remove your finger and access other options before it processed the unlock.

Then came Touch ID 2. With it, unlock was almost as fast as the initial click. That made the distinction clear. Glancing at notifications or pulling your finger away to prevent unlock was now difficult. Sure, you could use a nail, unregistered finger, knuckle, or some other physical workaround to still make Home work like Wake if you really wanted to, but otherwise you had to break old habits and build new ones. You had to use the Wake button.

The potential solutions

Back before iOS 4 if you left an app and then launched it again, it restarted from scratch. Some people loved that because it was an incredibly easy way to bail out a game, for example. Then, with background processes and saved states, it stopped working and we had to learn how to properly force quit apps. This is like that.

It took me only a couple hours to adjust to iOS 4 multitasking. It took me about a week to adjust to Touch ID 2 unlocking. Now, when I really want to see the lock screen and not unlock my iPhone 6s Plus, I use a different finger or just hit the Sleep/Wake button to do it.

It's not optimal, though. If all you want to do is get to your phone, it's apps, and everything they can do, then you still have to see the visual distraction of the lock screen. If all you want to do is see the lock screen, you have to restrict yourself to what's arguably a less conveniently placed button or some form of digital contortionism.

You can't do away with the lock screen because you still have to have an interface to handle unauthorized or failed access attempts. And if you suppress it—or make Touch ID 2 so fast it blows right through it—people may wonder if their device had ever been locked at all. Uncertainty also creates anxiety, after all.

Making the process as fast as possible, and making notification center as identical to the lock screen presentation as possible, would help. It's really close already, so if anyone accidentally unlocks when they meant to just glance, one swipe and they get what they wanted anyway.

Lighting up the lock screen to see notifications—and perhaps one day, complications—could also be evolved. Like the Apple Watch, the lock screen could light up when you raise the device, when you tap on the screen, or when you 3D Touch press. (The first behavior has already been implemented on the iPhone with the old Siri raise-to-speak and the current audio Messages raise-to-play/reply.)

Those options would also come in super handy if Apple ever virtualized the Home button.

There's a rumor that Apple slowed Touch ID 2 down a tad before release to help balance all the expectations—both software and human—and that it could be even faster. That highlights how challenging a problem it is to solve. There's no doubt they're still working on it, though, and it'll be interesting to see what the teams come up with for iPhone 7 and iOS 10 in 2016.

Rene Ritchie

Rene Ritchie is one of the most respected Apple analysts in the business, reaching a combined audience of over 40 million readers a month. His YouTube channel, Vector, has over 90 thousand subscribers and 14 million views and his podcasts, including Debug, have been downloaded over 20 million times. He also regularly co-hosts MacBreak Weekly for the TWiT network and co-hosted CES Live! and Talk Mobile. Based in Montreal, Rene is a former director of product marketing, web developer, and graphic designer. He's authored several books and appeared on numerous television and radio segments to discuss Apple and the technology industry. When not working, he likes to cook, grapple, and spend time with his friends and family.

  • The easy answer for me has been to use the sleep/wake button to wake the phone when I want to access the lock screen. It took a little while to get used to it, but I use the quick camera option quite a bit, so I got used to it. I think the solution could be to unlock the phone with TouchID, but not go past the lock screen. In other words, still swipe to unlock, but no PIN is necessary if TouchID is used. Also, it would be nice if the phone was within five feet of my Apple Watch is it would automatically unlock, to prevent false negatives.
  • Exactly! Well written! I personally adjusted by clicking the home button so fast the TouchID doesn't register. Yes, I have the 6s Plus. But it would be just as easy to just use the side Power button. Sent from the iMore App
  • This. Otherwise every other time I do want to unlock my phone Sent from the iMore App
  • Or, you can just use the tip/side of your thumb, not the main area.
  • Or just have an a finger not inputed into touch id. It doesnt need every finger print Sent from the iMore App
  • I don't know why anybody would input their pinky but I imagine not inputting a thumb would be cumbersome.
  • Great read. I would like a super fast "was it even locked?" implementation. I would learn to click with an non-registered finger or Apple could do the raise to view trick to view the lock screen.
  • The iPhone 6s has made me an impatient man. I expect everything to be instant. No, I don´t want Apple to slow down the sensor, I have found other ways to check my lock screen (different fingers / on off switch).
  • Solution: implement double-tap to wake. This feature has been awesome on my OnePlus One, and it doesn't even have the problem that the iPhone has.
  • It's not too fast, people are just holding the button too long.
  • The watch is to replace the lock screen ;-) I do love the idea of lift to see lock screen or 3D touch for lock screen tho.
  • I can't believe this problem gets more attention than the placement of the power button opposite the volume buttons causing no end of frustration, confusion, and errors… especially in a pocket or in the dark.
  • Ah, another entry in today's "Some people will whine about anything" contest.
  • The moving of the power button is my biggest issue
  • I despise the placement of the lock button. Put the **** thing back on top where it should be, or *gasp!* further down the side like a galaxy. It's actually pretty handy there. But directly opposite of the volume buttons seems so amateur of Apple. I can't imagine no one, during testing, had the issue of trying to lock their phone only to adjust the volume instead. They have turned the simple act of locking your phone into a two handed operation for plus owners.
  • I have a 6S Plus, in a leather case at that, and have never had this issue (though I can see the potential). Perhaps it's my preferred grip. Sent from the iMore App
  • Its in a perfect spot, would be horrible ontop, would have to move the hand to new position each time just to do a simple thing.
    Never heard of anyone confusing their right and left sides.
    On top makes it harder to mute ringer in pocket too. Sent from the iMore App
  • It's not confusing sides, it's squeezing with one hand to lock the phone. To grip the phone to be able to lock with one hand often puts both the volume buttons and lock buttons in my grip. Squeeze to lock and it squeezes the volume buttons too.
    It has made locking a 2 handed operation if I'm on the go. In my opinion, the worst change Apple ever made. It might be less of an issue on the smaller version.
  • This is the definition of a first world problem. "My phone unlocks too fast! I can't be inconvenienced by having to move my finger a whole two inches to another button! I might die of starvation spending the calories it takes to make that effort!"
  • So accurate Sent from the iMore App
  • Small people are bothered by small problems. Sent from the iMore App
  • The only thing that night solve this problem is putting a switch in settings that uses one click to awake and then one touch to unlock, I don't know if you get me! And for those that wants to unlock real quick they don't have to turn it on!
  • I was thinking along the same lines except I was thinking 3 choices. Holding home button unlocks your phone after holding the home button...
    Immediately, 1 second or 2 seconds
  • Not as fast as the Nexus imprint Rene !!!
  • This Posted from my Nexus 6P
  • It's perfect. Sent from the iMore App
  • This is my second iPhone ever (my first was the first one) so I don't find any complication in pressing the Lock/Unlock because I was used to do it that way.
  • That is a strange problem to have :) Sent from the iMore App
  • Nope. I'm hoping next year brings an even faster Touch ID. Sent from the iMore App
  • Simplest solution would probably be an option in Settings to delay the fingerprint reading, for those who find it too fast. Default would be the almost instant thing you currently get on the 6s (or possibly faster on the next iPhone) and maybe a delay option with a slider for setting a 1/2 sec to 1/sec delay for folks who want it.
  • "Simplest solution" is to use the aptly-named Sleep/Wake button. Problem solved.
  • I have another way to get around that speedy Touch ID sensor. I use my finger nail to wake up my iPhone 6s using the home button.
  • I used to have a Windows Phone - Lumia 925 and the glance and double tap to wake features were examples of the very few things I initially missed when I switched. I would be nice to have them on an iPhone. Sent from the iMore App
  • It's really fast, but I actually enjoy it. That said, no, it's not too fast for me Posted via the iMore App for Android
  • Apple could try a double tap to wake feature, like many Android and Windows devices do. It's simple and intuitive. It can also be kept if Apple goes to software buttons. I have a G4 and enjoy the feature greatly, as well as the slide down to get a dark screen with just a clock.
  • It takes 21 days for a new habit to sink in. Myself, and obviously a lot of other posters here, have accomplished the re-training of our brains to tap the on/off switch on the side. Slowing down the touch ID wold be ludicrous.
  • This could be fixed by having a delay on the touchid unlock only when there are messages on your lock screen you may want to read. No messages: Make unlock as fast as possible
    Messages: Make unlock have a delay, visualised by a progress meter on screen showing the 3-5 second countdown till unlock.
  • I think the problem is not Touch ID - the faster the better IMO. I think the problem is the position of the sleep/awake on the side. My brain keeps telling me it's on the top of the phone, even though I have had my iPhone 6 for a year! Sent from the iMore App
  • I get around this by not scanning the tip of my finger when setting up Touch ID. That way I can press the home button with the tip of my finger to get to the lockscreen and use the bottom of my finger to unlock the phone. Sent from the iMore App
  • Why not be able to use 3D Touch to wake up the screen? Sure, I also use the volume buttons. Sent from the iMore App
  • In an ideal situation we would be able to tap the screen to wake it up (like the Watch) and Touch ID would only be used for unlocking the phone. Sent from the iMore App
  • It's too slow for me. Also, why do I have to click it? The nexus solution of just touching the button is a million times better and even faster. Sent from the iMore App
  • As I found OnePlus Two Touch ID Sensor is 10x faster than Apple. This what explains iPhone is upgrading everybit so slow that they still ment to be in the medieval world... Still production is alive for 16GB **** where they provide Full HD resolution video recording and a pinch of memory not even upgradable hardware wise !! Waiting for Apple new launch is somewhat like foolishness no doubt products are elegant and demanding but only for show off more than this Android seems to smarter and if go for some flagship smartphones than its the right choice. Or keep waiting for more updates on Apple products with limitation.
  • the iphone 6s touch id is really expensive but it is worth buying
  • Something in Settings to give the option to change the Touch ID unlock speed similar to mouse double click speed on desktop machines, so that the speed can be adjusted to suit everyone, would help.
  • Or just use a different part of the same thumb, like put the first "line" (idk what it's actually called) from the tip of your thumb on the sensor to not unlock your phone.
  • I love the new, faster Touch ID. It's great for Apple Pay and besides, if I need to know the time I'll just check my AW. :)
  • TID2 and using the Sleep/Wake button work for me. It wouldn't be particularly convenient to put the button back on top. On the smaller phones it makes sense, but not on the 6s or 6s+.
  • I like very nice
  • Pressure sensitive screen, maybe they should try letting you press the screen to turn the screen on. Sent from the iMore App
  • If this is what we have to worry about it feels like we're in pretty good shape. Push the other freaking button and be happy your phone doesn't suck. Wow.
  • Touch id superfast is incredible
    Thanks apple Sent from the iMore App
  • Well they say you can't please everybody. If it was slower, users would complain and say it's laggy and needs to be faster. I personally love it. I enjoy the speedy access to my phone while keeping it secure.
  • I don't think the sensor is too fast. It works great, I actually enjoy the quick operation of the fingerprint scanner, it is one of the fastest aspects of the iPhone, truth be told. Like all things Apple, there is a built-in hesitation of one second when performing most tasks. Enter your iTunes password too fast, without a hesitation of about half a second between each character, and the password will fail every time even though you have entered it correctly. That hesitation MUST take place. Click the Close button on a browser window and there will be that one-second hesitation before the window disappears. This behavior occurs all over OS X and iOS, but doesn't happen on Windows or Linux. It is quite noticeable, and is just a quirk of Apple's OS's I guess, we just have to live with it. As to the fingerprint sensor, I just remember if I just want to check Notifications without logging into my iPhone, press the Power button instead of the Home button. It's quite simple, and a behavior modification on the part of the User.
  • I use the fingernail on my thumb to get lock screen Sent from the iMore App
  • This is what I do. I use the back of my finger to get to the lock screen. If you set up your prints correctly, almost any part of your print will unlock the phone. There is a sensor in the home button that detects when you put your finger on the screen, that means before you can lift the finger, it has already read the print. This isn't just an Apple issue. It can happen on Samsung's newer smartphones as well, as the finger print sensor on those is fast as well. It's inconvenient when you just want to turn the display on to see notifications, because while it's very ergonomic to one-handedly turn the screen off using the home button (this is the reason why I prefer Samsung's Home Button on Android phones to on-screen controls), it's not as ergonomic to pull down the Notification Center/Drop Down.. Depending on what type of case you use, the power button may not be all that easy to press, either. Some cases require a fair amount of pressure to get the button to activate. This is helpful for preventing accidental presses when the device is in your pocket or in a bag with other items that may be on top of it, or beside it. The sheer speed of these finger print readers are great, but the ergonomics and usability of the device does suffer due to the fact that they have been integrated with the home button, and many people do use the home button to wake the screen and see lock screen notifications. Having to do things like use the back side of your finger simply to turn the screen on when you don't want to fumble the phone around to press the power button... Really, this is a legit usability concern.
  • Wow, quite a long article for something that doesn't need an article at all. It's amazing to me how much a few people can whine over a change that is actually an improvement!!! I would like it if TouchID not only got even faster but would work with freshly showered fingers or a wet or dirty sensor!!! There are plenty of ways to see your notifications, no need for this silly article. Sent from the iMore App