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How to use facial recognition on your iPhone

Apple has yet to bring facial recognition to the iPhone and iPad, but a couple of iOS apps can detect your face to lock and unlock certain secrets.

Lance Whitney Contributing Writer
Lance Whitney is a freelance technology writer and trainer and a former IT professional. He's written for Time, CNET, PCMag, and several other publications. He's the author of two tech books--one on Windows and another on LinkedIn.
Lance Whitney
4 min read
iPhone 5S
The iPhone 5S faces away. Sarah Tew/CNET

iPhone and iPad users waiting for Apple to bring facial recognition to the iOS world may want to check out a couple of apps in the meantime.

A few different apps in Apple's App Store use the camera to identify your face, thereby granting access to certain stored information. The two apps that I took for a spin are FastAccess Anywhere and FaceCrypt. Both of them use facial recognition to lock and unlock specific content. How do they fare?

FastAccess Anywhere
FastAccess Anywhere Sensible Vision

FastAccess Anywhere
FastAccess Anywhere lets you use your face as a password to access any Web site that you choose.

You first browse to a site using the app's built-in browser. After you enter your login credentials and sign in, FastAccess asks if you want to save your username and password for that site. You can choose yes, not now, or never. If you opt to save your login information, the app snaps a picture of your face and asks you to select a secret shape as a backup.

Log out of the Web site. Now, the next time you surf to it through FastAccess, simply aim your face at the camera, and the app should grant you access by matching your face with the stored image.

In my testing, FastAccess usually performed well, allowing me to quickly launch Web sites with just a look. There are a couple of drawbacks. You must use FastAccess's own Web browser. And to sync your login information across multiple devices, the app stores your photos, usernames, and passwords online, though naturally they're encrypted.

Offered by a company named Sensible Vision, FastAccess Anywhere is also available for Android devices and Windows PCs, while a Mac version is on the way. The app runs in free trial mode for 14 days. A cloud-based account that covers all your iOS and Android devices then costs you $9.99 per year. Alternatively, paying $24 for the Windows version gives you one year of access for all your devices.

FaceCrypt Jarcom

FaceCrypt expands the facial recognition concept by offering you a vault in which you can store Web site passwords as well as documents, photos, videos, notes, and financial information.

You start by enrolling in the vault by using your face, a pattern lock, a traditional password, or all three. Assuming you choose facial recognition, the app snaps, records, and then confirms your facial features.

You then use your face to unlock the vault where you can add passwords, documents, and other content. For example, to add credentials for a Web site, type a description, username, password, and the site's URL, and then lock that account. To add a document, photo, or video, you can create a new one on your device or add one from Dropbox.

To unlock the vault and access your information, the app again scans your face. The scanning can be a bit tricky. You must position your face at a certain distance and angle or the app has trouble recognizing you. I sometimes had to move my face around several times before FaceCrypt was able to detect me.

To access a password-protected Web site, simply click on the URL in the vault, and the page opens in Safari. The only downside here is that you must manually enter your login credentials; the app doesn't automatically populate that information as I expected it would. But such a feature is in the works.

"We realized that we needed to add the feature of having an option to automatically enter the information to the web form and this is currently in development for release first quarter 2014," a FaceCrypt rep told me. "Thus basically you will use the face (or any choice of the FaceCrypt methods) to access the vault and then select which site you want to access either in Passwords or Cards & Credentials box and then the user will be in the site without having to retype the information or use stored passwords/login information for that site."

FaceCrypt comes as a free version that allows only two entries and as a $5 Basic and $7 Plus edition, both of which let you add as many items as you want.

The current version of FaceCrypt is interesting and worth a spin despite certain limitations. Stir in the auto password feature and other enhancements slated for 2014, and the app is certainly one I'd revisit next year.

Android is already a step ahead of Apple with a facial recognition feature called Face Unlock, which uses your face to access your device. A recently-awarded Apple patent envisions a similar but more advanced option for iOS devices. For now, though, iPhone and iPad users who want to use their face to safeguard their secrets will have to rely on such apps as FastAccess Anywhere and FaceCrypt.