Apple Has a Fix for Face ID and Face Masks

iOS13.5 beta shows new way of unlocking your phone while wearing a mask

Your struggle to unlock your iPhone while wearing a mask may soon come to an end.

Woman with mask using a smartphone
 Getty Images

We've all done it: Tried to unlock our iPhones while wearing a face mask only to have the phone indicate it does not recognize us by virtually shaking the lock icon back and forth (the digital equivalent of "nope!"). Soon, though, we may have a workaround. On Wednesday, Apple dropped the first developer beta for iOS 13.5 which includes a simplification for Face ID unlocking and our mask-wearing, COVID-19-beating faces.

What's Face ID: Apple introduced Face ID three years ago with the iPhone X, the first iPhone to drop the home button and introduce the TrueDepth camera module. That multi sensor black notch at the top of the iPhone lets the device scan and recognize your face. Apple claims the chances of someone spoofing Face ID are 1 in a million.

What does iOS 13.5 do? In normal operation, you can pick up your iPhone and it will instantly recognize that it's been moved and look for your face. The lock icon unlocks and you can sweep up your finger on the screen to access the device. A masked face fails to unlock the phone and you have to sweep up on the screen to access the passcode screen.

The iOS 13.5 development beta fix is subtle, to say the least. If the phone sees a mask covering part of your face, it doesn't reject you by shaking the lock icon. Instead, it instantly brings up the passcode screen, basically bypassing the unlock fail and saving you a little frustration.

Not recognizing you: This is a nice, convenient change, but not the same as Apple figuring out how to make Face ID recognize you from just your eyes, eyebrows and hair.

More for COVID: The iOS 13.5 developer beta also includes the COVID-19 Exposure Notification API (formerly "Contact Tracing API"), which developers can use in their contract tracing integration applications.

Getting the group together: FaceTime group calls are also getting a minor update that lets FaceTime group call organizers disable the feature that automatically changes video window prominence depending on who is speaking. Enabling this does not make all the squares symmetrical, however. You can still tap a user's square to make their video larger.

When do we get them: The Face ID update and others that are part of iOS 13.5 should arrive on users' phones, soon.

Bottom line: Apple hasn't solved the Face ID reading masked faces issue, but at least unlocking our phones and access them for other Face ID-related activities (like Apple Pay, the App Store, and iTunes) will be a tiny bit more convenient.

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