The UX trade-off of Face ID

Security concerns aside, here are my first impressions on the interactions of Face ID.

The great simplicity of Face ID comes when unlocking iPhone X every day, every time you use it. No more fumbling with the (now extinct) Home button to get in, just lift and look to unlock — that’s about as seamless as unlocking can be.

This simplity in one area came at a cost in another area though: Apple Pay.

When Apple first released Apple Pay, they touted a seamless and intuitive user experience. Just hold your phone to the receiver with your thumb on TouchID to pay. That’s it. They got cheers from the audience, and head nods from me and my friends watching, saying “that’s how it’s done”.

But now they’ve done away with this seamless experience, and added two extra steps into the process. Now to pay I need to:

  1. Double tap the power button (previously an optional step),
  2. Scan my face with FaceID (which might not always work on the first try),
  3. Then hold my phone to the NFC receiver.

If Apple’s goal is universal adoption of contactless payment, this is sure to slow things down in the checkout line.

Let’s say Face ID saves each user one second every time they unlock their iPhone, while Touch ID saves every user a second every time they make a payment. Off the bat it seems Face ID is the way to go since people will be unlocking their phones way more often than making payments, saving individuals more time in the long run.

On the other hand though, the time saved at the checkout by Touch ID is not only saved by the payer, but it’s time saved by everyone else in line. This time is compounded for every customer in line using Apple Pay. So even though Touch ID is a little slower to unlock, the way I see it, it will save more time for more people in the long run.

Now maybe Apple sees the future of commerce to be online and in-app, making checkout lines obsolete? If that’s so, Face ID wins hands down.

In any case, it seems in regular Apple fashion they’ve made a polarizing design decision with Face ID. We’ll now have to watch and see how people use the new biometric feature to decide which is superior: the face or the thumb.