Face ID with mask support arrives in iOS 15.4 beta

If you use an iPhone with Face ID (or any phone that unlocks via facial recognition, for that matter), there's little doubt that you've encountered the frustration of trying to unlock your phone while wearing a face mask. As many people have learned throughout the COVID-19 pandemic, face masks are pretty effective at stopping Face ID in its tracks. As we approach the third year of the pandemic, Apple is finally ready to launch a solution that doesn't require an Apple Watch.

As spotted by the folks at MacRumors, the iOS 15.4 beta finally allows users to use FaceID while wearing a face mask. No longer will iPhone users have to swipe up to unlock their phone using a password, as a simple glance at the iPhone should do it once this feature rolls out to everyone in iOS 15.4.

Not only will you need to turn this feature on before you can use it, but you'll also have to rescan your face with your mask on in order for it to work. According to images shared by MacRumors, Apple says that "Face ID is most accurate when it's set up for full-face recognition only," which suggests that users may still encounter some errors when trying to unlock their phones with a mask on.

Apple's description goes on to say, "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." So far, that's pretty standard stuff, but Apple also warns of a caveat: no wearing sunglasses if you're also wearing a mask. That makes sense because when you consider the area covered by sunglasses and a face mask together, there would hardly be any distinguishing facial features left for Face ID to scan.

While it might seem like this capability is arriving a little late to the party, given that we're about to enter the third year of the pandemic, iOS already has baked in some support for unlocking via Face ID while wearing a face mask. However, that required that users also be wearing an Apple Watch that's on their wrist and unlocked, and that has its own drawbacks.

For starters, not everyone who owns an iPhone also has an Apple Watch, so those people simply had no option for unlocking their phones with Face ID while wearing a mask. As outlined on Apple's support site, this functionality also required that your Apple Watch be on your wrist and unlocked to work, so not only did it add some extra steps to the process, but leaving the Apple Watch at home meant no Face ID unlocks for you.

In any case, it seems this new Face ID feature will be limited in scope as well, as MacRumors notes that it'll only be available to iPhone 12 and iPhone 13 users (and likely all new iPhones from this point forward). We'll let you know when iOS 15.4 exits beta and everyone can take advantage of this new functionality, so stay tuned for more.