Wednesday 18 September 2019

Ask Adrian: Our tech editor tackles your trickiest technology problems


Face recognition technology
Face recognition technology
Adrian Weckler

Adrian Weckler

Q I've been saving up for a top-of-the-line iPhone as a present. But would I be confused by the iPhone X? I know how to use a fingerprint button but is there a whole new set of things to learn with its face ­recognition system?

A In general, the facial recognition technology ('Face ID') of the iPhone X works fairly flawlessly - once you 'set' your face up on the iPhone X, it recognises your mug in virtually all lighting conditions, including pitch-black darkness. So you don't have to stare at the iPhone X for a couple of seconds before its Face ID works. It works almost immediately, and from a couple of different angles.

However, there are a few other learning curve issues. When you think of all the things you use the home button for, Apple has had to come up with some pretty significant workarounds. The main ones include getting back to the home screen quickly (which used to be a single home button tap), multitasking (switching between apps, which you used to do by double-tapping the home button) and downloading apps. But there are also changes in accessing your screen controls (volume, display brightness, airplane mode and the like) and even in switching the phone off.

The most important change is that swiping up from the bottom of the screen now exits any application you're in and brings you back to the home screen. This actually only takes a very short while to get used to because it's very intuitively done with your thumb, whether you're right or left handed.

Switching between apps is somewhat similar, in that you now swipe up from the bottom but hold your finger on the screen, whereupon your recent apps will appear for you to swipe through on a carousel.Downloading an app on the iPhone X is changed, too. Touch ID (or your security Pin) used to be the verification method. But Face ID can't simply replace the Touch ID button on its own as then there'd be a risk you'd just download apps without meaning to because you were looking at the phone. So the iPhone X now asks you to double press the side power button. It then uses Face ID to verify the purchase. Is this a longer method than Touch ID? So far, I haven't found that to be the case.

Paying with Apple Pay on the iPhone X now takes a double click, too. You double click the side power button to call up Apple Pay and while you're looking at the phone, Face ID verifies it's you before you tap the contactless payment terminal.

So far so good.

However, getting to the control panel is harder with the iPhone X. It's the one user interface compromise that will slow you up. Whereas on most iPhones you swipe up to get to controls like screen brightness, volume, silent mode or torch, on the iPhone X you now do it by swiping down from the top right corner. This now takes two hands instead of one. It was obviously a necessary adaptation to allow the swipe-up control to replace the home button function. But it's the only new action that definitely takes longer with the iPhone X than with other iPhones.

Finally, you now have to both press the side power button and the upper volume button at the same time to turn it off. By contrast, a long press of the side power button (which used to turn the phone off), now activates Siri.

Don't worry, though - after almost two weeks using the iPhone X, these controls are mostly second nature now. And if they (or the whopping €1,179 price) seem intimidating, you can always choose an iPhone 8 or iPhone 8 Plus, which retain the traditional home button and still have most of the high-end components, including the excellent cameras.

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