iPhone X Face ID frustrations see parents next to complain

Apple's Face ID may be dividing opinion among iPhone X fans and critics, but for family users the iOS security system is causing more immediate headaches. Those parents using Family Sharing on their iPhone or iPad have discovered that granting approval is a little tougher on the iPhone X than it has been on previous iPhones. What's unclear at this stage is whether that's a bug, or an intentional feature.

Specifically, it's the Ask to Buy part of Family Sharing that is causing issues. Added in 2014 as a way to help avoid kids racking up hundreds of dollars or more of app downloads and in-app purchases, it allows parents to control whether their children can buy something in the App Store or not.

When a purchase attempt is made, a notification pops up on the registered family organizer device. That has details of what they're trying to buy, and how much it costs; if approved, it's automatically shared with the rest of the family group. Approving requires signing in with an Apple ID and password.

Up until now, the organizer has been able to use Touch ID to streamline that process. Rather than typing in their password each time, tapping their registered finger against the home button gives the green light to the Ask to Buy purchase. Of course, the iPhone X doesn't have a home button, or a Touch ID sensor.

Instead, it has Face ID, which uses the TrueDepth camera array in the "notch" at the top of the screen to scan the user's face. Unfortunately, as a number of Family Sharing users are complaining about on Apple's support forums, that hasn't been integrated with the Ask to Buy system.

Complaints there started around November 11, not long after iOS 11.1.1 was released, with some users suggesting that they'd been able to use Face ID to approve their children's requests but that feature had suddenly disappeared. Instead, they're now having to enter the password manually, which can be frustrating if you've followed security guidance and made it a complex one with letters, numbers, and special characters. Ask to Buy won't re-request approval if a purchase has already been made, such as if the same app is installed to multiple devices, but it will ask every time a new paid app is downloaded.

For a child that's received a new iOS device over the holidays, that could add up to a whole lot of Ask to Buy requests being fired through to their parents' device. Family Sharing allows for another device to be registered as able to give approval – including a Mac – which offers a workaround, but if it's the iPhone X that's nearest to you at the time, you're stuck punching in the password manually.

Right now, there's no indication as to whether this is an oversight by Apple or a conscious decision. The Cupertino firm has been adamant that Face ID is far more secure – and prone to fewer false-positives – than Touch ID, and the system is expected to gradually replace the old fingerprint system in 2018 with the launch of a new iPhone line-up. Some Family Sharing users have speculated that Apple decided to not use the system as the faces of related people could be more prone to "fooling" Face ID; indeed, Apple does warn that identical twins could be confused for each other.