Apple iOS 14.5 Beta Adds Support For Masked Face ID Unlock With A Big Caveat

iphone mask
When Apple first introduced Face ID with the iPhone X back in 2017, it tossed Touch ID fingerprint recognition into the trash bin for its flagship smartphones. All you had to do was simply lift your iPhone and look at it and would unlock. However, the COVID-19 pandemic has made things a lot harder for those with a Face ID-equipped iPhone.

Because most of us are now wearing a mask when we go out, unlocking your device, authenticating purchases, and opening banking apps means that you must dip your mask down so that the Face ID hardware can fully scan your face (or enter your passcode to unlock the device). That kind of defeats the purpose of wearing a mask and is more than annoying if you must do it over and over. iOS 14.5, which is now available in beta for developers, changes all of that.

Apple Watch SE

With iOS 14.5, you'll be able to unlock your iPhone while still wearing your mask. But there is one rather big "gotcha" to enable this trick: you will also need to be wearing a paired Apple Watch. Your iPhone will perform a partial facial scan, and then your unlocked Apple Watch is used for further authentication. 

When the process takes place, you'll feel a haptic buzz from your watch along with a notification on the display that shows that the unlock was successful. If you recall, this is a similar procedure to what's currently possible with Macs and the Apple Watch. For example, if you have enabled the setting within the Security & Privacy panel, you can use your Apple Watch to, for example, unlock your MacBook as soon as you open the display lid. This comes in handy with older Macs that don't have Touch ID onboard.

mac apple watch
Macs offer a similar unlocking mechanism with a paired Apple Watch.

Unfortunately, while the Apple Watch + iPhone with partial facial scan combo is good enough for unlocking your smartphone, Apple apparently won't allow you to use the same combo to make Apple Pay purchases.

Even though this isn’t a fully-fledged solution for masked iPhone users around the globe, it’s a useful first step. Moving forward, however, it’s rumored that Apple is working on an in-display fingerprint reader to augment Face ID in the upcoming iPhone 13 family.