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Unlocking Phones of Masked Users

Apple’s upcoming upgrade to iOS 14.5 will make it possible to use an Apple Watch to use facial recognition to unlock your iPhone while wearing your mask. iPhone users without the watch and Android users will still have to jump through hoops to unlock their phones while masked. A year into the pandemic, we have to ask: Why has this taken so long?

Biometrics have long played a role in being able to unlock a cell phone. The first systems used a fingerprint for touch ID, and it has been a bellwether. Many cell phone users still rely on it. Face ID came along next, and many cell phone users rely on it to unlock phones quickly and easily. It’s as good as unencumbered gets.

But with COVID-19 and mask wearing, Face ID doesn’t work. If you want to use the technology while complying with public health needs, Face ID is about as cumbersome as it gets. The less-than-ideal workaround is something like this:

  1. Go to the Face ID option in the settings.
  2. Register for an alternate appearance by going to Set Up Alternate Appearance (or the Reset Face ID).
  3. Take a mask and fold it in half. Assuming the nose as the center point, put it in front of your face. It is recommended that you cover only the tip of the nose with the mask.
  4. Start registering your face like you normally do with the Face ID.  When the system prompts with a message “Face Obstructed,” start removing the mask very slowly until the system says move your head slowly to complete the circle.
  5. Once the process is done successfully, you will get a message that the Face ID is set up.

If this doesn’t work the first time, you’ll need to retry it. You may need to try another trick, such as selecting an alternate appearance option if it’s available.

Apple contends you should use a numeric code to unlock your phone while wearing a mask. They also note that manipulating the Face ID software could compromise your phone’s security. Most likely, they’d prefer you get an Apple Watch if you don’t already have.  

Once your iPhone is running iOS 14.5 and your Apple Watch has WatchOS 7.4 installed, you can turn on Unlock with Apple Watch with a few taps. Open the Settings app on your iPhone and then select Face ID & Passcode. Next, scroll down until you find the section titled Unlock with Apple Watch. The name of your Apple Watch should be listed there. Next to it is a toggle to turn the feature on or off. Slide that switch to the On position and then back out of the Settings app. 

Whenever you’re wearing a mask, all you’ll need to do is hold your phone up as normal to unlock it with Face ID. You’ll feel a haptic tap on your wrist, letting you know your watch was used to unlock your phone. The alert on your watch will also include a button to lock your phone in case it was unlocked by someone else. It’s a security feature to ensure someone else doesn’t pick up your phone and unlock it while wearing a mask.

You can expect to see iOS 14.5 in April. As the release date gets closer, we’ll pass along whatever we find out about other security features. Once it’s available, we’ll be on hand to help you configure your watch, phone and iPad if need be. Call us – 973-433-6676 – or email us to find out what you’ll need to upgrade your iOS security.

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