It’s been two years since COVID-19 became a reality for people in the United States, and nearly two years since the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention first suggested people wear masks to slow the spread. Something else that masks slow down? Access to an iPhone that uses Face ID. But now Apple finally has a solution: Face ID that can identify you and unlock your phone even when masked up.
Mask-friendly Face ID is part of Apple’s iOS 15.4 update that’s available for iPhone models 12 and newer. (It also works through Apple Watch if you have an older phone running iOS 14.5 or later.) Users are prompted to set up Face ID again as soon as the update is complete. All it took was staring into my phone, mask off, and turning my head in a circle to get it working.
Getting into my phone with my mask on has been one of the most persistent minor annoyances the past year as travel picked back up. Going back to the old days of entering my phone password (often in front of others) every time I needed to check something wasn’t something I expected to be such an inconvenience, but it became a regular frustration. Sure, there have been more than enough bigger problems to deal with. That doesn’t mean having to type in my password or lower my mask wasn’t inconvenient to the point of wishing Apple never got rid of fingerprint access.
The new update means being able to seamlessly use Apple Pay, get into my bank apps, get into sports betting apps, make online purchases, quickly check my travel documents on my phone, and take advantage of the password autofill feature while keeping my mask on. Obviously it also unlocks my phone with a mask, too.
When setting up the feature, users are given the following explanation:
“Face ID is most accurate when it’s set up for full-face recognition only. To use Face ID while wearing a mask, iPhone can recognize the unique features around the eye area to authenticate. You must be looking at your iPhone to use Face ID while wearing a mask.”
Glasses wearers are in luck, as Face ID can now be set up to recognize each pair of glasses you wear as well (minus sunglasses). Apple also now allows for an alternate appearance to unlock your phone using Face ID.
Some may feel like it’s a little late for this update to matter. Most states have since dropped mask mandates due to rapidly declining case numbers. The primary holdouts where masks are required are airports and planes, along with some public transportation and rideshares like Uber and Lyft. These also happen to be places that frequent phone checking is needed.
And while the air travel mask mandate was recently extended to April 18, it’s unknown if the federal government will decide to extend it again after that. Experts predict the mask mandates will end before the midterm elections on November 8.
Whether it goes or stays, there’s will be plenty of people who choose to continue masking up — especially when dealing with crowded transportation situations. Other countries also have different mask requirements, so the Face ID update will help make travel abroad easier as well.
Yes, it would’ve been nice to have this feature years ago when walking into any public space required a mask. But better late than never.