Touch ID improvements arrive in iOS 7.1.1

Touch ID improvements arrive in iOS 7.1.1

Summary: Apple briefly mentions "further improvements to Touch ID fingerprint recognition" in the iOS 7.1.1 release notes, and initial testing reveals significant improvements in the biometric technology.

TOPICS: Apple, iOS, iPhone
Apple's Touch ID Place Your Finger UI - Jason O'Grady

I've never had much success with Touch ID in my iPhone 5S. While Touch ID worked well initially, my fingerprints seemed to "fade," gradually becoming unrecognized within a week or two. Invariably, I'd delete them, scan them again, and they'd work for a couple of weeks before fading again. 

Friends and followers that I queried about their Touch ID accuracy claimed near-perfect results, so I chalked my experience up to dry skin or some other problem with my subdermal ridge flow angle mapping – a "lossy process that discards minutia data that would be required to reconstruct the user’s actual fingerprint" according to Apple's iOS Security white paper (PDF). 

When iOS 7.1 was released on March 10, Apple noted "Improves Touch ID fingerprint recognition" way down in the release notes. When I read this I anxiously deleted and re-scanned all of my fingerprints and sure enough, my accuracy improved dramatically. For about a month or so.

I have the best luck with Touch ID when I scan my right thumb (my primary unlocking digit) five different times and when they start to fade (every month or so) I delete and re-scan my prints again.

When iOS 7.1.1 was released on April 22, Apple noted "Further improvements to Touch ID fingerprint recognition" as the first of only three features mentioned in the release notes. Again, I couldn't wait to test the "further improvements."

In typical fashion, Apple didn't provide any details about the specific improvements to Touch ID in iOS 7.1.1, but a poster to both Reddit and The Verge forums claims to have gleaned some details from a source that "works with Apple hardware." 

With iOS 7.1.1 Apple now takes multiple scans of each position you place finger at setup instead of a single one and uses algorithms to predict potential errors that could arise in the future. Touch ID was supposed to gradually improve accuracy with every scan but the problem was if you didn't scan well on setup it would ruin your experience until you re-setup your finger. iOS 7.1.1 not only removes that problem and increases accuracy but also greatly reduces the calculations your iPhone 5S had to make while unlocking the device which means you should get a much faster unlock time.

iOS 7.1.1 reads my fingerprints perfectly and while I can't confirm that iOS 7.1.1 "greatly reduces the calculations your iPhone 5S has to make," it seems to scan them a little faster than iOS 7.1 did. Having only been out for two days, it's too early to say whether iOS 7.1.1 will fix my particular Touch ID issues, but it's definitely off to a good start. I'll update this post if I hear back from Apple and if my prints last longer than a few weeks without fading. 

Now let's hope that Apple exposes a Touch ID API to third-party developers so that banking and payments apps can take advantage of this promising new technology.

More technical information on Touch ID can be found on pages 6 and 7 of the iOS Security white paper.

How is Touch ID working for you?

Topics: Apple, iOS, iPhone

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  • I'm experiencing problems with the dial pad.

    I've been experiencing problems with the dial pad ever since upgrading to iOS 7. I used to be able to gently tap the numbers and the phone recognized the tap. Since the upgrade even firm touches on the top row of numbers often go unrecognized. Anyone else experiencing this problem?
  • 7.1 was a huge improvement for me

    up until 7.1 I had all kinds of problems and was totally frustrated by Touch ID. when 7.1 came out I wiped my phone and started clean and it worked great. I had the worst problem with it after washing my hands. it rarely worked. now it works usually when slightly damp but not always. dry hands it unlocks very quickly. I haven't noticed anything different with 7.1.1 so far.
  • Difficulty touching numbers

    Could be your digitizer's going bad ... I'd take it in to the Apple Store and have it checked out.
  • My experience with Touch ID

    I have scanned both my left and right thumbs on iPhone 5s for Touch ID.

    My left thumb works 99% of the time. I rarely have to do a second or third attempt when unlocking my phone using my left thumb (unless my hands are dirty or just got out of a shower).

    On the other hand, my right thumb will usually work as well as the left thumb each time after a new fingerprint is scanned but after about a week or two Touch ID recognition for my right thumb will start to fade a little bit.

    And when Touch ID starts fails to recognize my right thumb more than 50% of the time, I will simply simply add an additional fingerprint profile for my right thumb again (and delete the oldest right thumb profile too make room if necessary).

    So I only keep one single fingerprint profile for my left thumb but I have multiple fingerprint profiles for my right thumb.

    The difference between my left thumb and my right thumb is that the skin on my left thumb is not as dry as my right thumb. My right thumb has a lot more visible tiny cracks or ridges due to dry skin.

    So if you finger tend to have lots of tiny cracks due to dry skin, you may need to keep multiple fingerprint profiles for that finger. However, don't create multiple profiles for the same finger at around the same time because they will basically have the same fingerprint data.

    When my phone was running iOS 7.0, I think I had to add new fingerprint scan of my right thumb once every two weeks on average. Since iOS 7.1 was installed a few months ago, I no longer need to do that as often. The last time I did a new fingerprint scan for my right thumb was at least a month ago.

    And now 7.1.1 is supposedly even better (I have not installed it yet).
  • Works well for me

    No issues at all - I've scanned six fingers (three from either hand) and my only stumbling block is occasionally I use a finger I haven't had scanned to open the phone. I just utter a clever D'OH and change fingers. I've never had to rescan my fingers since I first started using the feature. I actually find it an annoyance to enter in my passcode. :)
  • No Problems for me, but doesn't seem to work for my wife

    I have a couple digits scanned and they all seemed to work pretty well. Occasionally, when my hands are dry and cold, I have trouble with it, but blowing on my finger for a second seems to fix the problem. My wife can never get touch ID to work, perhaps b/c she doesn't place her finger squarely on the button and gives up quickly. I have updated to 7.1.1 but haven't noticed any difference.