Apple caused a stir nine years ago when it introduced the iPhone 5s with Touch ID. It was the first time Apple put a fingerprint sensor in an iPhone, and it redefined how people interact with their Apple mobile devices.
Gone is the hassle of entering a passcode to secure your iPhone — or living without one just because it was too much trouble. Promising greater security through convenience, Touch ID quickly became a core feature of not just Apple’s iPhone lineup, but iPads, MacBooks, and eventually even an external iMac keyboard.
However, it’s also clear that Touch ID was just a step along the way. While it was far more convenient than typing in a passcode every time you wanted to use your iPhone, Apple found a better way. In 2017, the company introduced the iPhone X with a full-screen display that left no room for a Touch ID home button. Instead, an all-new front camera and sensor array delivered highly accurate 3D facial recognition, and Face ID was born.
The iPhone 14 doesn’t have a fingerprint sensor – but that’s okay
Since then, Face ID has become the only biometric authentication system used on every mainstream iPhone model, including the entire iPhone 14 lineup. There is no Fingerprint sensor on every version of the iPhone 14. Whether you buy the iPhone 14, iPhone 14 Plus, iPhone 14 Pro or iPhone 14 Pro Max, you will only find Face ID – no Touch ID fingerprint sensor.
While Apple could have moved the fingerprint sensor to the side button, as is the case with the iPad Air and iPad Mini, it’s clear that Apple doesn’t see the need for anything more than a biometric authentication system. Touch ID is required on the mid-tier iPad models as they lack Face ID. The high-end iPad Pro has a design that’s very similar to the iPad Air, but since it has Face ID, there’s no need for a Touch ID sensor.
It seems that Apple prefers to stick with Face ID on its high-end phones and tablets, only resorting to Touch ID fingerprint sensors on the products it has to sacrifice to make them more affordable. Face ID is a premium feature that works amazingly well for most iPhone owners, and Apple doesn’t want to dilute Face ID’s elegance by adding a fingerprint sensor.
In-display fingerprint sensors
While Apple put every effort into Face ID, competing smartphone makers instead looked at ways to place the fingerprint sensor under the display to eliminate the need for a physical button.
In recent years, many rumors have suggested that Apple is also working on in-display fingerprint sensors. However, none of these have ever materialized in an actual product.
Speculation on how Apple would go about this has run the gamut. Because the components needed for Face ID are relatively expensive, some early reports suggested that Apple would introduce Touch ID in the display to create a more affordable iPhone model for emerging markets. Others suggested Apple would instead add in-display Touch ID as an alternative to Face ID, giving customers the choice of their preferred biometric technology.
Rumors of a new iPad Air circulating in early 2020 pointed to a redesign based on the 2018 iPad Pro with an edge-to-edge screen but no Face ID camera system. Many believed Apple would use this new fourth generation iPad Air to introduce its first in-display fingerprint sensor. Instead, we got an iPad Air with a Touch ID sensor embedded in the side button.
In early 2021, Bloomberg’s Mark Gurman reported that Apple was testing “an in-screen fingerprint reader” to be added as an alternative to Face ID on the iPhone 13. Apple didn’t execute on that for some reason, and by early 2022, we started hearing reports that Apple had shelved the idea of an in-display fingerprint sensor for the foreseeable future.
There is no doubt that Apple has been working on developing in-display fingerprint sensor technology. Apple tries many different things, many of which never see the light of day. We may never know full details as to why in-display Touch ID hasn’t become a thing, but the most likely answer is that it simply didn’t meet Apple’s standards for reliability, performance, or cost.
Face ID is the future
Face ID wasn’t just a compromise to get rid of the home button on the redesigned iPhone X. After all, Apple could easily have found another place to put the Touch ID sensor.
Instead, Face ID was Apple’s way of ushering in the next generation of iPhones. The iPhone X didn’t just look different; It changed the game in many other ways, from the TrueDepth camera that powers Face ID and Animoji to an all-new gesture-based UI.
Unlike the weaker facial recognition systems of competing smartphones, which can be fooled by a photo, Face ID was designed to be highly secure by using an infrared scanner to create a three-dimensional depth map of the user’s face. Face ID can sometimes mistake close family members for similar looks — a random issue Apple acknowledges — but it’s significantly more difficult to intentionally trick Face ID. The folks at Wired have invested thousands of dollars and hours into making professional-grade face masks to fool Face ID.
That’s a lot harder to circumvent than Touch ID, which can be fooled by creating a nifty latex mold from a person’s fingerprint. But that’s not for the faint of heart either. When you’re dealing with people trying so hard to get into your iPhone, it’s fair to say you’ve got problems that consumer technology wasn’t designed to solve.
Apple has invested heavily in its Face ID system and continues to do so. One of the most compelling arguments for adding Touch ID to modern iPhones came during the COVID-19 pandemic when people were masking themselves. Apple’s solution was not to resort to Touch ID, but to make Face ID even better.
Today, people with any Face ID-equipped iPhone can use their Apple Watch to unlock their iPhone while masked, and those with an iPhone 12 or later don’t even need an Apple Watch, thanks to improvements introduced in iOS earlier this year were made 15.4. While masks are no longer mandatory in many places, these functions are still a boon for people in healthcare and other occupations where dressing up is part of the job.
Still want a fingerprint sensor? Try this iPhone instead
Face ID is an excellent way to authenticate yourself to your iPhone. It’s practically invisible most of the time, working in the background to unlock apps and autofill passwords from iCloud Keychain. In fact, Face ID is so seamless that Apple requires you to double-click the home button when using Apple Pay or purchasing apps, otherwise it would be too easy to accidentally spend money.
Still, Face ID isn’t for everyone, and there are still situations where Touch ID is more convenient. This is especially true if you want to unlock your iPhone without looking at it, such as when making contactless payments with Apple Pay. As wonderful as the new mask-aware Face ID features are, they still don’t work through full-face masks, ski goggles, or polarized sunglasses.
Thankfully, Apple’s wallet-friendly iPhone SE still includes Touch ID, along with the classic home button design used by older iPhone models. This works as always, with the Touch ID sensor in the home button, and the current third-gen iPhone SE has an A15 chip that’s nearly identical to that found in this year’s iPhone 14.
It’s also likely that future iPhone SE models will continue to support Touch ID, at least for the next few years. The iPhone SE is all about affordability, and the cameras and sensors that power Face ID are expensive. Even if Apple eventually moves to an edge-to-edge screen design and eliminates the home button, the iPhone SE will likely follow in the footsteps of the iPad Air and move the Touch ID sensor to the side button.