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Don't expect Apple to tweak Face ID to work with masks any time soon

How to use Face ID on the iPhone X
How to use Face ID on the iPhone X (Image credit: iMore)

What you need to know

  • Face ID doesn't work when a user wears a mask.
  • Some have called on Apple to tweak Face ID to make it work even when a face is obscured.
  • But Apple has now said that it doesn't want to reduce Face ID security.

With all of us (hopefully) wearing masks right now it's become apparent that Face ID doesn't work when the face is covered. Nor should it, with Face ID needing to take a 3D map of the face for it to be confident that the person it's looking at is someone it should authenticate. Apple could tone down the security, but it doesn't want to.

That's something that I've long suspected and now Apple has confirmed as much in an interview with German outlet Stern that was spotted by 9to5Mac. According to Apple's vice president of platform architecture Tim Millet, Apple does have ideas for making Face ID work with masks – it just doesn't like the idea of making it less secure.

"It's hard to see something you can't see. The face recognition models are really good, but it's a tricky problem. Users want convenience, but they also want to be safe. And at Apple, it's all about making sure that the data stays secure.""We can think of techniques that don't involve the part of the face that is covered by the mouth-nose protection," Millet explains. "But then you lose some of the features that make your face unique, which in turn makes it easier to imagine that someone could unlock the phone."

None of this might be a problem eventually, however. With the new iPad Air featuring a Touch ID sensor in its sleep/wake button, it's likely a similar thing will eventually come to iPhone. This year? Probably not. But eventually, it seems likely that wearing a mask and using an iPhone won't be the pain that it is right now.

Oliver Haslam
Contributor

Oliver Haslam has written about Apple and the wider technology business for more than a decade with bylines on How-To Geek, PC Mag, iDownloadBlog, and many more. He has also been published in print for Macworld, including cover stories. At iMore, Oliver is involved in daily news coverage and, not being short of opinions, has been known to 'explain' those thoughts in more detail, too.

Having grown up using PCs and spending far too much money on graphics card and flashy RAM, Oliver switched to the Mac with a G5 iMac and hasn't looked back. Since then he's seen the growth of the smartphone world, backed by iPhone, and new product categories come and go. Current expertise includes iOS, macOS, streaming services, and pretty much anything that has a battery or plugs into a wall. Oliver also covers mobile gaming for iMore, with Apple Arcade a particular focus. He's been gaming since the Atari 2600 days and still struggles to comprehend the fact he can play console quality titles on his pocket computer.

2 Comments
  • Well isn't that what the new Touch ID on the side button is for? We can now have both Face ID and Touch ID on future iPhones. :-)
  • Maybe. Future is a relative term. Likely not future Oct 2020. Then future Sep 2021 earliest. I have had phones with both face and touch ID. It's actually more of a pain than you'd expect. You hold the phone up like you would for face ID, and it takes it a moment to fail. At that point you readjust to hit the touch ID. With a mask, you get so used to needing to use touch, that becomes second nature and you quit expecting face ID to work at all.