The usefulness of Face ID has certainly diminished for some people over the last couple of years due to face masks' sovereign becoming part of our everyday life. Apple has made several changes to attempt to address this issue, and I think overall they have done an adequate job — but now they have exceeded expectations with an update to iOS 15.
In the newest iOS 15 beta, there is now a Face ID with a Mask option that will allow users to open their phones using Face ID without having to take off their mask, and I think it's the best solution for everybody.
Why I didn't like the Apple Watch method
This isn't the first time that Apple has upgraded Face ID in an attempt to alleviate the inconvenience of wearing a face mask. You may remember that last year, Apple included a method to unlock your iPhone with your Apple Watch. Basically, if you put a passcode on your Apple Watch, and your Apple Watch was on your wrist and unlocked, it would unlock your iPhone.
After using that feature for a while last year, I eventually realized that — from a security perspective — it sucked. It didn't scan your face at all, it completely bypassed Face ID and just looked to ensure your Apple Watch was on and unlocked. Yes, I know that your Apple Watch would get a notification and give you the option to lock your iPhone, but it wasn't enough for me.
You can call me paranoid, and admittedly, I am a little bit, but that doesn't change the fact that the Apple Watch method does absolutely nothing to actually authenticate that it is you unlocking your best iPhone.
Why Face ID with Mask is better for everyone
If you want to unlock your iPhone while wearing a mask, I believe the best way to do it is using Face ID with a Mask — here's why.
First, and this should be obvious, you don't need an Apple Watch. Not everyone has an Apple Watch, and expecting people to have one is all sorts of wrong. Now, of course, the pandemic was an unforeseen event that Apple has no control over, and I understand why they came out with a workaround last year, but I'm glad the company kept working on the issue.
The other big reason this new method is better than before is that actually scans your face. Face ID with a Mask is said to focus on more details around your eyes and forehead while it scans your face, allowing the software to authenticate that it is indeed you. This alone makes it more secure than the Apple Watch method because it is actually trying to authenticate you. Remember that the information from Face ID is stored on the chip on your iPhone or iPad and not sent to Apple's servers, so your facial identity is kept private. This remains true for Face ID with a Mask. Everything is kept on your device.
Still only in beta
Unfortunately, the feature is only on the developer beta of iOS 15.4 and is not available to the public yet. Plus, it seems the feature is limited to only the iPhone 12 and iPhone 13 models, which is certainly a bit of a bummer. In any case, I'm hoping that the beta process goes smoothly enough that the launch for a feature on the public beta of iOS 15.4 won't be too far behind.
There are still some questions that need to be answered and tested, like just how accurate is Face ID with a Mask? What are the chances it can be fooled? But given how seriously Apple tends to take the privacy and security of their users, I'm sure they wouldn't have launched the feature — even in the developer beta — if there were huge security risks involved. Time will tell when this great new feature will become widely available.
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Luke Filipowicz has been a writer at iMore, covering Apple for nearly a decade now. He writes a lot about Apple Watch and iPad but covers the iPhone and Mac as well. He often describes himself as an "Apple user on a budget" and firmly believes that great technology can be affordable if you know where to look. Luke also heads up the iMore Show — a weekly podcast focusing on Apple news, rumors, and products but likes to have some fun along the way.
Luke knows he spends more time on Twitter than he probably should, so feel free to follow him or give him a shout on social media @LukeFilipowicz.