Face ID vs Touch ID: A Comparative Analysis

Face ID vs Touch ID- the behind-the-scenes technology

Apple introduced a new method for authentication in the iPhone X for the first time in 2017 on the iPhone’s tenth anniversary. Apple’s Face ID biometric authentication system allows for Animojis to unlock devices, make payments, access personal data, and track facial expressions.

Apple to replace Touch ID with Face ID drew a plethora of negative publicity, especially from privacy enthusiasts who were skeptical about Apple using users’ facial recognition data.

However, almost every iPhone released after 2017 (except the iPhone SE series) and iPad Pro models has Face ID. It has become a norm for Apple to offer Touch ID in its baseline products (iPad and iPad mini) and Face ID in its premium products, including the iPad Pro and iPhone.

But have you thought about how these two authentication methods stack up against each other? Does Face ID offer more security than Touch ID, or is it easier to use between the two for regular use?

Read below for a detailed comparative analysis of Touch ID and Face ID.

Face ID vs Touch ID: Take Behind the Scene

Before we start comparing Face ID and Touch ID, it’s important to understand how Apple patents both technologies. Let’s start with Touch ID.

Face ID vs Touch ID- the behind-the-scenes technology

Touch ID

Apple first unveiled Touch ID in 2013 with the iPhone 5S. Integrated into the Home button, Touch ID provides a convenient way to unlock the iPhone/iPad and authenticate purchases from the App Store instead of having to enter your passcode every time.

Touch ID is protected by the outermost layer of scratch-resistant sapphire glass. Apart from providing protection to the sensor, the sapphire glass also doubles as a lens for focusing fingerprints on the sensor. Underneath the glass is a stainless steel detection ring that detects your fingerprint when you place your finger on the button.

The sensor uses advanced capacitive touch to capture a high-resolution fingerprint image. Apple says it scans sub-epidermal skin layers using its wafer-thin sensor that measures just 170 microns. This means that the sensor is not scanning the top layer of dead skin. Thus, making it fail-proof against artificial fingerprints, amputated fingers and other counterfeit methods of cloning fingerprints.

Apple says Touch ID doesn’t store your actual fingerprints but a “mathematical representation” of them. So, even if someone gets hold of this database, it is impossible to reverse your fingerprints.

Apple further protects this data by using an advanced security architecture called Secure Enclave. Also, the device does not store fingerprint data. You can access this data only through Secure Enclave Architecture. Therefore, iOS, other apps, or even Apple servers cannot access this data.

Now, let’s analyze the working of Face ID.

Face ID

Face ID was launched as the next step towards a secure and user-friendly biometric authentication method. Apple’s incredible technology consists of a complex hardware module that Apple likes to call the “TrueDepth Camera System”. It works with Neural Networks and Chipset’s Bionic Neural Engine.

Every time you look at your iPhone/iPad with Face ID, the dot projector projects over 30,000 invisible dots on your face to create a detailed facial map. The Flood Illuminator helps you locate your face and generates a map even in the dark.

Next, this data is passed to the neural network to convert it into a mathematical representation. When you try to unlock your device, Face ID generates a mathematical representation of your face and checks it against the face you stored when setting up the authentication system. If it matches, your iPhone is unlocked, and the purchase is valid.

To complete the entire process in real-time and within seconds, Apple developed a Bionic Neural Engine. Chipsets starting with the A11 are designed to execute billions of operations per second.

Like Touch ID, facial recognition data is inaccessible to the operating system and apps. Instead, it is stored in the Secure Enclave.

Apple claims that Face ID works accurately even when you’re wearing sunglasses, a hat, or if you’ve shaved your beard. Recently, Apple released iOS 15.4 with Face ID with Mask feature. It lets you unlock your iPhone using your Face ID, even if you wear a mask.

Face ID vs Touch ID: Which is More Secure?

Face ID vs Touch ID which is more secure

While privacy experts have mixed opinions on which is more secure, Apple claims that Face ID is 20 times more secure than Touch ID. While the odds of you unlocking your iPhone using a fake fingerprint are one in 50,000, that number grows exponentially to one false positive in a million when it comes to Face ID.

Apple mentions on its website that it is impossible to replicate the facial recognition data of your face using print or 2D digital photographs, masks, or other similar technologies.

As an added security layer, Apple’s Face ID comes with an attention-aware feature, which ensures that your iPhone can’t be unlocked until your eyes are fully open and you’re on the device. Are you paying attention? Thus, it is impossible for someone to use Face ID to unlock your iPhone/iPad Pro while you are sleeping.

In case you are wondering what will happen when you are cornered by a thief, and he points to your face to unlock your iPhone. Actually, Apple’s Chief of Software Engineering Craig Federighi replied Saying on an email from developer Keith Crimbell,

If you don’t see the phone, it won’t unlock. Also, if you hold the buttons on either side of the phone then [you] Hand it over, it will temporarily disable Face ID.

Thus, both statistically and otherwise, Face ID is more secure than Touch ID.

Which one is faster? Face ID or Touch ID

When it comes to speed, Touch ID wins the competition. according to this Tom’s GuideIt took 1.8 seconds to unlock the iPhone X with Face ID, starting from turning on the screen and then swiping up to go to the home screen. Whereas Touch ID unlocked the iPhone 7 Plus in just 0.91 seconds.

On paper, Touch ID is faster than Face ID, but that’s not true in real-life applications. If you want to open Notifications on a Touch ID device, you’ll need to tap Notifications and place your finger on the sensor.

The process is fairly simple on devices with Face ID. When you wake up to tap a notification, Face ID simultaneously recognizes your face, thus, providing faster access to the notification.

Why did Apple switch from Touch ID to Face ID?

One of the reasons Apple decided to switch to Face ID in 2017 is the form factor of the devices. Face ID allows for more screen estate than button-integrated Touch ID.

This has allowed Apple to offer a bigger screen and thinner bezels. Since the release of the iPhone X in 2017 and the arrival of the Notch, we have also seen Android counterparts adopt the Notch design, albeit in their own way.

With the release of iOS 15.4, Apple has made Face ID compatible, even if you’re with a mask on. The move indicates that Apple has no plans to adopt Touch ID again on its iPhones. There are rumors that Apple is planning to make Face ID even better, rather than going back to Touch ID.

DSCC analyst Ross Young recently tweeted below:

Young isn’t the only analyst who believes Touch ID is now a thing of the past. Renowned Apple analyst Ming-Chi Kuo also agreed with Ross Young and tweeted Down:

Plus, it doesn’t make sense for Apple to improve the authentication system, which is statistically inferior to Face ID. The company has already stopped offering it in its premium products.

Face ID vs Touch ID: Ease of Use

When it comes to day-to-day use, Touch ID will be the preferred choice over Face ID because you just need to put your finger on the button to unlock your iPhone. In the case of Face ID, you’ll need to place your face on the front of the iPhone, focus on it, and swipe up the screen once your face is authenticated to access the Home screen.

You can read our detailed guide on how to use Face ID on iPhone and iPad to get familiar with the technology on your device.

Plus, the protracted pandemic has proven that face masks are here to stay. Although Apple has introduced Face ID with Mask feature, it takes time to unlock the device. So the better and easier option would be to go with Touch ID Mask.

If we compare the repair cost of Face ID and Touch ID, it goes without saying that Face ID is more complicated to repair than the latter.

In fact, it’s still not possible to repair faulty Face ID iPhones without replacing the entire iPhone! Touch ID, on the other hand, isn’t a very complicated setup. It costs around $79 with the Apple Care plan and about $200 without the plan.

So, Face ID or Touch ID?

Face ID is the successor to Touch ID, with the most obvious difference being the method of identification. While Face ID has its limitations, such as you can’t use it if your iPhone is in landscape mode, it doesn’t work well with a mask, and there’s an extra step to access the home screen.

But, Face ID is definitely more secure than the latter and is designed to replace Touch ID. It’s been more than five years since Face ID was seen in almost all iPhones, proving that the technology is here to stay.

So, which do you prefer more – Face ID or Touch ID? Share your answers in the comments below!

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