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How to control Touch ID on the iPhone and iPad

Apple's fingerprint sensor has been around since last year's iPhone 5S, but owners of the latest devices may benefit from a helping hand on how to set up and enable the feature.

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Screenshot by Lance Whitney/CNET

Apple's Touch ID protects your iPhone or iPad by allowing access only through your fingerprint. For those of you with the latest iPhone or iPad, here's how you set up, enable and disable the feature.

Introduced with the iPhone 5S, Touch ID requires you to register your fingerprint by pressing the Home button several times. Once the feature is activated, you then need to press the Home button anytime you wish to unlock your device.

Now with Apple's Apple Pay feature, you need Touch ID enabled if you want to buy something using the new mobile payment system. The feature can also come into play if you wish to buy something through the iTunes or App Store.

Touch ID is built into the iPhone 6, iPhone 6 Plus, the iPad Air 2, and the iPad Mini 3. With the iPhone 6 and 6 Plus, you can buy items at supported retailers in the real world as the two phones are equipped with the necessary NFC (near-field communication) technology. With the new iPad Air and iPad Mini, you're restricted to online purchases, such as those at iTunes and the App Store, as these devices lack the NFC hardware.

Okay, let's look at how you can set up Touch ID, how to turn it on when you need it, and turn it off when you don't.

  • On your iPhone or iPad, tap the Settings icon.
  • Scroll down the screen and tap the setting for Touch ID & Passcode.
  • Tap the setting to Add a Fingerprint. At the next screen, place your finger on the Home button. The next screen will ask you to repeatedly lift and rest your finger on the Home button as it reads your print. The final screen will capture the edges of your fingerprint, so tap the Continue link and again keep tapping on the Home button.
  • After your fingerprint has been registered, the next screen will tell you that Touch ID is ready. Tap the Continue button to proceed.

Touch ID requires that you set up a passcode to serve as an alternative security method just in case your fingerprint is ever unable to access your phone.

  • Enter a 4-digit passcode and then enter it again to confirm it. Both Touch ID and your passcode are now set up.

You see that Finger 1 is listed in the Fingerprints section. You can add more fingerprints if you wish. For example, you may want to register your thumb and your forefinger on your dominant hand as well as both on your other hand.

  • Simply tap the Add a Fingerprint setting and repeat the same steps as above.

The next step is to enable Touch ID for any one of three functions -- iPhone Unlock, Apple Pay, and/or iTunes and App Store.

  • At the top of the Touch ID & Passcode screen, turn on the functions that you wish to protect with Touch ID. Enabling iPhone Unlock will require you to use Touch ID to access your iPhone anytime it goes into sleep mode. Enabling Apple Pay will allow you to confirm purchases using the mobile payment system. And enabling iTunes & App Store lets you make a purchase through Apple's mobile stores without requiring your Apple account password.

That's the process for enabling Touch ID. However, there may be times when you wish to turn it off. For example, I keep iPhone Unlock enabled when I'm out and about with my iPhone 6. But if I'm at home, I don't want to constantly have to tap the home button with my finger or enter my passcode every time my iPhone goes to sleep and I need to wake it up. So in this case I disable both. Here's how:

  • To disable iPhone Unlock, simply return to the Touch ID & Passcode screen and turn off that setting. You can leave Apple Pay and iTunes & App Store enabled if you wish.
  • To disable the passcode, scroll down the screen and tap the setting to Turn Passcode off. You'll be prompted for your passcode. Enter the code, and the passcode requirement is now turned off.

As another option when iPhone Unlock is turned off, you can leave the passcode enabled but simply adjust the length of time when it's required.

  • For the Require Passcode setting, tap the option that says Immediately. You can now change the time to 1 minute, 5 minutes, 15 minutes, or an hour. So for example, if you change the time to 1 hour, even if your iPhone goes into sleep mode after a couple of minutes, you won't be required to enter the code until after an hour has passed.

For me, the biggest hassle with Touch ID and the passcode is turning them on and off anytime I go out and then come back home. I wish Apple had a quicker and more accessible way of turning the security on and off. For example, having such an option in the Control Center would certainly shave off some of the time and hassle.