iPhone XS: My biggest challenge with Apple's new phone

One of the most highly touted breakthroughs of the iPhone X -- and soon to be the iPhone XS -- can also be its biggest drawback in usability.
Written by Jason Hiner, Editor in Chief

There are times when Apple swallows its pride and puts product usability ahead of the company's narrative of being a leader and an innovator. Wireless charging, bezel-less displays, and dual cameras on the iPhone are the most the recent examples.

But there's one area where Apple is stubbornly holding onto the innovator narrative and badly impacting the usability of its most important product -- and that's with Face ID on the iPhone X, and soon the iPhone XS as well.

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The problem with Face ID

It's not that Apple hasn't done a decent job with Face ID, because it has. Facial recognition technology has been around on other phones for years, but Apple made it more effective and more secure.

The problem is that Face ID just isn't well suited to enough scenarios as the Touch ID fingerprint scanner was. Face ID doesn't work well in low light and it doesn't work well at times when it's slow, awkward, or difficult to point your phone at your face -- like when you're phone is sitting on your desk and you want to check a notification or you're sitting at a stoplight and you want to change playlists on a music app.

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A combination would be better

Touch ID isn't perfect either, of course. It doesn't work well when your hands are wet or dirty or when you've got a pair of gloves on. Those are all times when Face ID could work great. The two could compliment each other perfectly. In fact, combining the two together could have made the iPhone arguably one of, if not the most, usable, productive, and security-conscious phones on the market -- at least in terms of authentication.

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Instead, having only Face ID means the latest iPhones take a step backward in usability, because there are more times that Face ID doesn't work than Touch ID didn't.

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There were signs that Apple wanted to do both. The company was reportedly doing everything possible to integrate Touch ID into the front of the bezel-less iPhone X screen, but couldn't make the technology work. When that happened, Apple should have had a swallow-its-pride moment and just integrated the fingerprint scanner into the back of the phone where most people naturally rest their forefinger -- where the Google Pixel devices put it. Sure, it has some disadvantages compared to being on the front of the phone, but it would be far better than being limited to Face ID only.


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I used the iPhone X for two months and I got so frustrated by the limitations of Face ID that I switched back to the iPhone 8 -- which I had been using for a month before the iPhone X was released. On the iPhone X, I found myself constantly having to failover and enter my pin to login far more than I ever had to do with Touch ID.

Also: Apple Face ID: Everything you need to know CNET

Will the iPhone XS step backward?

By all reports, we expect that Apple's three new 2018 iPhone models will all use Face ID and drop Touch ID. This is a mistake and step backward.

Because I'm a tech journalist and have to stay current and write about these things, I've bit the bullet and upgraded iPhones every year since 2007 when the first iPhone arrived. I can't do it in 2018. I'm going to hold onto the iPhone 8 and its Touch ID sensor until Apple swallows its pride and combines Face ID and Touch ID into a future iPhone -- hopefully in 2019.

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