Back in 2017 when Apple launched the all-new iPhone X, it was heralded as a brave step forward for the company. It was the first of a new generation of devices that ditched the home button in favor of Face ID, letting people unlock their phones with a glance. Apple had done its homework. Despite peoples’ reservations about the replacing a reliable button with something new and unknown, people agreed the new technology was faster, easier, and it “just worked.” Then the pandemic arrived in 2020, and suddenly a lot of people, your humble author included, wished we could go back to having a home button, or some sort of in-display fingerprint sensor, since Face ID wasn’t designed to be compatible with a face mask. The only reliable “workarounds” were removing your mask so it could see your face (not always easy to do), typing in your passcode after Face ID failed (time consuming), or using an Apple Watch to unlock the phone (not everyone has one of those). Now it appears Apple has found a middle-ground: allowing Face ID to work while wearing a mask. There’s one big caveat though; according to 9to5mac, it only works on iPhone 12 and newer models.

The feature was trotted out with the latest iOS beta, version 15.4, and instead of scanning your entire face, the phone will scan the “unique features around the eye area to authenticate.” 9to5mac also notes that in addition to details around your eyes, it can also identify several pairs of glasses. Wearing different sets of glasses in different locations will not be a problem.

Despite adding this feature to the beta, Apple states, “Face ID is most accurate when it’s set up for full-face recognition only.” Still, if you have a newer iPhone and want to live life dangerously:

Upon installing the beta software (available only for developers), the OS will prompt you to set up Face ID with a mask. The new setup routine also lets you check a box saying you wear glasses, so it will scan your face both with and without your spectacles on, to get a complete picture.

Setting up Face ID with a mask in iOS 15.4 beta. (Image: 9to50mac)

This newest addition to its software by Apple is an admission of two things: Masks will probably be a thing for quite a while longer, and it’s definitely not bringing back the home button despite people asking for it since COVID-19 arrived in 2020. Apple is also obviously not going to be adding an in-display fingerprint reader like its biggest rivals, including Samsung and Google, much to the chagrin of many Apple aficionados. Still, if Face ID is just as effective with a mask as without, then Apple’s solution might just be a best of both worlds scenario – no expensive hardware upgrades that would increase the price of an already pricey phone, and the same functionality as it had previously with full-face ID.

According to 9to5mac, it does appear to work quite well. They write: “In our use so far, Face ID With a Mask has been totally consistent at unlocking iPhone and as fast as using Face ID without a mask (quite a bit faster than using Apple Watch to unlock iPhone).” One additional benefit to the new version of Face ID is you can toggle it on and off without having to rescan your face again.

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