How to Make the iOS 7.1.1 Touch ID Fix Work For You

The introduction of iPhone 5s ushered in a new era of access control for mobile devices. With Touch ID - Apple’s novel implementation of data access via biometrics - getting into your iPhone couldn't be faster or easier. That’s what I wrote in my first article on Touch ID here on TMO, How to Manage and Troubleshoot Touch ID on iPhone 5s. For most users, including me, this still holds true. However, for a not-insignificant number of iPhone 5s users, Touch ID has been somewhat problematic since being introduced in September of 2013. Since then, there have been complaints of slow, failing, or non-existent fingerprint recognition, resulting in the need to repeatedly reconfigure Touch ID in iOS Settings.

An iPhone 5s with a fingerprint in red on the screen

Touch ID is capable of scanning and storing up to five fingerprints

With the release of the iOS 7.1 update last March, Apple acknowledged these issues by including an “improvement of Touch ID fingerprint recognition.” While I continued to enjoy flawless access via Touch ID on my iPhone 5s, I was indeed aware of several colleagues, students and friends who saw no relief from recognition issues. This was the case even after reconfiguring Touch ID from scratch.

Enter the iOS 7.1.1 update in April. In it’s customary less-than-flatulent manner, Apple stated that this update included a fix to Touch ID that would “improve fingerprint recognition.” Upon further investigation, this time there seems to be evidence of a more robust fix.

Don’t expect any issues that you may have had with Touch ID to magically disappear once your iOS is updated to 7.1.1. You need to completely reconfigure your Touch ID by first deleting your fingerprint profiles and re-establishing new ones. The main reason for this is that one of the big changes in this update is expanded and enhanced scanning during the fingerprint enrollment process. Additionally, new algorithms are now in place to predict possible errors that could arise in subsequent fingerprint scans. 

Once you’ve updated to iOS 7.1.1, go through the following steps to reconfigure your Touch ID. For the sake of simplicity, let’s assume that you had already enrolled one or more fingers with Touch ID on your iPhone 5s.

Before proceeding, it’s important to make sure that the fingers you wish to enroll are clean and dry, and that the surface of the Home button is clean as well.

This step may be arguable, but prior to commencing with reconfiguration, I force quit all my running apps, then resetting my iPhone 5s by holding down the Sleep/Wake button and the Home button at the same time for at least ten seconds until the Apple logo appears.

  • Start by tapping Settings > Touch ID & Passcode.
  • Enter your existing passcode when prompted. Note that this is not necessarily your Apple ID.
  • In the Fingerprints section towards the bottom of the Touch ID & Passcode Settings panel, you will see the list of up to five enrolled fingers.

Two panels within the Touch ID & Passcode Settings

Tap on the fingerprint to edit or delete.

  • You now need to DELETE the existing fingerprint information. Do this by tapping on each one and then tapping on the Delete Fingerprint button.
  • Re-enroll the finger by tapping on Add a Fingerprint

The Fingerprints section of the Touch ID preferences panel

Tap on Add a Fingerprint to enroll a new fingerprint

  • Be sure to hold the iPhone as you normally would when touching the Home button. You will be prompted for the actions to take to properly enroll your fingerprint. This is where I have noticed an expanded enrolling session where Touch ID is clearly going through great pains to get accurate readings.

The fingerprint enrollment confirmation screen

The fingerprint enrollment confirmation screen

  • Repeat the above steps for every finger you had enrolled previously.

Over the past few months, iPhone 5s users have reported success in taking varying strategies when enrolling fingerprints. One such strategy is to enroll the same finger into multiple fingerprint “slots.” Unfortunately, I could never confirm the viability of this tactic, since I never really had any problems with my own implementation of Touch ID.

I have played around with another aspect of fingerprint enrollment - finger placement during subsequent scans. As part of the enrollment process, Touch ID prompts you to repeatedly place your finger on the Home button, but it doesn't tell you to make slight adjustments to the finger positions. It just instructs you to, “Lift and rest your finger on the Home button repeatedly.”

iPhone screen with instructions on placing finger on Home button

Be sure to ALSO reposition your finger repeatedly

Eventually, Touch ID will warn you - but only after several scans have completed - that you need to move your finger slightly between scans. I suggest you move your finger around immediately after the first scan. I think this is definitely a key to more successful Touch ID scans.

  • Shortly prior to the completion of the fingerprint enrollment, you are asked to have your finger scanned on the edges. Use each side of the finger as well as around the finger tips.

Once the enrollment process is complete, you should check the fingerprint scanning accuracy for yourself. There is a way to do this without having to go to the trouble of putting your iPhone to sleep first to test fingerprint recognition. 

The Fingerprints section of the Touch ID preferences panel

When touching the Home button with an enrolled finger, it’s description
is highlighted in grey in the Touch ID preferences panel

After completing the enrollment, you are returned to the list of enrolled fingerprints. Simply touch a finger to the Home button while looking at the list. Touch ID will highlight the listed finger that is linked to the scanned fingerprint. In my own tests, I have noticed that when enrolling my fingerprint using multiple finger positions, subsequent scans result in a higher rate of success.

Finally, by way of a tip, note that by default, Touch ID names enrolled fingers as “Finger 1”, "Finger 2", etc. Don’t forget that you can rename each enrolled fingerprint if you wish, just to make things a bit easier for any eventual troubleshooting. To do this, simply tap on the listed fingerprint you wish to rename. You are taken to a screen we’ve seen before when we were deleting a fingerprint. Now though, notice that you can also edit the name field for the fingerprint in question. To give you an idea for renaming, I name my enrolled fingerprints as “Right - Thumb”, “Left - Index”, “Nose”, etc.

Clearly, Touch ID is cutting-edge technology in the area of biometric authentication and access control. Considering its version 1.0 status at the time of its debut, Touch ID worked remarkably well for the majority of users. Apple doesn’t sit on its laurels, and since the day Touch ID appeared on the smartphone scene, we’ve benefitted from several improvements. With processor and other technology advances to eagerly look forward to, even more robust and instantaneous fingerprint recognition on all of our mobile devices - as well as on our less-mobile ones - are just around the corner.