Here’s Why Face ID Didn’t Work the First Time During Apple’s Keynote [u]


face id

When Apple’s software chief Craig Federighi took the stage yesterday to demonstrate how the iPhone X’s ultra-sophisticated Face ID authentication system works, his initial attempt to unlock the onstage demo iPhone X was unsuccessful. Instead, the passcode screen popped up, so he picked up a second iPhone X on which the Face ID worked successfully.

“Face ID did not fail. If you watched the presentation carefully, it was obvious.”

While some people may refer to it as a Face ID fail, but it actually isn’t. As highlighted in a Quora thread, when you power off your iPhone, it requires you to put in your password before you use Touch ID. The same thing happened with the iPhone X.

Face ID

If you look at the presentation again, the passcode screen that Federighi got on that first iPhone X said “Your passcode is required to enable Face ID”. This is the same screen that would come up on existing iPhones after a device has been restarted, or simply after several hours have passed without authenticating through the lock screen.

So there you have it. Apple simply forgot to put in the password before showcasing the iPhone X.

Update Sept. 13: Apple told Yahoo’s David Pogue what really happened:

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.”

So there you have it. Face ID’s built in security will require a passcode if someone else tries to authenticate the device numerous times.


  • I figured another possibility is that the device crashed and restarted, requiring passcode authentication.

  • Richard Neufeld

    Haha i thought the same! its unlikely they would have forgotten to do put in the password in one phone and not the other.

  • Steve

    Needless to say whomever made that mistake is looking for work today.

  • sukisszoze

    Have to say Apple was prepared and have a backup..wonder if there’s a third or fourth backup..ha.ha

  • Kris

    I don’t think so. Mistakes do happen, and considering they had a backup available which worked flawlessly, it was no big deal. Somebody should not lose their livelyhood because Craig couldn’t unlock the phone with his face. I am sure for future presentations, they will be better prepared.

  • Actually, according to the developer documentation, FaceID is disabled after two unsuccessful attempts, so it’s just as possible it was prompting for the passcode as a result of two failures.

  • Ben

    My theory is that the person that was setting up the iPhone for the presentation, picked up the phone(causing Raise to Wake), looked at the screen for a second(it didn’t recognize the user), thus forcing the user to enter the passcode.

  • Erik

    Thanks for the clarification. Once again, minor things that get blown way out of proportion by the viral twitter-verse. And now the stock market is behaving just as bad. This knee jerk reactionary “news” is good for no one in our society.

  • BeaveVillage

    I don’t think so. Apple’s system analysts and techs and demonstrators would have been prepping that phone in the MINUTES, not hours, before everyone started walking into the auditorium. Something went very, very wrong here. The phone wasn’t just sitting there for 8-12 hours timing out. People WERE working on that thing and making sure it was ready for the demo in the MINUTES before the event.

    My friend, who is a systems engineer and stage tech, figured that stray lights from the upper or lower stage edge may have interfered with the scan of Craig’s face just as he picked up the phone, when it failed too often, it required a passcode.

    Doing the same thing on my 7 with a false fingerprint too much also forced a passcode.

  • Yup. With FaceID it only takes TWO failed attempts to require a passcode.

  • Riddlemethis

    I dunno. This could all be foreshadowing. Only time will tell.

    I know not going to be an early adopter with the 10 costing more than $1700!

  • Update: Apple told David Pogue from Yahoo what really happened with the demo…refresh for the update.

  • Bill___A

    I am not concerned with it not working in one instance at the demo. These things happen and there are reasons why it would have. It is not really even worthy of a lot of discussion.

  • fmanowhereman

    One thing they didn’t discuss about Face ID was, how do you refuse to unlock your phone for authorities (seeing as Apple is so fervent about personal security)? All they have to do now is just catch you looking at the phone and SHAZAM…unlocked!

  • Nigel Bailey

    Technically in Ontario, the 10 costs 1491. But I get your point

  • Unless you want the 256 GB version…

  • Aleks Oniszczak

    “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.” Well that’s what I call a bad design. If Face ID works so well, then why does it force you to put in a password after failing twice? Just because the failure on stage was “by design” doesn’t mean it’s good. What’s wrong with allowing the user to put in a passcode while letting Face ID keep trying? It’s as if they don’t have much faith in it if it’s designed to give up and go back to the old way after just two tries.

  • Apparently a MacRumors reader asked this question to Federighi:

    Krimbel also asked for details on what would prevent a thief from taking the iPhone X, pointing it at his face, and running off. In response, Federighi says there are two mitigations in place. “If you don’t stare at the phone, it won’t unlock,” he wrote. “Also, if you grip the buttons on both sides of the phone when [you] hand it over, it will temporarily disable Face ID.”

  • Well, an alternative interpretation is that Apple has SO much faith in it that they feel it should never fail more than twice if it’s actually your face looking at it. With it locking out FaceID after only two attempts, rather than five, it seems like Apple expects the “false-negative” failure rate to be much lower than Touch ID was.

    Keep in mind that the issue on stage wasn’t that Craig’s face failed to unlock the iPhone — it was that at least two other people (or one other person twice) had failed to unlock the iPhone with their own faces.

  • Nigel Bailey

    Apple explained why it didnt work. It has a lockout after it doesn’t recognize the face after two tries. No mistake was made, it worked as it was designed to.

  • Aleks Oniszczak

    I think it’s more likely they’re afraid that it WILL unlock after five or so faces are tried – so they lowered it to just 2 tries. Otherwise, if it’s so good, why bother having a limit at all?

    On a related note, I hate that my iPhone is always asking me for my passcode – why did I buy one with a fingerprint reader if I’m just going to be asked my password every few days or so. Looks to be even worse now with Face ID.

  • Quattro

    Ummm… They rehearse these presentations. Why didn’t it happen in rehearsal? Or why wasn’t anyone smart enough to know they had to test everything before show time? These excuses are too easy.

    Also… Did no one notice how awkwardly Craig was using the phone with the swiping action? It is truly a clunky interface. As well as the star-struck Verge guy who raved about it but launched one of the dock apps by mistake because it was in the way of him trying to slide up. And then there is having to double press and look at the phone for ApplePay. Seriously?!?!

    This interface is a HUGE step backward.

  • I totally understand where you’re coming from, but I’m also willing to take Apple at face value (no pun intended) when they say that it’s a one in a million chance of a random match.

    Personally, I’m hoping that the FaceID is good enough that you won’t get a lot of false negatives if it’s actually your face it’s seeing, but I also realize I’m probably being overly optimistic, and I know that as with any new technology, time will tell.

    Personally, I’ve had good success with Touch ID, as long as my fingers are clean, and I rarely have to re-enter my passcode except when my iPhone is restarted. However, I also rarely go more than eight hours without unlocking my iPhone with Touch ID, so I seldom hit that new six-days/eight-hours timeout either.

  • roscoe108

    Did anyone notice how Phil Schiller (who seemed incredibly awkward and poorly-spoken every time he was on stage) kept calling the iPhone operating system “OiS” instead of “iOS”? He did it at least 3 or 4 times that I caught.

  • Aleks Oniszczak

    So by design, Apple requires you to type in your passcode every six days if you are someone that gets at least 8 hours of sleep. They may have their reasons or maybe they just think it’s funny, but it’s my device. How about Apple not treat me like a baby let let me make up my own security rules for my own device. Even the top brass at Apple can’t handle their crazy security rules for a high profile demo. Imagine if pass codes failed every six days after 8 hours of sleep? Who would want that? Yet, passcodes probably have a higher failure rate than fingerprints. Just think of all the people you know that have said they have forgotten their passwords, or mistyped them. If FaceID is better than touchID, it’s certainly better than passcodes. So why the crazy rules that turn off a supposedly better secuity system every time you reboot, or sleep 8 hours when the moon is full etc etc.

  • Oh, you’re totally correct that Touch ID is certainly not better than a passcode, and to be fair, Apple hasn’t ever really pretended that it was.

    When Apple first debuted Touch ID, they presented it as being better than NO passcode, which is where many users were at due to the inconvenience of having to type in even a four-digit number every time they wanted to use their iPhone. It was about better security through convenience, not technology for its own sake.

    However, a lot of the pundits and nerds automatically wanted to assume it was something super-secure, and therefore went looking for ways to bypass it. Of course, by Apple’s own standards, the very rules you’re citing made it obvious that the company knew it could be bypassed, and had already designed ways to mitigate that risk.

    Now, FaceID? Yeah, Apple is claiming it’s better than Touch ID, but I still think their goal is that it be more convenient than a passcode (and Touch ID), and Schiller admitted that the one-in-a-million drops dramatically if you’re dealing with family members, although he tried to make it into an “evil twin” joke.

    Of course, the jury is still out on whether it’s more convenient, but I’m under no illusions that it’s more secure than using a passcode — after all, let’s face it, your device still has a passcode even with TouchID/FaceID enabled, so that remains an available point of access anyway — it doesn’t matter how secure FaceID is if you’re using “0000” as your passcode.

  • Kate

    Yeah it seemed like he had no clue what he was talking about ????

  • Kate

    Even having your eyes shut won’t unlock it.

  • Yup. What’s less clear right now is whether that would count as a “failure” in terms of the two-attempt limit.

    My guess is that it wouldn’t, otherwise FaceID would be TOO sensitive to other random faces as you wave your iPhone around and you’d end up having to enter your password more often than not.

  • Kate

    Makes sense!