Not all versions of Mac include the Touch ID keyboard, but it’s always an option, it’s always worth it – and there’s always the potential for problems. Here’s how to fix what may have gone wrong.
Touch ID is available on the Magic Keyboard with Touch ID sold separately, and it’s also on all MacBook Pro and MacBook Air keyboards. But with Apple launching a brand new M3 version of the 24-inch iMac, more users are about to discover the benefits and problems of Touch ID.
What goes wrong is that you won’t be able to unlock the Mac with the Touch ID button, or you won’t be able to add a new fingerprint to it. It may also happen that even after setting up Touch ID, you are asked to type the password. Or after a workout, Touch ID fails to recognize your fingerprint.
In each case, these are generally issues that can arise in normal use, and there is nothing wrong with the Touch ID button.
Note that the base model of the 24-inch iMac does not include a Touch ID keyboard, but one is available for $50 extra at the time of order. All other current iMac models include the Magic Keyboard with Touch ID as standard.
What does it do and why is it important for it to work
Apple has long been moving from Touch ID to Face ID on the iPhone and iPad, so putting so much emphasis on Touch ID on the Mac feels like a step backward. But while Face ID will definitely come to the Mac at some point, right now, Touch ID is a secure and very fast way to unlock your Mac, log in to sites, or pay for items online.
By gently holding a finger over the top of the button, you are authenticated and can start working.
Enabling Touch ID lets your fingerprint authenticate you for a surprising number of features
The most common root of all Touch ID problems on Mac
Apple’s external Magic Keyboards are battery powered, so it’s possible that it’s simply out of charge. You may have been warned by notifications on the iMac that the battery is getting low, but if you haven’t used it in a while, it may have lost all its charge.
Or you could turn off the keyboard to save battery power. Check that the power switch on the back of the keyboard is showing a green background, which means it is on.
With the keyboard still on, tap the Caps Lock key. If the keyboard has power, the green light will light up.
If it doesn’t, the problem is that the keyboard will need to be charged before you can do anything. We have experienced issues on external keyboards with Touch ID when the battery was below 10%.
Each Mac user can set up to three fingerprints
How to Fix Most Touch ID Problems on Mac When Everything Else Is Working
When connected to a Mac running macOS Big Sur or later via Bluetooth, with a charged, switched-on keyboard, there are potentially still reasons why you can’t use Touch ID.
The most common is that you’ve just started, restarted, or logged in to your Mac. In that case, the Mac will always ask you to enter the password and will not accept Touch ID until you do.
It will do the same thing if you wake your Mac from sleep and haven’t done so in the last 48 hours.
And if your Mac tries to recognize your fingerprint with Touch ID but fails for some reason, you have four more attempts before it asks for the password.
Problems recognizing and setting up Touch ID
Apple notes that “moisture, lotion, sweat, oil, cuts, or dry skin can affect fingerprint recognition.” Similarly, “certain activities may also temporarily affect fingerprint identification.”
These include “exercising, bathing, swimming, [or] Cooking,” among other unspecified activities.
In each of these cases, drying your hands will be enough to get Touch ID to work. If this is not enough, you will have to try a few times until the Mac refuses, now requiring a regular password instead.
Note that there is also a limit to how many fingerprints can be used in Touch ID. Apple says that if you have multiple people using a Mac, each person can have up to three people with their own account.
when all else fails
There is one final issue that does not appear to be documented by Apple, and appears to be limited to external Magic Keyboards with Touch ID. If your keyboard’s battery gets low enough, sometimes recharging isn’t enough to get Touch ID working again.
This is because Touch ID fingerprint data is stored in the Secure Enclave on the Mac, not in the keyboard. When you’re using a MacBook Pro, the connection between the keys and the Secure Enclave is wired and not wireless like an external keyboard.
So while you don’t need to restart and set up every fingerprint again, you may sometimes need to reset the keyboard’s connection to the Secure Enclave.
To do this, turn on the keyboard, and then physically plug the keyboard into the iMac. Apple provides you with a USB-C to Lightning cable to do this, but a USB-A to Lightning cable also works.
With an external Magic Keyboard connected, try Touch ID again and it should work.
Assuming this, try Touch ID with each finger that you have enrolled in fingerprint recognition. You can then unplug the keyboard again, and use Touch ID wirelessly as before.