Watch media fail to cover Face ID demo glitch — so embarrassing!

Face ID on iPhone
Face ID on iPhone

During Apple's iPhone X Event, senior vice president of software engineering Craig Federighi had to switch to a backup iPhone X after discovering that Face ID, the feature he was about to demonstrate, had been disabled.

Just as with Touch ID (Apple's existing fingerprint identity sensor), Face ID requires a device passcode following a reboot, a period of inactivity, or successive authentication attempts that don't match what's registered on the device. The device even showed a nearly-identical message Touch ID shows after successive fingerprint mismatches; in this case, it was "Enter Passcode: Your passcode is required to enable Face ID".

Apple has since issued a statement to Yahoo confirming as much:

People were handling the device for stage demo ahead of time and didn't realize Face ID was trying to authenticate their face. After failing a number of times, because they weren't Craig, the iPhone did what it was designed to do, which was to require his passcode.

It was, plain and simple, a setup failure. This is also why Apple has backup devices available for every demo. No doubt it was an unpleasant moment for Federighi — though he handled it in his usual, jovial manner on stage — and for whoever was responsible for setting up that iPhone X.

But it wasn't a failure of Face ID — at least not as part of Federighi's demo. Not that you'd know that from the coverage. Apple 3.0:

  • Business Insider: Watch Apple's Face ID unlocking fail during its big demo
  • The Telegraph: Apple suffers embarrassing demo Face ID fail at iPhone X launch
  • Mashable: Apple tried to show off Face ID, and it was so embarrassing
  • MacRumors: Doubts and Speculation Surround Apple's Onstage Face ID 'Fail' During iPhone X Keynote
  • The Verge: Apple's first Face ID demo failed, but it wasn't Face ID's fault
  • Vice: Apple's stock suddenly dropped after that Face ID fail

While the actual problem was apparent to anyone familiar with how Touch ID already works, it may not have been apparent to everyone watching the event. That's where the media is supposed to step in and help educate and inform people.

If Face ID has actual problems, people absolutely need to be told about them. In this case, though, it wasn't Face ID that failed: It was the setup that failed first; and by going for the cheap headlines, the media that failed second.

Not all the media, certainly. The Verge got it right and MacRumors hedged. Some of the other articles referenced above contain good content as well, but it's the headlines that readers and the markets will see and remember.

That's especially frustrating right now because Face ID is so new and people will naturally have questions and concerns about it. And instead of being part of the education and information solution, they ended up being part of the Face ID FUD.

I've had a chance to see Face ID in action for unlock and Apple Pay in a variety of situations now and it works as well as Touch ID. Arguably the only differences in preference will be subjective and vary by the individual.

Starting November 3, people will have a chance to try it and decide — and report — for themselves.

Updated to include Apple's comment to Yahoo! and to point out some publications, like The Verge, got the headlines right.

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.