Apple has spent the last few years trying to abandon Touch ID in favor of its hands-free Face ID system. But the company is backtracking with its latest product, an iPad Air with a Touch ID power button. And as mask-wearing continues to fowl Face ID, Apple needs to bring its new fingerprint sensor to the upcoming iPhone.
Why Doesn’t the iPhone X or 11 Have a Fingerprint Sensor?
Touch ID is one of the iPhone X’s many casualties. The iPhone X was Apple’s first product to ditch the home button to achieve full-screen display, and one of the first smartphones (if not the only smartphone) to introduce a reliable usable face scanner for device security.
Apple could have added a rear- or side-mounted fingerprint sensor to the iPhone X, but why bother? Face ID is more secure than a fingerprint scanner, and isn’t sabotaged by wet or dirty digits. It also works while you’re wearing gloves, and many disabled people find Face ID more accessible than a tactile fingerprint scanner.
Unfortunately, Face ID doesn’t work when your face is covered by a mask—something that very few people worried about in 2017. While Android users can use their fingerprint sensor (or Iris Scanner) to quickly unlock their phone at the grocery store, iPhone users are left to type out a PIN like its 2010 again.
We may have a COVID-19 vaccine sometime in 2021, but we can’t return to the “old normal” that led to Face ID. Many Americans (myself included) are interested in using masks while suffering from a cold or flu, or while attending large events where germs spread easily. And if the iPhone 12 doesn’t offer Touch ID alongside Face ID, many of Apple’s customers will find themselves fumbling in public just to unlock their premium devices.
Let’s Face It, Face ID Was Never Enough
It’s time for honesty hour. Even without a global pandemic that spreads through every conceivable disease vector, the iPhone needs a fingerprint sensor. Face ID is an impressive system, but it doesn’t work at all angles and isn’t preferred by all users. Accompanying the existing Face ID system with a Touch ID power button would instantly make the iPhone a more usable universal device.
Unlike Android phones that use your selfie camera for simple “face unlock” systems, iPhones use an IR-blaster to “see” your face in 3D. That’s why iPhones can quickly detect your face at almost any angle in any lighting condition. But some everyday situations take you just outside of Face ID’s field of view. Using Face ID while your phone sits faceup on a table or in a kickstand is a minor annoyance, and unlocking your phone for a passenger in your car leads to taking your eyes off the road or divulging your passcode.
A Touch ID sensor would instantly solve these minor annoyances and appeal to people who prefer fingerprint sensors over facial recognition systems. And while Touch ID may feel like a strange “step back” for Apple—that’s not how customers feel about it! Critics and Apple fans regularly praise the $400 iPhone SE for its use of Touch ID and hardly ever mention that the phone lacks Face ID. The iPhone SE’s successful use of Touch ID may have even influenced Apple’s latest product, the 4th generation iPad Air.
Is the iPad Air a Hint at What’s to Come?
As I mentioned at the top of this article, the new iPad Air sports the full-screen design of Apple’s iPad Pro and iPhone. It doesn’t have a home button, but it also skips on Face ID. Apple’s solution for the new iPad Air is a Touch ID power button, something that’s cheap, usable, and more appealing to Apple than an unreliable under-display fingerprint reader or a design-violating rear-mounted sensor.
This Touch ID sensor would work perfectly on the iPhone 12, and now would be the perfect time to implement it. Not only are we in the middle of a pandemic, but mask-wearing may be more common in the future. Plus, Face ID has inherent problems and annoyances that a Touch ID sensor would solve. If the COVID-19 virus disappeared tomorrow, adding Touch ID to the new iPhone would still be a good idea.
We won’t know if the iPhone 12 has a Touch ID sensor until Apple’s iPhone event rumored for October 13th. And while some reporters and leakers have early access to metal “dummy models” of the iPhone 12, we can’t use these models to determine whether the iPhone 12 has a Touch ID power button. But hey, we’ll remind you to watch the event as soon as the details are available! 😉