Trying to unlock your iPhone using Face ID while wearing a face mask is an exercise in frustration. Face ID requires your eyes, nose and mouth to be visible in order for it to work. Meaning, it won’t work with any type of facial covering. Currently, you either have to let Face ID fail a couple of times before being prompted for your PIN, or disable Apple’s facial recognition tech altogether.
As more people begin to follow the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommendation that people wear some form of face cover in pubic, and businesses begin to require customers wear a face mask, the problem isn’t going to go away. There’s evidence that an added layer of protection can help slow the spread of COVID-19 even if homemade masks aren’t as good at blocking the smallest particles compared to a medical-grade mask. (By the way, here’s where you can buy a face mask online.)
Apple has begun to address this in an upcoming version of iOS. I tried out the beta software, which changes how Face ID works when you’re wearing a mask. The change is subtle, but my own testing shows the unlock process is now faster when I have a face covering on.
Here’s what we know about Face ID in iOS 13.5
Apple released iOS 13.5 as a developer preview and as part of the public beta program. It includes a new Group FaceTime setting, tools for developers to build COVID-19 contract tracing apps and services, and improvements to Face ID.
The change to Face ID is subtle, with Face ID only trying to recognize your face once before asking for a PIN. Alternatively, you can now swipe up from the bottom of your iPhone’s screen to go straight to the PIN prompt — no Face ID interaction required and your phone is still secure.
If you’re an essential worker who is tired of constantly fighting with Face ID, you can sign up for Apple’s public beta program and install iOS 13.5 before its official release. The potential downside here is that, well, it’s a beta, and that means there are going to be some minor bugs and issues. I’ve had iOS 13.5 since its release and haven’t come across any major issues yet, but it’s something you need to be aware of.
Visit the Apple Beta Software Program site from your phone and tap on the Sign Up button. Sign in using your Apple ID, and then follow the instructions. You’ll need to download and approve the installation of a device profile, after which you can install iOS 13.5 by going to Settings > General > Software update.
If you don’t want to take your chances with a beta version of iOS, you can wait until iOS 13.5 is officially released. We don’t know how long it will be until that happens, but it’s likely to happen in the next few weeks, not months.
While you wait for the update, you have a few options to make using Face ID while wearing a face-covering less of a hassle. Whatever you do, don’t quickly pull down your mask to unlock your phone. Doing so defeats the purpose of wearing a mask in the first place, which is to help slow the spread of coronavirus through person-to-person transmission.
Turn off Face ID on your iPhone
Here’s where you need to go to turn Face ID off and fine-tune when it’s used:
1. Open the Settings app on your iPhone.
2. Scroll down and tap Face ID & Passcode.
3. Enter your Passcode when prompted.
If you only want to disable Face ID for specific tasks, like unlocking your phone or approving Apple Pay purchases, then use the switch at top of the screen to turn off Face ID for iPhone Unlock. That means your phone won’t try to scan your face at all. Instead, once the screen wakes on your phone, swipe up and enter your passcode.
Then, turn off Face ID for Apple Pay. That means you’ll need to tap a Pay with a Passcode button on the Apple Pay screen, then enter your code before the transaction can be completed.
By turning off Face ID for specific tasks, you can still use Apple’s secure face unlock technology when you sign into apps or approve App Store purchases. Those are tasks you’re more likely to do at home right now, when you’re not wearing a mask at all.
Another benefit of turning off Face ID for individual tasks is that you can turn it back on once you’re home, without having to go through the Face ID set up process again.
Alternatively, to completely turn off Face ID and use a passcode in its place, tap Reset Face ID and confirm your decision. You’ll then use a passcode instead of Face ID for unlocking your phone, Apple Pay, and App Store purchases.
Need helping finding materials to make your own masks at home? We can help you source the materials you need. While you’re at home, take some time to master your iPhone’s latest features, including how to silence your phone from unknown callers.