Apple has released a new feature for the iPhone that enables you to unlock your phone even if you’re wearing a face mask. The catch is that you need to be wearing an Apple Watch to make it work.
The new feature is part of iOS 14.5, now available for download.
We’ve been experimenting with the feature pre-launch so here’s our guide to how it all works. Most of the time you’ll still unlock in the normal manner, but when you do have your mask on it is useful and we were able to access our phone successfully when we were masked up in a store.
What problem does this update solve?
We’re having to wear face masks at the moment and the problem is that facial recognition doesn’t really work with them. That’s been a particular problem with newer iPhones (iPhone X, XS, XR, 11, 12) that rely on Face ID.
Of course, Touch ID iPhones will still unlock in the same way they always have and indeed it has been rumoured that Apple was going to re-introduce Touch ID in some way to more iPhones to counter this problem (perhaps on the sleep/wake button like on the iPad Air). However, this update should see off those rumours.
Now, it is possible to register an alternative likeness on your iPhone and some users have reported to Pocket-lint that they have been able to get their phones to recognise them even with a mask on. But it’s not that easy and so Apple needed to come up with a workaround.
That workaround is using an Apple Watch in much the same way you can get the watch to unlock a Mac (System Preferences > Security & Privacy in macOS if you want to set that up).
How does Face ID Apple Watch unlock work?
Face ID works just as you would expect with the new software. This is similar behaviour to using the Apple Watch to unlock your Mac which has been available for some time.
Your Watch will need to be in close proximity to your iPhone. However, the option won’t be enabled automatically – you’ll need to enable it in Settings > Face ID & Passcode on your iPhone.
Under Unlock with Apple Watch there will be a toggle to turn on the feature. Of course, the Apple Watch in question must be paired with your iPhone in order for it to work.
The feature will also require the watchOS 7.4 update to be installed on your Apple Watch – this will be available for you in the Apple Watch app once you install iOS 14.5 on your iPhone. It won’t install automatically just because you have installed iOS 14.5 on your iPhone.
If you have iOS 14.5 installed but not watchOS 7.4, the toggle will be greyed out in Settings > Face ID & Passcode as you can see here:
Once set up, there are a specific set of circumstances in which this feature will kick in.
- Face ID detects a mask or partially covered face, not a full face.
- Your Apple Watch is on your wrist and unlocked (so you’ve put in the passcode).
- You need to have a passcode enabled on your watch if you don’t already and your Apple Watch needs to have wrist detection enabled. This is on by default but can be disabled.
After unlocking your phone, Apple Watch will give you some haptic feedback to let you know your iPhone has been unlocked and it’ll be shown on screen, too.
There’s also a button you can tap to re-lock your phone in the unlikely event that it has unlocked accidentally.
This process will work with Apple Pay too – so you don’t need to remove your mask when you’re stood at the counter. App Store, iTunes Store and Safari autofill and purchases will still require you to input your passcode.
However, in later developer betas we’ve recently found that Apple Pay pretty much always asks for our passcode. Whether this will be the case in the final version we don’t know, but the easy workaround is just to use your Apple Watch to pay.
The new feature is part of several new enhancements in iOS 14.5/iPadOS 14.5 including updates to Siri, support for latest-gen Xbox and PlayStation game controllers and App Tracking controls giving you to power to stop developers tracking you in apps. 5G global Dual SIM is also supported, too.
A minute by minute forecast is also coming to the Weather app in the UK having previously been available in the US. This is the integration of part of the Dark Sky app that Apple bought last year.
Additionally, in iPadOS 14.5 there are also enhancements to handwriting recognition and Scribble including support for Portuguese, French, Italian, German and Spanish.