Putting Face ID unlock with masks to the test in iOS 15.4 & how to set it up

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in General Discussion
In the upcoming iOS 15.4 update, Apple is finally making it possible to unlock your iPhone while wearing a mask while nixing the Apple Watch requirement. Here's how to enable it and how well it performs.

Testing Face ID
Testing Face ID


The iOS 14.5 update brought the ability to unlock your iPhone while wearing a mask -- assuming you also happened to own an Apple Watch. Face ID would detect you had a mask on, check for an authenticated Apple Watch nearby, then unlock your iPhone.

We've been using this for the past year, and it's been a great way to unlock your iPhone when Face ID is unavailable.

But it had limitations, aside from the Apple Watch. It wouldn't work to make purchases, for example. Apple Pay or other purchases would require your passcode to be entered.

This new iteration allows the phone to be unlocked sans Apple Watch and can even be used to make Apple Pay purchases and access secure apps.



How to set it up

It's quick and easy to enable Face ID while wearing a mask. Once you've updated to iOS 15.4 (currently in beta):

Face ID with mask setup
Face ID with mask setup
  • Head to Settings > Face ID & Passcode

  • Then toggle on Use Face ID With a Mask

  • Enroll your face in Face ID if you've yet to do so
Now you're set to unlock your iPhone while wearing a mask, without the previously-required Apple Watch.

Security implications & caveats

When using Face ID with a mask, there are some tradeoffs. Face ID works while wearing a mask because rather than scanning your whole face, it scans the area around your eyes.

This limits the scannable area. Apple says it isn't quite as secure as a full-face Face ID scan, but hasn't yet commented on how much.

This will probably be an acceptable compromise for most, but it's something to understand before enabling the feature. Apple's been upfront about this and warns you as you set it up for the first time.

Apple has also limited which iPhone models support the new Face ID with mask feature. Apple says only iPhone 12 and iPhone 13 will work. There's been no specified reason for this limitation, though we have our theories. Apple did upgrade the Face ID module with iPhone 12 to support more angles which could be the differentiator.

If you intend on wearing glasses, you may notice Face ID failing more often than it did without the mask. To help alleviate these hangups, Apple added the ability to add glasses. According to Apple, Face ID should be trained for each pair of glasses you may wear to get the best results.

Sunglasses are not supported. So if you're wearing a mask with sunglasses on, you'll still need to enter your passcode.

Putting it to the test

Since the beta was released, we've updated our testing device to iOS 15.4 to put it to the test. We gathered a collection of masks in varying colors, sizes, and materials to see where the Face ID limitations lie.

Testing Face ID with various masks
Testing Face ID with various masks


We have white KN95 masks, colored KN95 masks, and cloth masks that we tested with. To our delight, every mask was recognized by Face ID and allowed us to unlock using just our eyes. It was shockingly fast.

Even our gator that covered up everything but a bit of our eyes still allowed Face ID to unlock our iPhone.

After putting on glasses, we had it fail at least once before we trained Face ID with the glasses on. Once we did that, no issues at all.

The new update to Face ID is incredibly good and shows that even though it took Apple a while, the update will be well worth it as masks continue to be a part of our lives. Wearing an Apple Watch will still be the more secure option, but now everyone else has an option too.

Read on AppleInsider

Comments

  • Reply 1 of 8
    Fred257Fred257 Posts: 210member
    I’m keeping my iPhone now and plan on updating to iPhone 14. I was going to sell it and leave Apple behind because of Face ID and having to take off my mask each and every time or use to code. Good move Apple
  • Reply 2 of 8
    JapheyJaphey Posts: 1,432member
    O-H Andrew. Nice. 
  • Reply 3 of 8
    Interesting report, but how many other people wearing their mask did you give them your phone to see if they could unlock it.
  • Reply 4 of 8
    It also works when I’m wearing my CPAP mask! That’s a good thing for me.
    jcs2305
  • Reply 5 of 8
    Scot1Scot1 Posts: 103member
    I am in Canada and on iOS 15.4 beta and this option to turn on use with mask is not present in my face ID and passcode settings. 
  • Reply 6 of 8
    jcs2305jcs2305 Posts: 1,307member
    jamnap said:
    Interesting report, but how many other people wearing their mask did you give them your phone to see if they could unlock it.
    What would make you think that Face Id wouldn't adapt to this change in your appearance like it always has? Like suddenly two years into mask wearing Apple would just allow any generic image with a mask to gain access to your phone?

    If anything it would fail because of how you look with the mask, not just give anyone wearing a mask access? Like it failed with his glasses until Face ID learned his new appearance.

  • Reply 7 of 8
    macguimacgui Posts: 2,240member
    jcs2305 said:
    jamnap said:
    Interesting report, but how many other people wearing their mask did you give them your phone to see if they could unlock it.
    What would make you think that Face Id wouldn't adapt to this change in your appearance like it always has? Like suddenly two years into mask wearing Apple would just allow any generic image with a mask to gain access to your phone?

    If anything it would fail because of how you look with the mask, not just give anyone wearing a mask access? Like it failed with his glasses until Face ID learned his new appearance.

    WTF?

    Given that FID has been fooled in the past by similar looking people (twins, family members) unlocking another's phone, this is a legitimate question. As Andrew alluded, FID is working with fewer data points when a mask is used, so it follows it might be more inclined to be tripped up with somebody who looks similar. 

    A follow up to this article should be several other people in masks seeing if they can unlock Andrew's phone. Like a police six-pack, the faux Andrew's should look something alike. Then try again with people who look nothing like Andrew when wearing a mask.

    If Apple never made a mistake in software or hardware development, then it would probably be safe to assume that security won't suffer when unlocking the phone solely with FID. I like the combination of FID and the Watch being present. That combo is basically 2FA.

    The feature that I like is paying for something with Apple Pay and not needed to use a passcode because I'm wearing a mask. Of course that's another reason for Apple to really nail down FID and limit unintended unauthorized access.


    muthuk_vanalingam
  • Reply 8 of 8
    hexclockhexclock Posts: 1,076member
    Glad they got this ironed out just in time for the mask mandates to go away, hopefully permanently. 
    TimJobs
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