For the last six months I’ve been planning to write an article regarding Face ID issues on iPhone X, but never started… either because I didn’t have much experience, or being lazy to study the subject. Unfortunately, the experience was gained when I less expected it, as I faced the issue with Face ID on my own iPhone. After being clumsy for a moment, I can see the following message “Unable to activate Face ID on this iPhone”. Damn situation! But let me tell you the full story.
Why did Face ID fail in my case?
From the title of this article you’ve probably figured out my personal reason of Face ID failure. To be precise, this morning I fell from the step ladder while having iPhone in the pant’s right pocket. My landing was successful… No broken bones. Just few big bruises above the knee and one on the forearm. Additionally the Face ID “bit the dust” and stopped working.
Looks like iPhone hit the ladder during my 1.5 second travel towards the ground. Surprisingly, no external damage was applied to iPhone body… Thanks to silicone case.
The outcome is still kind of sad – every time I try to set up Face ID, the iPhone shows a warning message “Face ID is Not Available… Try Setting up Face ID later”.
What kind of conclusion I made? If the iPhone X, XS or XR get dropped or hit, there is a great chance that Face ID will stop working. Why? We’ll discuss it below…
Software issues related to Face ID
If you neither dropped your iPhone, or used it as a hammer, the problem of failed Face ID may be related to software side. We’ve seen so many instances when a third party app or even iOS get glitchy or just freeze. Wouldn’t be a big surprise, if that could happen to Face ID software algorithm.
If that looks like your case, try to do the following:
STEP 1Enter Settings – Face ID & Passcode – Reset Face ID STEP 2Do a hard reset by pressing Volume UP, Volume Down, then press and hold Side Button until the screen goes black.
When iPhone reboots, try to set up Face ID again.
If Face ID failed after iOS update, most probably the reason is in corrupted OS. The only thing you can do is to connect your iPhone to computer and restore it using iTunes.
Unfortunately, all mentioned above steps didn’t help to fix Face ID on my iPhone X. Obviously some internal components got damaged due to physical impact.
Damaged Face ID internals
What could get damaged?… It’s a hard question, that even Apple can’t answer for sure. In order to create a 3D map of your face, iPhone is using a TrueDepth system which consists of Dot Projector, IR camera and Flood Illuminator. So most probably one of those indeed failed.
I searched so many forums to get at least some information regarding failed Face ID, but didn’t find much that was useful. Looks like the problem is not studied deeply yet, so the information is still insufficient.
On the other hand, someone pointed that TrueDepth camera is connected with a telephoto lens of the rear camera. This conclusion is coming from the latest update of the troubleshooting guide for Genius Bar technicians, where Apple request to check/replace a rear camera module prior any further steps. If that doesn’t help, Apple usually replaces a complete phone.
From my own observation of my iPhone X (after the impact), I spot the following abnormalities:
- Camera app loads 3 times longer
- Front facing camera works, but the portrait mode is not. Looks like Face ID system is used to determine the shape of your body
- During a FaceTime call the front camera doesn’t activate. The message on the screen says “Your camera is in use by another application”
- Flashlight (at rear camera) works unpredictably. In most cases it just doesn’t turn on
All other functions of the iPhone work well.
Mentioned above points make me think that the problem is on the hardware side. It may be hidden in a rear camera, TrueDepth system or just disconnected ribbon cable.
How to repair Face ID hardware?
In fact, there are not many options to fix Face ID hardware issue. Probably there is only one way… but let’s see.
Take the iPhone to Apple Store and make a guarantee claim. And I think this is the best solution. Unfortunately, it will be only acceptable, if your iPhone is still under one year Apple’s warranty and not physically damaged. You can check the warranty on this page by entering the serial number.
In case there is no Apple Store in your town, it’s possible to sent the phone by post. To do this you will need to contact Apple Support (over the phone or on-line chat) and arrange everything prior posting. Moreover, Apple will provide you with packaging instructions and a return envelope for free.
Here is what I did, when Face ID stopped working on my iPhone. I live in Ukraine and there no Apple Stores available at all. A friend of mine helped me to arrange the delivery to one of the European’s Apple Stores. The phone was accepted as a guarantee case by Apple technician, so that should mean the phone will be repaired or replaced… Hopefully!
At the moment I’m waiting for the update. It might take some time…
Take the iPhone to local phone-repair shops. This is a bad lottery. The issue of “Face ID is Not Available” is still insufficiently studied. The phone repair technician can only check connection and ribbon cables for damage. Any trial to substitute Face ID internals will make it even worse.
iPhone specialists from China had figured out that all Face ID components (IR camera, Dot Projector and Flood Illuminator) are unique for each iPhone… they are tight to a certain motherboard the same way Touch ID was.
The above statement makes it impossible to repair Face ID by unauthorized phone repair shops.
Face ID is not available… Still!
No doubt, your iPhone is still very much usable even without Face ID. Not so comfortable as before though. Every time you try to unlock, there is an annoying passcode. If you use a banking app, you have to manually enter the password. But let’s get it right – THIS IS NOT THE BIGGEST PROBLEM IN THE WORLD.
It’s still possible to use iPhone without Face ID. If you don’t agree, sell it to somebody else, then buy a new XS.
I’m actually glad it was my iPhone that got damaged. By the worst scenario I could end up with a broken leg of arm, which would suspend me for months.
Let me know in the comments if you also experienced same problem with Face ID. It would be very helpful if you could share your story and troubleshooting experience.