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Using Face ID with a mask will not require Apple Watch in iOS 15.4

Published Jan 28th, 2022 7:31AM EST
An iPhone 13 Pro on a table next to Apple AirPods
Image: Christian de Looper for BGR

In addition to announcing record-breaking earnings for the holiday quarter, Apple also released new beta versions for its operating systems on Thursday. iOS 15.4 is the next significant beta release for iPhone, and it packs a feature that appeared in previous rumors. You’ll be able to use Face ID with a mask without having the Apple Watch on your wrist. The feature brings another convenient way to unlock the iPhone during the pandemic. However, the feature does not work on all iPhone devices. You’ll need one o the newer models to have 3D face authentication work with a mask on.

The Apple Watch way

The pandemic turned the face mask into a must-have accessory, which makes unlocking iPhones more annoying in public places. Before iOS 14.5, Face ID did not work with a face mask on. You had to input the PIN code to unlock the handset.

iOS 14.5 brought support for unlocking the iPhone with Face ID when you’re wearing a mask. However, you need to wear an Apple Watch to make it all possible. The Apple Watch brings an additional layer of security to unlocking iPhones via Face ID while wearing a mask.

The feature is available on any iPhone with Face ID, from the first model (iPhone X) to the iPhone 13 series. You’ll need an Apple Watch 3 or later to make everything work.

But now, Apple has devised another way to unlock the iPhone while wearing a mask. And it doesn’t require using an Apple Watch.

This is the kind of feature that iPhone users who do not own Apple Watches have been waiting for. Rumors said back in August that Apple was testing such a feature. Fast-forward to late January and support for using Face ID with a mask is enabled in iOS 15.4.

iOS 15.4 Face ID with Mask setup screens
iOS 15.4 brings support for Face ID with a mask (without Apple Watch). Image source: Apple via MacRumors

Using Face ID with a mask without an Apple Watch

There are some caveats, however. Unlike the method that involves an Apple Watch, this Face ID unlock mode is restricted to iPhone 12 and iPhone 13 devices. If you own iPhone 11 models (or older), you’ll have to unlock the iPhone with the help of the Watch while using the mask.

It’s unclear why Apple imposes the restriction, but it must have something to do with security. Face ID has improved over the years, and so has the iPhone’s security. It might be that Apple requires newer security chips to handle the Face ID with mask unlock.

As you can see in the images above, you have to enable Use Face ID With a Mask in the settings app. The iPhone informs you that the iPhone can “recognize the unique features around the eye area” when you’re wearing a mask.

The second screen also instructs users to add each pair of distinct glasses to Face ID. That means performing different Face ID scans so the glass information can be added to the Face ID records the iPhone keeps.

Importantly, using Face ID with a mask means it won’t work with sunglasses. Having a mask and sunglasses on probably makes it impossible for Face ID to perform the authentication. If you need to have Face ID work with sunglasses and ski goggles, then you’ll want to use an Apple Watch.

To test Face ID with a mask right now, you’ll have to get the iOS 15.4 beta once it’s available on your device. The other option is waiting for Apple to release the final iOS 15.4 version.

Chris Smith Senior Writer

Chris Smith has been covering consumer electronics ever since the iPhone revolutionized the industry in 2008. When he’s not writing about the most recent tech news for BGR, he brings his entertainment expertise to Marvel’s Cinematic Universe and other blockbuster franchises.

Outside of work, you’ll catch him streaming almost every new movie and TV show release as soon as it's available.