Face ID Accessibility. Apple offers some answers

As discussed in The Blind Side Podcast episode 53, Apple today made a series of hardware announcements.

Understandably, the announcement that has caused the most social media chatter in the blind community relates to the iPhone X, and it’s new Face ID feature.

Apple has earned our trust over the years by ensuring that its products are fully accessible from their initial launch, so few observers were in any doubt that Apple would have given thought to the accessibility of this new feature. However, were there limitations of the technology that simply made it a non-starter for some people?

I wrote to Apple, and quickly received a response to some of my initial questions.

My questions stem from the fact that I am congenitally blind. My particular eye condition causes my eyes to look small and a little sunken, and they are often closed. Further, I have a form of congenital cataracts. I was curious to know whether Face ID would work for someone like me and others I know with prosthetic eyes, given that during the keynote, Apple indicated that the iPhone X would not unlock unless you gave the phone your attention.

Apple says the following.


The iPhone X has been designed with a number of accessibility features to support its use.

For VoiceOver users, Face ID will prompt you as to how to move your head during set up in order to complete a scan. If you do not want Face ID to require attention, you can open Settings > General > Accessibility, and disable Require Attention for Face ID. This is automatically disabled if you enable VoiceOver during initial set up.


I also took the opportunity to ask about the new method for toggling accessibility settings. One can’t triple-click the Home button on the iPhone X, because there is no Home button. It appears one triple-clicks the Side button. This button is larger on the iPhone X than previous models of iPhone to reflect the many functions it now performs.

I would observe that one will have to be careful with this feature, since pressing the same button five times will activate iOS 11’s emergency SOS function, and may, depending on how you’ve configured that feature, make a call to local emergency services.

I’m impressed that Apple had clearly anticipated someone like me having questions about my ability to use Face ID, and were able to furnish me with such a clear answer.

Will I be getting an iPhone X? Almost certainly, for business reasons. There will be plenty of interest in setting up and using Face ID, and I’ll be publishing a free update to “iOS 11 Without the Eye” for everyone who has already purchased it, with iPhone X-related information once the phone is released on 3 November.

Would I get one otherwise? I don’t think I would. Given that I’m totally blind and don’t need to see the screen, I don’t need to look at my phone. And because I don’t need to look at my phone, I often keep it in my pocket, unlocking it with Touch ID while the phone is still in my pocket so I can use it. I realise that my use case is very rare so I can’t blame Apple for not catering to it, but it’s a wee convenience I will miss.

And apart from being able to train people on the use of Face ID, I don’t see too many advantages for me as a blind person over the iPhone 8, or even the current 7 Plus I have.

How about you? Now that the big reveal is all official, how are you feeling about the new devices, and especially the iPhone X with it’s Face ID?

Share your thoughts in the comments.

27 Comments on “Face ID Accessibility. Apple offers some answers

  1. I think the case for splurging on an iPHONEX as a blind person is particularly disappointing. Other than perhaps a bettter camera which may help with object recognition and document scanning, you get absolutely nothing you wouldn’t get buying an 8 or 8+. No additional storage, the very same A11 Bionic chip, and the same wireless charging. I’m sitting happy with my 7. My wife Sara still uses a 5S which she will upgrade next year when her contract ends. She’s thinking of an 8 or 8+ which would be a really solid improvement. She’ll definitely enjoy that overall boost to her capabilities. I don’t think I’d experience anywhere near that enjoyment even if I got the 256GB model. That would double my current onboard storage. I don’t even know if I’d notice a significant speed difference between my 7 and an 8. The prospect of Bluetooth5 and its likely benefits to audio lag and reliable connection do intrigue me and I look forward to hearing other people relate their experiences in that area.

  2. There is still one question I have for iPhone X, how would one do a soft reset on the iPhone X, normally, I’d press the power button and hold the home button at the same time and let go before the phone has started the reset process, If I didn’t, it would go into recovery mode. so, the burning question is, how would one do that?

    • This will be done the same way you do it now with the iPhone 7 and 7 Plus. You hold down the Sleep/Wake button while also pressing the volume-down key.

  3. For me, 256 gig iPhone X all the way!! The whole concept of no home button plus Face ID, really cool stuff that I know I want to check out.

  4. I think the X does give you a faster chip and another gig of RAM. Am I wrong?

    • Hi Tim, the chips announced in all three new iPhones are identical, the A11 Bionic.
      The iPhone 8 has 2GB of RAM, while the 8 Plus and X both have 3GB.

  5. wonder why apple remove home button but when I see the face ID that would be good, the positive thing its probably will even better at secure

  6. I see absolutely no reason to upgrade to the ex. In fact, I don’t think I will upgrade at all, since I have a 7+ with 128 GB of RAM, which is the perfect size for me. Indeed, my big disappointment with the showing today was that they dropped the 128 GB model, so now if you want more than 64, you have to pay a premium for 256, which is more than I want or will ever need. This just feels like apple forcing an unnecessary upgrade on people who would like to have more than 64 GB. They’ve done it for years with a 32 GB, but last year, they offer three sizes. Anyway, I’m perfectly happy to wait until next year when whatever bugs exist in the face identification for sighted as well as blind, will have hopefully been worked out.

  7. I will definitely purchase the 256 gig iPHONE x. I did not upgrade last year because being that this was the 10 year anniversary, I figured it would be a bigger upgrade. I do have concerns about no home button, but, I’m sure apple has taken all of this into consideration for voice over users.

  8. Hello Mr. Mosen. Great blog post, as always. While I find the face ID recognition an interesting feature, I don’t think I’ll be purchasing an iPhone X. For one, the price is, in my opinion, a bit extreme, and the tech specs just don’t seem all that impressive to me, particularly since there was no memory increase. I was hoping for at least a 512 gigabyte model, if not a terabyte model. I may buy an IPhone eight next year when my two years of paying off my phone is over. However, if rumors are true and the IPhone SE2 launches sometimes next year, I may opt for that one instead, as I rather like the SE I have now. These are just my thoughts and opinions however, and I greatly look forward to what apple does in the months and years to come. I also greatly anticipate the release if IOS 11 next week.

    • I enjoy my iPhone SE 64 GB model, and the only upgrade I will consider is an updated version of the SE or the 128GB version.
      However, why would Apple invest any more money on the SE given that the company feels that the SE took sales away from their other phones?
      I hope Apple continues to support the SE.
      I like the size and speed of this phone not to mention the outstanding battery life I got on this phone during Hurricane Irma.

  9. Looks like I will be getting an iPhone X to support any other VoiceOver users who may have questions concerning Face ID and follow my podcasts or contact me at Vision Australia.

  10. Currently I have an iPhone 6 and I will have to upgrade this year as it is starting to show some Wear and tear as it is. The X model for me only holds one advantage over the 8 and that is quick charging or which the other phones do not support yet. Other than that I do not see a need to upgrade to the iPhone X. The Price tag of more than 10.200 Danish Kroner which is equivalent to about 1350 USD for the 64 Gb version. I understand that the size is somewhat in between the standard 4.7 and the larger plus size phones, as it makes use of the edge to edge design with no bessels. But honestly I do not care for the larger phone as it takes up more Space in my pocket. I certainly want to have a look at the X and see for my self, I might still be convinced. My blind wife is thrilled of a new shining iPhone and will most likely upgrade to the iPhone X, she is a voiceover user just as I am but I think she is interested in the newest and greatest ! and hence she will get the new one. That way I get to try it out myself as well!
    Jonathan,as always, it is a joy to listen to you on the Blind Side as well as your blog.
    Kind regards, Jesper.

    • Thanks for the kind comments Jesper.
      I have good news and bad news for you. The good news is that all three new iPhones do fast charging. They will charge from 0% to 50% in 30 minutes. But the bad news is that they won’t do it with the adapters Apple puts in the iPhone box. Due to wattage limitations in the USB A charger the iPhones ship with, you’re going to need to buy the USB C power adapter, and also the USB C to Lightning cable. If you’re willing to buy these extras, then you’ll have fast charging no matter which new iPhone you buy.
      Since you will also need to pay extra for fast charging, you may be paying quite a bit on top of the purchase price to get the most out of your new phone. Given the premium Apple charges, I think that’s a bit on the nose.

  11. Personally, I won’t be getting the iPhone x. First to pricey. Second, I don’t like the side button being used in the way the home button is for turning VoiceOver on and off. I’m considering the iPhone8. I like the wireless charging feature. I wonder though if it’ll work if you want to put an external battery case on the phone. I have one on my 6s and really like it. I can’t believe its taken Apple this long to add wireless charging since other smart phones have had it for years. What would be nice is if my external battery case on my 6s would work on the 8. Probably not though. I’m not really excited about the face ID feature on the x. Guess I’ll see how others do with it.

  12. JOnathan, thank you for the excellent podcast about Apple new toys. I think I will stick to your advise and I won’t update my iPhone 7. I love your daughter’s input. she sounds lovely.

  13. Hi Jonathan. Thanks for that clarification, I had missed that bit of information. I guess that settles it for me, its going to be the 8, and perhaps as a bonus I will get the new apple Watch 3, although the LTE component will not be available in Denmark for some time, it should be available eventually.

  14. I just upgraded to a 7 from a 6 a few months ago, so won’t be getting any of the new iPhones. Do I regret not waiting for these to come out? Not at all. The 8 isn’t a particularly big upgrade, minus the wireless charging and upgraded speakers. I also personally prefer the aluminium back of the iPhone 7, especially because I decided to go caseless with it and feel the metal gives it better protection. for the iPhone X, I don’t have much to add to what the commenters before me said. I think in general Face ID is an inferior biometric system, not because of accessibility but also in terms of speed. This is actually something I’ve seen echoed by a few sighted journalists as well who also bring up the use case of unlocking the phone while it’s still in your pocket before it reaches face level. For VOiceOver specifically I’m also not sure if the disabling parts of the scanning process end up making the whole Face ID system less secure. So, if someone is blind or has other issues that need the require attention feature to be turned off, would that person’s phone be more likely to get hacked by putting a picture in front of it? I’m definitely interested to see security researchers take a crack at this thing and seeing their findings.

  15. Interesting to learn about the new features; facial recognition, increased screen size and no home button. When considering the upgrade models as someone with vision loss I Emma more interested in the products technology. Has Siri been improved? Will it be more intuitive and will integrate more seamlessly with different applications? Will the conversational commands function better? I use my iPhone for business and demand better functionality With Siri and voice over and I am not as fussy with the shiny new casing.

  16. Love your post as always. I am probably going with the 8 Plus, because my upgrade program is almost expired. My 6s has served me well, but I liked someone else’s 6s plus when I had a look at it because of the larger space on which to type when the virtual keyboard is displayed due to the larger screen size. Also, that way when someone sighted needs to help me with something on the phone, the screen will not be so tiny. As far as the new Apple TV, as a blind individual I do not see much interest in getting the new version just because it has 4K vs. HD. The only thing I may look into is the new Siri remote, but I will need to hear David Woodbridge or someone offer a review of the new remote first before I decide. And besides, the 4th generation TV is still able to be upgraded to TvOS 11. And it doesn’t seem as though the processor on the new TV will be that much faster. I will look forward to the new I11 bionic processor in the iPhone rather than the old 6s processor.

  17. Hi Jonathan,
    Many thanks for your update – I too followed up with Apple post the keynote and was very impressed with their ability to quickly provide the info about facial recognition…I applaud apple again for their continued investment into accessibility as a part of their hardware/software rather than as an additional clip on.

    FAs I currently use an Iphone 7, I wouldn’t be immediately updating to any of the new models but for a business need.
    The minimal differences between the 7 and 8 models does not immediately inspire the need for a change, and the untested (in real world situations) facial recognition would present enough initial questions to prevent me from being an early adopter…but for business purposes I too will be updating to the X when it is available.

    I look forward to your follow up thoughts .


  18. I think I will likely stick with my iPhone 7 plus 128GB for now. I have nothing against the new phones they announced. I think they sound great and would love to have the 8 plus or the 10. I just think that sticking with the 7 plus is the best value for money right now. I actually appreciate that they didn’t really render the 7 or 7 plus outdated at this time. I do have a question to throw out there though. Does anyone know for sure what the voiceover gestures will be on the 10 for the home button functionality and such?

  19. As someone with a low tone hearing loss, I’m very curious to know if I will benefit from the new enhanced speakers. I’m fascinated with the idea of facial recognition, but the extra size of the X and the much higher price are more likely to direct my attention to the 8. I currently have a 128GB 7, and was disappointed to hear only 64GB and 256GB were going to be available. Also I’ve usually gone for gold, even though I can’t see it, so to hear that the gold is more of a pinky gold was a disappointment. Will I get an X? I very much doubt it. Will I get an 8? Possibly, but if I do it’ll probably be the 64GB, but that’s not a definite purchase, not by any stretch of the imagination.

  20. Out of interest, unless its hiding away somewhere, iTunes 12.7 has done away with Tones. I had the feeling Apple were never that keen on us making our own ringtones and text alerts. If they really have done away with Tones in iTunes 12.7, this would make this feeling all the more stronger. Can you confirm if this is the case please Jonathan, and if not, where the heck is it hiding? Thank you

    • Yes, the ability to manage iOS ringtones via iTunes is a concern to me as well. I am hoping there is a workaround. If Jonathan or someone else can wait in on this, it would be greatly appreciated.

      • Apologies, I meant to respond to Jon’s initial comment on this, but it came in just as The Mosen Explosion was about to start and then it slipped my mind.
        As is often the case with iTunes, there are a number of ways of getting one task done.

        One is to locate the tone you’ve created using File Explorer on the PC or Finder on the Mac, copy it to the clipboard, open iTunes, locate the Tones section and paste it.

        Another that should also work is to copy the tone into the “automatically add to iTunes” folder contained inside your iTunes media folder.