Face ID with a Mask is way better than using your Apple Watch to unlock your iPhone

Using Face Id With A Mask
Using Face Id With A Mask (Image credit: Luke Filipowicz / iMore)

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

Face ID

Face ID (Image credit: Rene Ritchie / iMore)

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

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

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.

This makes the feature accessible to more people, and more accessibility in tech is always a good thing.

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.

Luke Filipowicz
Staff Writer

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.

12 Comments
  • Excited as well. Even before COVID I had to wear a mask for work.
  • What a load of paranoid nonsense. Complete logic fail. "... the Apple Watch method does absolutely nothing to actually authenticate that it is you ..." this is not only incorrect, it's terrible grammar. And yes, you are a paranoid. The only possible situation where this even matters is if someone is sitting right beside you and picks up your phone to look at it. Even then you get a buzz on your wrist and the option to instantly lock it. All you have to do is turn your head slightly to see who it was. You know what method *actually* reduces your security? The new mask unlock. Everyone seems happy that Apple has greatly reduced the security of FaceID but it's a terrible idea. Now half the people in your family (who may have a similar set of eyes) can unlock your bank account. If you want to bite your fingernails about something, think about *that*.
  • Thanks, I was thinking the same thing. This article so flawed that it's approaching ridiculous. Given the two options, the Apple watch method is the more secure of the two.
  • If you are worried about your family “unlocking your bank account”, then you need to (choose one) get a new family, move out of the house, use a passcode instead, don’t leave your phone lying around unattended or - gee, I don’t know - maybe not store your banking info on your phone. 🙄
  • It is true though. The Apple Watch method completely bypasses Face ID altogether. It doesn't authenticate you at all. It only checks that your Apple Watch is being worn and unlocked — by anyone. Nothing will be as safe and secure as just plain old Face ID, but having the iPhone actually scan your face in some capacity is much better in my opinion.
  • I can attest to that. My wife can unlock my phone if she is wearing a facemask .. and I am wearing my watch, it's unlocked, and I'm near enough. She can't unlock with face ID, not wearing a mask, at all. That would imply that anyone could unlock my phone, wearing a mask, given those circumstances. One such circumstance would be, under arrest, with your hands cuffed, and the officer just needs a mask to unlock your phone. OK, so you shouldn't be under arrest, and shouldn't have anything to hide on your phone, but if that was the case there wouldn't be any cause for privacy concerns at all, would there? Noone would ever be unfairly detained, and their possessions searched illegally. My question is just how much less secure the masked unlock will be. What's the percentage of false positives. Do eyes have to be open? Do they have to move, blink? Regular FaceID has been shown to be pretty secure. BTW, my wife doesn't need to grab my phone and put on a mask. We know each other's PINs, and share our password managers. That's how you stay married for 45 years.
  • Not surprised my previous posts were deleted, as they go against the "masks at any price" mentality reflected in the Apple "facemask" update, as well as my negative comments about the "fanboi" tone of this article. I'll be back in a few to see if the iMore censors have deleted this post as well.
  • I just chuckled when I read the concluding paragraph: "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." The same Apple that had a security hole as wide a s four lane highway in Safari allowing hackers to read ALL your browsing data?
  • Tom Brady loses football games too. Doesn't mean he isn't doing his best to win them.
  • Yeah, Big Brother have my face print even with a mask on is a wonderful idea /s
  • The function is completely on device, not in the cloud. If you don't believe that, you might as well just stay in your cave, off-grid.
  • Well this is just bad troll bait. Step ya game up son.