For the last six months I’ve been planning to write an article regarding Face ID issues on iPhone, 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 started to 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 an iPhone in the pant’s right pocket. My landing was successful… No bones are broken. Just few big bruises above the knee and one on the forearm. The cherry on the cake – Face ID “bit the dust” and stopped working.
Looks like iPhone hit the ladder step during my 1.5 second travel towards the ground. Surprisingly, no external damage was applied to iPhone body and screen… Thanks to thick 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, XR or later 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 never dropped your iPhone, 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 1 Enter Settings – Face ID & Passcode – Reset Face ID
STEP 2 Do 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 than usual
- 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. 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 of your device.
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.
This is exactly what I did, when Face ID stopped working on my iPhone. I live in Ukraine, and there is no official Apple Support available at all. A friend of mine helped me to arrange the delivery to Poland to one of Apple official representative Stores. The phone was accepted as a guarantee case, so that should potentially mean the iPhone will be repaired or replaced… Hopefully!
See the UPDATES at the end of article…
Take the iPhone to local third party phone-repair shop. This is a gamble. The issue of “Face ID is Not Available” is still insufficiently studied. The phone repair technician can only check connections and ribbon cables for damage.
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.
Above said means only one thing – to repair failed Face ID you will need to replace a motherboard together with Face ID module.
You can do such repair even yourself (if you have the right tools and straight hands), but the price of motherboard + Face ID module from AliExpress will start at 350$ and up depending on memory capacity.
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, since you have to tap the numeric passcode every time.
The most annoying it becomes when you want to use a mobile banking app or need to use Face ID as a password replacement. I always have troubles to reproduce the right password and it just kills me.
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 iPhone.
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.
In the meanwhile I’m switch to Samsung Galaxy Note 8… Never been using Android devices before. Let’s see…
UPDATE #1: My phone was delivered to official Apple reseller in Warsaw (Poland). The most important thing is that phone was successfully accepted by shop stuff for repair. I hope it will get back to me in fully working condition.
Just want to remind you that I’ve sent my phone without a box or even paper receipt (which I didn’t have from the beginning).
It’s been over a month now since I’ve sent the phone.
UPDATE #2: Due to last news the iPhone with falied Face ID was replaced for a new one. Looks like Apple couldn’t repair it, or didn’t bother to do so.
UPDATE #3: I’ve received a replacement iPhone X with exactly same specs as the original one. The serial number is obviously different. The phone came in soft wrapping envelove without any accessories. There was only a receipt paper from iSpot (official Apple reseller in Poland).
The whole process took about 2 months.
The bad thing is that I didn’t get a new 1-Year Apple Care Warranty. New serial number is showing the left overs from the original warranty.
Using Galaxy Note 8 was fun, but iPhone is somehow more pleasant.
The experience we just gained shows that problems with Face ID is not easy to tackle… even for Apple repair techs. It’s easier for them to replace it completely, rather than wasting manhours for nothing.
If you experience similar/same issues, please let me know in comments below. Also share your experience if you had your iPhone Face ID successfully repaired.