Your iPhone Now Understands Your Masked Face

Download iOS 13.5 to sort of solve your masked face unlocking Issue

We wear masks to protect others and ourselves from potential COVID-19 infection, but try telling that to Face ID. The latest iOS update, 13.5, offers at least a partial solution.

Lance Ulanoff with mask and phone
The author with a face mask and an iPhone.  Lifewire / Lance Ulanoff

You look at your iPhone and wait for Face ID to recognize you and unlock the phone. Instead, you get a digital head shake. It's your own fault, but it's easy forget you're wearing a face mask to protect yourself and others from the spread of COVID-19. Now, Apple's promised mini fix is live with iOS 13.5.

Not a fix: Apple did not train your TrueDepth camera at the top of your iPhone X and above (not counting the new iPhone SE) to see through an N95 mask. Instead, this update makes it a little less annoying when the phone doesn't recognize you and theoretically cuts down wait time to unlock by bypassing the digital head shake and going straight to the screen where you can enter your pin.

Unlocking with Face ID
I wore my mask and ran this test a number of times. It is slightly faster and less annoying.  Lifewire / Lance Ulanoff

Does it work? We downloaded the update to an iPhone 11 Pro and compared with with a Face ID-enabled phone that was still running a previous version of iOS 13.5. The results were subtly different. If you swipe up when trying to unlock your iOS 13.5-running iPhone, you are immediately presented with the PIN screen and you don't see that fail shake. On the phone running iOS 13.3.1, there's still that millisecond of a fail before it switches to the pin code.

More to it: iOS 13.5 is not just a Face ID update. This update includes

  • A bit of Contact Tracing code for health app developers in the form of an Exposure Notification API
  • Control over Group FaceTime video tiles
  • Bug fixes and other improvements

Bottom line: There are two immutable facts here: Virtually all of us are being asked to wear face masks when we leave the home and you will eventually download and install this iOS update. All this means is you will experience this micro enhancement to the Face ID unlocking routine. Will it change your life? Probably not.

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