It used to be that unlocking your phone required a passcode. Then the passcode was surpassed by fingerprint sensors embedded into smartphones. But back in 2017, Apple advanced security for the greater smartphone industry with the introduction of Face ID. But just what is it and which iPhones support Face ID?
What Is Face ID?
Face ID is Apple’s modern biometric authentication system. That’s quite a mouthful, right? So let’s unpack it. An “authentication system” simply means the technology involved in the method used to verify a particular person can gain access to something.
Your credit card has an authentication system known as a chip and pin. Every online account you have has an authentication system known as a password. Even the humble centuries-old house key is a rudimentary authentication system. The possessor of the key is allowed to gain access to whatever it unlocks.
Now for the “biometric” part. Biometric refers to statistical data from a biological system that can be recognized verified. If you’ve ever seen a movie where the spy needs to perform a rental scan to unlock a door, that’s a biometric authentication system. And of course, if you have ever used your thumbprint to unlock a phone that phone has a built-in biometric authentication system, which uses the fingerprint.
The advantage to biometric authentication systems over traditional authentication systems like passcodes or keys is that you don’t need to remember any passcode or have a physical key with you. You always (hopefully) have your eyes and fingers with you, which makes biometric authentication systems more user friends.
But back to Face ID. Now you can see Face ID is just another form of biometric authentication system, but one that uses a scan of your face to unlock your phone rather than a fingerprint.
Which iPhones Have Face ID?
Apple unveiled Face ID back in 2017 with the introduction of the iPhone X. That iPhone was the first iPhone to have a modern, all-screen design. That design was achievable because Apple ditched the Touch ID home button and replace that biometric authentication system with Face ID.
Almost all iPhones currently sold today have Face ID, except for the iPhone SE (2020), which still has a home button with Touch ID. Here are all the iPhone models Apple has ever made that have Face ID:
- iPhone X
- iPhone XS
- iPhone XS Max
- iPhone XR
- iPhone 11
- iPhone 11 Pro
- iPhone 11 Pro Max
- iPhone 12 Mini
- iPhone 12
- iPhone 12 Pro
- iPhone 12 Pro Max
Do Other Apple Devices Have Face ID?
For a while, Face ID was limited to iPhones. But in 2018 Apple introduced the new iPad Pro, which also adopted Face ID when that device gained an all-screen design. Right now the current iPad Pro is the only iPad model that also offers Face ID.
Here are all the iPad models that have ever offered Face ID:
- iPad Pro 12.9-inch (2018)
- iPad Pro 11-inch (2018)
- iPad Pro 12.9-inch (2020)
- iPad Pro 11-inch (2020)
Is Face ID Better Than Touch ID?
Technically speaking: yes, Face ID is better than Touch ID. Why? It’s much more secure. While Touch ID had a false-positive rate (the rate at which the iPhone would incorrectly verify an unregistered fingerprint as a legitimate one) was one in 50,000. Face ID has a false-positive rate of one in one million. That means Face ID is 20 times more secure than Touch ID.
Why is it so much more secure? Simply because Face ID’s sensors read many more datapoints than the sensor of Touch ID does. That’s thanks to the TrueDepth camera system it uses.
How Is Face ID Different Than Face Unlocking On Android Phones?
It’s often asked why Face ID is a big deal if Android phones have had facial recognition unlocking features long before the iPhone X came out. It’s because “facial recognition” and what Face ID does work in two completely different ways.
Traditional facial recognition biometric authentication systems found on Android phones work by the front camera performing image recognition on your face. If it looks like you, your Android phone will unlock. However, the front camera on Android phones can only sense light–not depth. That means many Android phones that use “facial recognition” can be unlocked if someone holds a picture of you up to the phone’s front camera.
Face ID doesn’t work based on image recognition. It has an extra sensor known as a TrueDepth camera, located by the front camera on the iPhone. This TrueDepth camera measures not imagery, but depth. It’s this that makes Face ID so secure. Face ID is scanning for depth when it looks at your face.
Matter of fact Face ID doesn’t know exactly what you look like. It only knows what your face is shaped like. And if someone tries to unlock your iPhone using a picture of you, Face ID will know it’s not you because the photo has no depth.
In deciding whether to unlock for you, Face ID computes over 30,000 points of interest on your face, measuring the minute differences in the depth of your nose, mouth, eyelids, and more. If those differences don’t match up exactly, Face ID knows it’s not really you trying to unlock your iPhone.
Pretty cool, huh?
Frequently Asked Questions
Q: Does iPhone 8 have Face ID?
Nope. The iPhone 8 does not have Face ID. Though the iPhone 8 came out in 2017–the year the iPhone X debuted, too, only the iPhone X got Face Id that year.
Q: Does iPhone 7 have Face ID?
No, the iPhone 7 does not have Face ID. The iPhone 7 was released a year before the iPhone X debuted. The iPhone X was the first iPhone with Face ID.
Q: Does iPhone SE have Face ID?
No. No iPhone SE has ever had Face ID. Matter of fact, in 2020, the iPhone SE is the ONLY iPhone Apple still sells without Face ID!
Apple expert and novelist, Michael Grothaus has been covering tech on KnowYourMobile for the best part of 10 years. Prior to this, he worked at Apple. And before that, he was a film journalist. Michael is a published author; his book Epiphany Jones was voted as one of the best novels about Hollywood by Entertainment Weekly. Michael is also a writer at other publications including VICE and Fast Company.