Our long nightmare of not being able to easily unlock our iPhones with Face ID when wearing a face mask is about to come to an end.
The first developer beta of iOS 15.4 appeared today (January 27), and it’s safe to say that the featured feature involves the ability to use Face ID to unlock your iPhone, even if you have a mask on.
This has been a particular problem for iPhone users since the coronavirus pandemic began and wearing masks in public and indoors has become a recommended practice. Because Face ID needed to see your entire face to verify your identity, which makes Face ID a particularly secure unlocking method, it couldn’t work with a mask that obscured your mouth, nose, and chin. As a consequence, he had to enter his passcode to unlock his iPhone every time.
Apple had taken steps since iOS 14.5 to mitigate that annoyance, letting people wearing Apple Watch use proximity detection to help Face ID work properly. Another iOS update sped up Face ID’s ability to recognize that you had a mask on and skip right to the passcode step.
iOS 15.4: Use Face ID with a mask
However, in iOS 15.4, there is no need for any workaround. A toggle in the Face ID & Passcode section of Settings now allows you to designate that you want to use the feature when wearing a mask. According to the explanation included in the settings, when this mode is enabled, Face ID will use the features around the eye area to authenticate you; that means you have to look at your iPhone to use Face ID with the mask on.
A second setting just below Use Face ID with a mask lets you add glasses to help improve Face ID’s accuracy. Note that this is for glasses only: Apple warns that Face ID’s ability to work with a mask stops when you’re wearing sunglasses.
You should also note that this feature rewards convenience over security. An Apple warning in Settings warns you that “Face ID is most accurate when set to full face recognition only.”
How Face ID works with a mask
Setting up the feature is a pretty straightforward process. Once you turn on the switch to use Face ID with a mask on for the first time, you’ll need to re-scan your face. The good news is that it appears you can turn the feature on and off without having to re-scan your face each time.
On an iPhone 13 running the developer beta of iOS 15.4, I was able to scan my face and then put on a face mask. Once the skin was on, I was still able to unlock my iPhone just as easily as if I wasn’t wearing a skin. The process is really no different.
It’s unclear at this time if the new Face ID with mask support extends to any iPhone capable of running the iOS 15.4 update or if it’s limited to phones with newer processors. (Some iOS 15 features require at least a phone with an A12 chip.) We will add this information as we get a chance to test it further.
Other features of iOS 15.4
The improved Face ID will get the most attention, but it’s not the only new feature in iOS 15.4. The Notes and Reminders apps can now allow you to use the camera to copy text from objects. Apple also added several new emjoi, including heart hands, lip biting, and pregnant person.
Apple has also confirmed to third-party app developers that iOS 15.4 will fix ProMotion for iPhone 13 Pro models. This is very good news as it hasn’t worked well since the phone’s launch.
Now that developers have the beta version of iOS 15.4, it should hit the public beta program shortly. It’s unclear how long it will be before a full version of iOS 15.4 is ready for every iPhone, though Apple typically issues several beta builds before an iOS 15 update goes live.
What does Face ID mask support mean for iPhone 14
Rumors that Apple was working on allowing Face ID to recognize faces wearing masks began circulating over the summer, with some people suggesting the feature would appear with the iPhone 13 launch in the fall. That didn’t happen, but clearly Apple has been working on something in the background as the feature heads to a future iOS update.
We can’t help but wonder what this means for the iPhone 14 and the possible return of Touch ID. One of the main arguments for bringing back the feature, which allows you to press a sensor and unlock your device with a fingerprint, was Face ID’s inability to work with face masks. Now that Apple has addressed that complaint, the need for Touch ID is less pressing. And that’s a good thing, as several analysts have questioned whether the feature will return to iPhones this fall.
Still, having Touch ID would be a welcome addition and would add an extra level of security if Apple can figure out a way to do it. Possible solutions include using an under-display fingerprint sensor like many Android phones do now, or incorporating the fingerprint reader into the phone’s power button in a similar way to the iPad Air.