Craig Federighi’s apparent Face ID fail is nothing to worry about


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We guess this was the 1 in a million error. (Yes, we know that's not what this refers to!)
Screenshot: Apple

Apple technology “just works.” Except for when it doesn’t — as the world was reminded during this week’s iPhone X event when software boss Craig Federighi was unable to get Face ID to work on stage the first couple of times he tried it in front of the world.

Except, according to Apple, that’s not what happened at all. To paraphrase Apple’s late CEO Steve Jobs, we’re watching it wrong.

A problem, but not a Face ID problem

Apple’s explanation — which sounds plausible — is that, as with current Touch ID, when an iPhone is reset or an incorrect fingerprint is inputted one too many times, it requires users to manually enter their pincode as a security measure. After that, it then allows biometric unlocking. This is what happened with Face ID, with the iPhone X having been handled by people who weren’t Federighi ahead of the keynote and therefore requiring the added level of authentication.

In other words, it would have been more of an indictment of Face ID had it failed to work later in the keynote, having initially performed well, than it did by not working the first time. It’s still not ideal by any means, but it’s not the fault of Face ID.

It’s actually pretty impressive that Apple carries out its demos live using real software most of the time. While that’s something most viewers take for granted, it’s not always the case. Knowing what happens if technology backfires, tech companies often fake their product demos in the same way that singers will lip sync their songs live to avoid potential embarrassment.

That’s not sidestepping the fact that several dozen Apple engineers probably felt their heart skip a beat when Federighi temporarily got flustered on stage at the Face ID botch, though. Back in 2007, when Steve Jobs showed off the original iPhone, members of the iPhone engineers team in the audience downed a shot of whisky after each demo was completed — celebrating the fact that nothing had gone terribly wrong.

  • Bespin

    The FaceID fail on stage goes along with massive leaks and doing things like Touch bar…Apple just is not great with stuff anymore and may not be able to secure anything. That’s a lack of everything when you look at it.

  • Mazz

    “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.”

  • Greg_the_Rugger

    Given that the Touch ID does not work 100% of the time, this should not be any surprise. It will be interesting to see how it works for drag queens and actors in costumes. Would Aarya Stark have any problems gaining access?

  • JerryTK214

    This was obvious if you read the code entry screen that popped up. I figured they had just powered the phone on and it required the code, just like the current phone does.