The iPhone X (pronounced “iPhone 10”) was touted as the next leap forward in smartphones. It is the first smartphone from Apple to feature a full-screen display, it has “Super Retina” resolution, wireless charging and more. Apple revealed it to the world on 12 September 2017 at a special event at the Steve Jobs Theatre.
One of these new features is Apple’s face recognition technology. Gone is the digital fingerprint that has allowed iPhone users to open their phones in recent years. Now, with the iPhone X, you hold your phone up and look at it. The iPhone recognizes your face and then opens.
Except when it doesn’t.
This is what happened when Craig Federighi, Apple’s Senior Vice President of Software Engineering, tried to demonstrate the new feature.
Ouch! Another awkward presentation moment for the history books.
So, what happened? Is Apple’s face recognition technology a massive fail? I doubt it. In fact, Apple has offered an explanation.
Prior to the demonstration, different people had been handling the phone that Federighi first tried to open. What nobody realized was that phone was trying to recognize the faces of those people. Because none of those people had Federighi’s face, the phone did not open. However, it was registering several unsuccessful attempts to log in. After a certain number, the device blocked face recognition—as intended—and required a passcode to open.
I find this explanation plausible. I have an iPhone 6s that has digital fingerprint recognition. If I press the home button several times with a finger other than the one registered with my phone, it locks and requires me to enter the passcode. It’s a good safety feature.
So Federighi’s iPhone X worked the way it was supposed to. But it didn’t look like it at the time. Instead, it was an uncomfortable 15 seconds that required Federighi to switch to a backup. Fifteen seconds out of a two-hour event and yet those 15 seconds have generated a lot of discussion in the press and on social media.
Those 15 seconds have raised doubts in the minds of some people as to the robustness of the technology. Those 15 seconds even resulted in a plunge in the price of Apple stock, although the drop was short-lived and quickly reversed.
In an earlier post entitled Ten Tips for Using Props in a Presentation, I offered some ideas on how to make sure things run smoothly when you use props. One of the tips was as follows:
Make sure the prop works. The more complicated the prop, the greater the chance that something can go wrong. Test it, test it and then test it again beforehand. This is especially important if the prop forms a key part of the presentation; for example, if it is an invention that you are revealing to the public.
For the iPhone X demonstration, Apple should have known that the phone would lock if different people had been handling it. The last person to handle the phone before the demonstration should have been Federighi himself. He should have opened it a couple of times using face recognition to make sure that it was ready to go.
To his credit, Federighi did have a backup plan—which I also discuss in my earlier post—a second iPhone X. Even so, it would have been preferable had Federighi had the presence of mind to explain Apple’s lockout feature, enter the passcode, close the phone and open it again with face recognition. To be fair, he would have had to do all these mental gymnastics quickly and in the heat of the moment and with the eyes of the world upon him.
Nonetheless, the incident was a valuable reminder of the importance of preparation and how, even then, mistakes will happen.
Even Steve Jobs had days like this.