Apple’s Face ID was introduced as a quick way to authenticate yourself on your iPhone, and replaced the Touch ID technology built into the Home button on older models. If you have an iPhone X or later, simply glance at the front of the phone, and the device’s TrueDepth camera will prove your identity—even in the dark!
Face ID can be used to unlock your phone, sign you into supported apps and websites, and let you purchase items with Apple Pay. One obstacle has been the need to wear masks during the COVID-19 pandemic, as Face ID usually requires a full facial scan to work. But a recent iOS update has finally made it possible to use Face ID while wearing a mask.
Working with Face ID is generally smooth and simple as long as you know the right steps, but if you bump into problems, we have some solutions. Here’s how to set up and use Face ID.
iPhone Models With Face ID
iPhone 13 (Photo: Molly Flores)
In order to use Face ID, your phone must be one of the following iPhone models:
iPhone X, XR, XS, or XS Max
iPhone 11, 11 Pro, or 11 Pro Max
iPhone 12, 12 mini, 12 Pro, or 12 Pro Max
iPhone 13, 13 mini, 13 Pro, or 13 Pro Max
Face ID can also be set up on these specific iPad Pro models:
Set Up Face ID
Apple will prompt you to activate Face ID when you initially set up your iPhone. But you can set it up later under Settings > Face ID & Passcode. Enter your passcode and tap Set Up Face ID.
At the initial setup screen, tap the Get Started button. Place your face in the camera frame and then move your head in a circle as if you were stretching your neck. After the first scan is complete, the next option varies based on your phone and iOS version.
If you have an iPhone X or iPhone 11 model, or haven’t updated your iPhone 12 or iPhone 13 to iOS 15.4, you will be asked to do a second scan. In this case, tap Continue. Again, move your face around until the scan is complete, then tap Done.
Face ID With a Mask
Normally, Face ID requires a full facial scan, so if you’re wearing a mask and need to unlock your phone or buy something using Apple Pay, Face ID won’t work. You would instead need to use a passcode for authentication. However, with the release of iOS 15.4, Apple introduced an option to use Face ID while wearing a mask.
This method scans the unique features around your eyes to authenticate you, but it is less secure than full facial scanning. Plus, Face ID with a mask works only with the iPhone 12 and later models running iOS 15.4 or higher. If you meet these requirements, you’ll be asked if you want to implement Face ID with a Mask during the initial setup of Face ID right after the first scan.
If Face ID is already set up and you want to use it with a mask, go to Settings > Face ID & Passcode and turn on the switch for Face ID with a Mask. At the Face ID with a Mask screen, tap Use Face ID with a Mask. Make sure you’re not wearing a mask, then tap the Get Started button and scan your face again.
Change Face ID Settings
From the Settings > Face ID & Passcode screen, you can change Face ID settings. By default, Apple turns on Face ID for the iPhone Unlock, iTunes & App Store purchases, Wallet & Apple Pay, and Safari Password AutoFill fields. Turn off the switch for any option for which you’d prefer to enter your credentials or use your phone’s passcode.
Tap Other Apps to see a list of apps that support Face ID. Here, you can turn off the switch for any apps for which you don’t want to use Face ID. In general, though, you’ll probably want to keep Face ID enabled across the board for its security and simplicity.
Set Up an Alternate Appearance
After the initial Face ID scan, you’re able to set up another scan as an alternate appearance. You can use this to scan yourself a second time, perhaps with different facial features, or scan another trusted person to use Face ID on your phone. To create an alternative appearance, go to Settings > Face ID & Passcode > Set Up an Alternate Appearance> Get Started and perform the scan.
If you’ve set up Face ID with a Mask and sometimes wear glasses, you can create another scan to recognize you with your glasses. You can add as many as four pairs of glasses (but not sunglasses). Put on your glasses and tap Add Glassesthen follow the steps to complete the scan.
If you already set up an alternate appearance and want to set up another one to use with a mask, tap Set Up Face ID with a Mask for Alternate Appearance. Again, follow the usual steps to run the scan.
Require Attention For Face ID
By default, Face ID requires you to look directly at your phone for it to kick in. This is an added security measure to make sure no one is forcing you to unlock your phone. For this feature to work, the Require Attention for Face ID switch must be turned on from the Face ID & Passcode screen. If you’ve set up Face ID with a Mask, this option needs to stay enabled.
You can also set Face ID to require your attention for certain actions, such as dimming the display, opening a notification from the lock screen, and decreasing the volume on certain alerts. To activate this, turn on the switch for Attention Aware Features.
Unlock With Apple Watch
If you own an Apple Watch, you can enable the switch next to the name of your Apple Watch to unlock your phone through the watch. This can come in handy if Face ID ever fails, or your device doesn’t support Face ID with a Mask. For this to work, your watch must have a passcode, be unlocked, and be nearby on your wrist.
Unlock Your Phone With Face ID
To test Face ID, tap the Side button to lock your phone. If you simply glance at your screen from the side, you’ll see the Lock screen with the lock icon at the top. When you look directly at the screen, the lock icon will unlock. This grants you access to any personal information on the Lock screen, such as notifications and missed phone calls. Swipe up from the bottom of the screen to gain entry to your Home screen.
If you set up Face ID with a Mask, put on a mask and try that process again. You can also test this by letting your phone naturally segue to the Lock screen after waiting a certain period of time and then unlocking it via Face ID.
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Make Purchases With Face ID
How about using Face ID to approve a purchase? Open the App Store or iTunes Store on your phone. Select a paid item you want to purchase, then tap the price. A message appears telling you to double-click the Side button to buy the app or music. Do that, and Face ID authenticates the purchase.
Now it’s time to use Apple Pay to buy something in the real world. Head to your favorite retail store, coffee shop, or other merchant of choice that accepts Apple Pay. When you’re ready to pay, double-click the Side button and hold the phone near the card reader. Let Face ID scan your face, and the transaction should go through.
Unlock an App or Website With Face ID
Next, try an app that requires unlocking to sign in. Open an app that normally asks for specific credentials or a passcode to sign you in. The first time you open the app, it may ask if you want to use Face ID to access it. Otherwise, you may have to activate the feature in the app’s settings. Face ID reads your face and should then give you access to the app.
Face ID can also be used to autofill your login credentials at websites through Safari. To do this, you first need to make sure that iCloud Keychain is enabled. Go to Settings and tap your name at the top of the settings screen. Tap iCloud > Keychain and make sure iCloud Keychain is turned on.
Autofill Login Credentials
Open Settings > Safari and tap AutoFill. Make sure the option for Use Contact Info is turned on if you want to use your own contact information. Turn on the option for Credit Cards if you want Face ID to fill in your credit card number when purchasing items on the web. Then tap Saved Credit Cards and enter the information for the credit card you wish to use.
Now open Safari and surf to a website that requires a password. Enter your username and password. You’re asked if you want to save the password. Tap Save Password. Now sign out of the site and tap the Sign in link. Face ID should scan your face. Tap the Sign in button, and you’re in.
Manage Saved Passwords
You can manage your saved website passwords and manually add new ones from Settings > Passwords > App & Website Passwords. Face ID will grant you access, allowing you to add, edit, and delete accounts.
Remove an existing account by swiping the entry to the left and tapping Delete. You can edit an account by tapping on it and entering the new information. A new account can be added if you tap the plus (+) icon at the top and enter the URL, username, and password.
Troubleshooting Face ID Problems
Face ID sounds like it should work quickly and smoothly most of the time, but what if you run into problems? Here are some tips if the feature stops responding or doesn’t recognize your face:
Make sure you’re looking directly at your phone and not just glancing at it.
Apple recommends positioning your phone about an arm’s length or closer (10-20 inches) from your face to trigger Face ID.
Make sure nothing is obstructing the view of the TrueDepth camera, which is on the notch at the top of the screen.
Go back to Settings > Face ID & Passcode and turn off Require Attention for Face ID to unlock your phone even if your eyes aren’t clearly open and looking at the screen. (You can’t turn this off if you want to use Face ID with a mask.)
If all else fails, tap Reset Face ID. You’ll then have to run through all the facial scanning steps again, but hopefully it will fix the problem.
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