Responding to media outlets and critics eager to report that iPhone X’s tentpole Face ID feature failed during Tuesday’s keynote presentation, Apple on Wednesday issued a statement saying the handset, and more importantly the biometric feature, worked as intended.
During Apple’s iPhone X unveiling on Tuesday, executive Craig Federighi at the start of a live demonstration was forced to move to a backup model after a first unit seemingly failed to unlock as planned. Media glommed onto the story, in some cases touting the mishap as proof of Face ID’s first — spectacular — failure.
Seen in the video below, Federighi picks up iPhone X and attempts to unlock it with Face ID, a process that requires the user to look at the TrueDepth camera and swipe up on the screen. When a first try fails, he puts the device to sleep and goes through the process again. That second attempt was also unsuccessful.
On iPhone’s display a prompt showed up, saying, “Your passcode is required to enable Face ID.” The alert sparked speculation that Face ID had failed.
In a statement to Yahoo’s David Pogue, Apple maintains the demo iPhone X was functional and Face ID did its job. It seems the iPhone in question attempted to authenticate one or more employees tasked to set up the demo area prior to the big reveal. When it failed to recognize their face or faces, it defaulted to passcode, as per Apple’s security protocol.
Tonight, I was able to contact Apple. After examining the logs of the demo iPhone X, they now know exactly what went down. Turns out my first theory in this story was wrong—but my first UPDATE theory above was correct: “People were handling the device for stage demo ahead of time,” says a rep, “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.” In other words, “Face ID worked as it was designed to.”
To protect against spoofing and hardware hacks, Apple’s biometric systems are automatically disabled after a predetermined number of unsuccessful attempts. Touch ID, for example, gives users five attempts to authenticate with their finger before requiring a passcode. Apple documentation shows Face ID allows only two tries before being disabled.
Apple is known for its highly polished product demonstrations, having transformed the traditionally dry onstage presentations into a type of art form. Under late cofounder Steve Jobs, product unveilings evolved into hotly anticipated spectacle. Indeed, Jobs’ own keynote presentations became known as “Jobsnotes.”
Apple keynote presenters rehearse each scripted segment, prepare minute details and, as seen in Federighi’s demo, plan for potential hiccups.