iOS 15.4 adds Face ID unlock when wearing a mask even without an Apple Watch [Update]

Face ID
Face ID (Image credit: Rene Ritchie / iMore)

What you need to know

  • Apple's iOS 15.4 update adds support for unlocking with Face ID while wearing a mask.
  • iOS 15.4 is now available in its first beta form, but only to developers.
  • We don't yet know when this update will be rolled out to everyone.

Update, January (4:35 pm ET): Use Face ID with a Mask is currently limited to the iPhone 12 and iPhone 13.

Apple has made a change to Face ID that will allow it to function even when someone is wearing a mask. Unlike a previous, similar feature, no Apple Watch is required. The change is part of the first iOS 15.4 beta made available to developers today.

While this feature is specific to iOS 15.4, a previous change also allowed people to unlock their iPhones while wearing a mask. That feature required people to also have an authenticated Apple Watch however, a requirement that this new update removes entirely.

The change was first spotted by YouTuber Brandon Butch and comes with a text that suggests Apple is now focusing more on the area around the eyes seeing as it can no longer see mouths.

"Face ID is most accurate when it's set up for full-face recognition only. To use Face ID while wearing a mask, iPhone can recognize the unique features around the eye to authenticate."

People installing iOS 15.4 will be prompted to reconfigure Face ID and decide whether they want to enable it to unlock their iPhones when wearing a mask. Apple also notes that it has made improvements to how Face ID works when wearing glasses, too.

Unfortunately, there is no telling when this iOS 15.4 update will be made available to everyone but it's likely to be a number of weeks before it is ready.

Update, January 27 (4:35 pm ET) — Use Face ID with a Mask is currently limited to the iPhone 12 and iPhone 13.

As reported by MacRumors, it appears that Apple's new "Use Face ID with a Mask" feature, which is currently available in the iOS 15.4 developer beta, is currently only available on iPhone 12 and iPhone 13 models.

Unfortunately, Face ID with a Mask is limited to some of Apple's newest iPhones, even though Face ID has been available since 2017 with the launch of the iPhone X. As noted on our forums, Face ID with a Mask is only an option on the iPhone 12 and later, so you'll need an iPhone 12, 12 mini, 12 Pro, 12 Pro Max or an iPhone 13, 13 mini, 13 Pro, or 13 Pro Max.

It's currently unclear why the feature is not available for the iPhone X and iPhone 11. It could be due to technological differences in Face ID that Apple may have implemented when it switched to the iPhone 12. It could also come to the older iPhone models with Face ID in a future beta or public release.

Oliver Haslam

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.