Embarrassing iPhone Face Recognition Blunder Explained

Apple’s on-stage demo of the new iPhone X in front of the world’s media last Tuesday suffered an unexpected glitch as its new face recognition feature didn’t work, and now Apple is offering an explanation of what went wrong.

Not Recognised

The nearly two-hour on-stage demo of the new phone, by Craig Mr Federighi, Apple’s senior vice president of Software Engineering at the company’s Cupertino, California headquarters, failed to hit the right note as it was overshadowed by the failure of the new handset to recognise his face as a means of authentication.

Others Moving The Handset

Statements by Apple since the incident have placed the blame on the fact that the phone’s authentication system tried to recognise the face of those moving the phone into position, ready for the presentation. These attempts, therefore, counted as two unsuccessful authentication attempts because the faces were not those of Craig Federighi.

Unfortunately for Mr Federighi, the phone, for reasons of security, is designed to only accept 2 unsuccessful authentication attempts using the facial recognition feature, before the feature is disabled and the user has to go to the trouble of manually typing in a passcode.


The awful irony of the presentation was that ‘Touch ID’, which was being replaced with the 10th anniversary iPhone X, would have allowed five failed attempts before seeking a passcode.

What made things seem worse was the fact that this new iPhone feature had been developed after Apple reportedly gathered a billion images to ‘train’ the feature to recognise broad geographic and ethnic data sets, and that Apple had earlier described Face ID as being “effortless” to use, and even more accurate than its fingerprint-based Touch ID system.

Apple has also said that the 3D front-facing camera has been designed to learn what users look like and is only inaccurate one in 1 million times.

Also For Payment and Emojis

As well as providing authentication to unlock the phone, The Face ID feature has also been designed to authenticate Apple Pay and create the customisable animated emoji.


Fortunately for Mr Federighi, he had a spare phone standing by so that he could at least continue the presentation.


Prior to Apple’s attempt to explain what went wrong with the feature, different theories had been offered online as to what may have caused the problem, including the idea that Mr Federighi’s wiping of the stage make-up on his face before this second attempt may have interfered with the system.


Some commentators have expressed concerns about how the use of Face ID could affect the privacy and security of users, and that the technology may not be entirely effective where users need to keep their face partially covered e.g. for religious / cultural or work reasons.

The largest concern for many people, however, has been the substantial $999 price tag for the phone ($999 for the 64GB version and £1,149 for 256GB).

What Does This Mean For Your Business?

Having an up to date phone that can cope with the demands of doing business on the move are the main concerns for many businesses, and having a time-saving, new security feature such as Face ID would be a bonus. For many business people, however, the high price of the phone, and the loss of trust in its Face ID abilities already (remember that Face ID also authorises Apple Pay as well as the phone itself) have meant that they may stick with their existing phone for the time being.

For Apple, which is not doing as well as it would like in large markets such as China, the public Face ID failure, which may well have been legitimately caused by features designed to protect the security of users, could prove to be costly. It may also have done nothing to boost business confidence in the kinds of biometric security measures that are being introduced to so many business services e.g. banking.

This story also helps to illustrate the delicate balance between price, value, and perceived benefits in products and services. Even though the sophisticated AI / biometric technology in Face ID is really quite spectacular, if a product has no real perceived benefits compared to existing products / versions, customers may not see the value that they will gain by paying the high price.