Why Apple went with Face ID instead of in-display Touch ID

18 months later and while in-display fingerprint sensors have taken a step forward with Samsung's Galaxy S10, they're still not, you know, good.

Andrew Martonik, writing for Android Central:

'll lay it out simply: the ultrasonic fingerprint sensor is better than the optical ones I've used (primarily, the OnePlus 6T), but it is not as fast, accurate or easy to use as a modern capacitive fingerprint sensor. That shouldn't really come as any surprise, as capacitive sensors are a mature technology while the in-display sensors are still relatively new. But it's worth making clear. There is no situation in which the ultrasonic fingerprint sensor has been faster or more consistent than the Galaxy S9's rear-mounted capacitive sensor. That's incredibly unfortunate.

Also:

See more

Dan Seifert, writing for The Verge:

But it's not as fast or reliable as the traditional, capacitive fingerprint scanner on the back of the S9. The target area for the reader is rather small (though the lock screen will show you a diagram of where to place your finger) and I had to be very deliberate with my finger placement to get it to work.Even then, I often had to try more than once before the S10 would unlock. I'd just rather have a Face ID system that requires less work to use, or at the very least, an old-school fingerprint scanner on the back of the phone. The S10 does have a face unlock feature, but it's just using the camera to look for your face and compare it to a previous image — there's no 3D mapping or anything. I was actually able to unlock the S10 with a video of my face played on another phone.

Jessica Dolcourt, writing for CNET:

I had issues with accuracy and speed at first, but it's been more accurate since Samsung pushed out an update to reviewers. It seems to work best the more deliberate you are about the placement of your thumb. It'll take a solid second to unlock, and you need to make sure you're actually pressing the screen, not just skimming it.

Others, including the Wall Street Journal and Wired didn't report the same issues, but I've also heard from friends who have it that it's not as good as the previous, non-in-screen sensor. Anecdote isn't data, but it's a tougher problem to solve so it stands to reason it'll take a little time and a few generations to solve it. Look at how long it took standard sensors to become good.

The difference is that Apple isn't into experimenting in public. So, Face ID, rather than a worse Touch ID. At least for now.

I'm on record as saying I think touch-based authentication will return to iPhone at some point. Just not now, not even 18-months later, and not in the way we might expect.

Read Android Central's Samsung Galaxy S10+ review.

Rene Ritchie
Contributor

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.

28 Comments
  • they could have put it in the most logical spot. It's the apple logo. No need for wacky in screen sensors, your fingers automatically position themselves in that area when you hold the phone. The apple logo finger print sensor would have been awesome marketing too.
  • Shhhhh! Don't tell people that it's not a great idea for Apple to be able to positively ID people looking at the screen so they can link what you're reading to you! No one would want a fingerprint sensor on the back since NO other phone does that... /s I don't trust it because it's closed source. I can't verify what they're doing with the FaceID info. It's also 100x less convenient imho. This morning on my drive to work, I plugged my phone in for Carplay, but it needed me to unlock it to connect (which is a good thing). If it was FaceID I'd have to unplug it, remove it from the center console (I basically put it in a cupholder), and have it look at me since it wouldn't take it from the angle. Since I have TouchID, I simply leave it where it is and press a button and I'm in.
  • EXACTLY! bobbob1016 That's why farce ID is junk.
  • YES kojackjku you're right! One incredibly minor inconvenience is why Face ID is a complete **** system… /s Besides, CarPlay only asks you to unlock your phone once. After that, it never asks again (or very rarely) which invalidates the point he was making. But you wouldn't know because you haven't used CarPlay…
  • Not trusting something simply because it's closed-source, is like not trusting Coca-Cola because they don't tell you their secret formula. Closed-source is reality, and whilst you can make money out of open-source, I can completely understand that people don't want their ideas stolen. CarPlay asked me once to unlock my phone, and never again after that, so that's a pretty trivial inconvenience.
  • Considering CocaCola had to change the caramel coloring ingredient in its recipe in 2012-2013 that was found to be associated with cancer, you're **** right you shouldn't trust their formula. Why do you think there has been a massive push to make food/beverage companies to reveal all their ingredients so people know what the heck they're putting in their bodies? such an ignorant argument, but what else is new with you.
  • Why is it every time I make a comparison, you derail the topic? Let's get back (again) shall we? People don't want their ideas stolen… simple.
  • I didn't derail anything, just pointed out how detrimental "closed-source" can be by using your own ignorant comparison to show that the "secret" recipe turned out to have a cancerous ingredient which people were unaware of.
  • Closed-source is reality, like I said. Closed-source was never an issue 20 years ago so I don't see why it should be now. It's great if you can open-source your application, but there are plenty of situations where you wouldn't want to.
  • You just can't stop yourself from making dumb comparisons can you? 20 years ago there were barely any cellphone apps (or even cellphones!) that were collecting data on your daily activities, no cloud storages, no biometrics, browser data or location data were being collected by operating systems or 3rd party apps.
  • I was talking about software in general. It's not a dumb comparison, companies have been collecting data that they shouldn't have for a very long time, even before computers. Closed-source is reality, I've already said this and I'm getting sick of repeating myself, you know why closed-source exists, you know why it has to exist, and regardless of whether it's biometrics or an app to make your own ice-cream flavor, if it's closed-source you're relying on privacy policies and laws to make sure the software isn't stealing your data. The GDPR laws help a lot with this. The situation is improving year by year, and things like iOS's permission management helps greatly with protecting your privacy.
  • Closed-source is Apple's (along with it's Koolaid soldiers such as yourself) and North Korea's reality. The billions of us that use Android's open source system, are happy where we are and see your koolaid reality as a joke.
  • Not all Android apps are open-source, including Google Play Services, which invalidates your point. If you believe all apps should be open-source, then you're one of these blind Linux warriors who are drinking the Linux community's koolaid, thinking that the only real OS is Linux and anything else open-source.
  • Unlike you, I don't drink anyone's koolaid. I advocate for as much transparency as possible in areas where my personal information is being collected. childishly naming 1 single app out of millions doesn't invalidate anything. Android is still doing heck of a better job as a whole
  • There's plenty of closed-source Android applications, just like there is Windows applications, Mac applications, iOS applications and even Linux applications. Closed source protects industry property, it protects ideas, and it's the core of what allows many businesses to be successful. Most of my favorite applications for Mac and iOS are closed-source, e.g. Transmit, 1Password, DaisyDisk, Sublime Text, iMazing, Affinity products etc. These apps will never be open-source, they're succeeding because their ideas can't be stolen. You can't bend the rules of business just for the sake of transparency. But what I can tell you is that it's perfectly possible for a business to be transparent with its closed-source applications, that's why privacy polices exist, and laws like the GDPR.
  • Again I repeat, Android is doing a heck of a lot better in being open source despite you throwing out apps that aren't, allowing not only for better transparency at the OS level (which is what i care about most, not really 3rd party apps, but also more opportunity for 3rd party development which benefits both app developers and end users. No closed-sourced business is ever going to be as transparent as an open-sourced business, no matter how many times you type GDPR.
  • But closed-source isn't going away, that's the point I'm making. It's not a bad thing, it might be less transparent but everything in life has a negative, like I said, closed-source has made many businesses successful. Not really sure what you're trying to tell me, yes open-source is more transparent, naturally, but that doesn't mean closed-source is bad. If a business wants to be more transparent, they're not going to go open-source unless it's viable, which it most likely won't be.
  • Just because closed-source isnt going away doesn't mean its a good thing...AIDS isn't going away either but none of us want it.
  • Businesses need closed-source, again I don't know what you want me to say. If you want to get rid of closed-source then you want to get rid of capitalism
  • Is Google’s Android OS not making not thriving in capitalism? And yet it is 1000 times more open sourced than Apple and that’s what i like
  • Google makes most of it's money through advertising, and through apps on the Play Store, not Android itself. So no, Android itself isn't making Google thrive
  • I miss the finger print sensor for authentication. Using Face ID with Apple Pay at the card terminal is awkward at best having to double click the button on the side then maneuvering the device to see your face all while keeping it close enough to the card terminal to authorize the purchase.
  • I miss TouchID because it was more natural, I conditioned myself to place my thumb on the sensor as I pull out the phone. FaceID I’ve gotten used to with Apple Pay but for a while I would end up just turning the screen off because I didn’t double click enough. I have the 2018 iPad Pro and I really, really do not like FaceID.. I appreciate the extra screen real estate but 9 times out of 10 I get the “camera covered” message because I am used to using my iPad in landscape mode. I could train myself to open it in portrait mode but I have the folio keyboard and its more natural to open it in landscape mode. Now when I am using it with the keyboard open FaceID is great but it’s not how I use my iPad most of the time. I hope in the future they can find a way to place the FaceID camera in a corner maybe so people holding it portrait or landscape mode will get faster access instead of making adjustments after they get the camera blocked message. FaceID seems a more natural fit for the iMac or their laptop line.
  • I think the iPad implementation isn't well thought out, it should be in the corner like you say. But on the iPhone I've never had any problems with it. I'd love to see it on the Macs!
  • I hate to say this, but you're using it wrong. Before putting your phone to the terminal, double-click the button whilst the phone is facing you, and after that you _then_ put it to the terminal. You don't need to authenticate with Face ID whilst simultaneously connecting it with the terminal, you authenticate first, then use the terminal. I can understand the confusion though, because I used to hold it near the terminal when I authenticated with Touch ID, but with Face ID you should do it before you put it near the terminal. It's really easy once you do it this way, it's pretty much second nature for me now
  • Why not have Face ID and then a finger print scanner on the back for those who want it instead?
  • you already know the answer, Apple != options
  • I think Apple would consider it if they can make a fingerprint scanner which works as consistently as Face ID. I'm very interested in trying the ultrasonic fingerprint scanner on the S10