Update To Unlock FaceID For Watch Users Wearing Masks

Apple is beta testing the iOS 14.5 update for iPhones, which includes a useful feature for users living through the global Coronavirus pandemic.

The feature will stop users having to remove their facemasks, in order to unlock FaceID on the iPhone.

However, the feature will only work if the user in question is also wearing an unlocked Apple Watch, prompting some online speculation of a cynical sales ploy to encourage more people to purchase a Watch to accompany their handset.

Facemask unlocking

However, there is no escaping the face that iPhone users whilst out and about and wearing a facemask, often have to resort to entering in a passcode each time they want to unlock their iPhone.

FaceID of course is the solution that Apple implemented when it ditched the traditional home button that incorporated a fingerprint sensor, as found on older handsets up to the iPhone 8.

The iPhone X series onwards dropped this homebutton, and instead Apple offered FaceID, which allows users to unlock their iPhone simply by holding it up to their faces.

But the mandatory use of facemasks during the Covid-19 pandemic in many countries meant that people’s faces are obscured and the facial recognition system does not unlock the handset.

Recognising this issue, in May last year Apple released a software ‘sticking plaster’ update for iPhones that allowed the device to recognise when a mask was being worn, and skip straight to requesting a passcode from the user.

In order for the iOS 14.5 update (currently being tested by developers) to unlock the FaceID system, without the user having to take off his or her facemask, it utilises the built-in heart-rate sensor in the Apple Watch.

This means that once the watch is unlocked after it has been put on, it can stay unlocked, safe in the knowledge that it is still in the possession of its owner.

Additional safeguards

But it should be noted that the Apple Watch doesn’t allow iPhone owners to bypass Face ID altogether.

If wearing a facemask and an unlocked watch, users will still need to glance at their iPhone to confirm the unlock. It is reported that the setting, which must be actively enabled, essentially reduces the accuracy required for the iPhone to be satisfied that it really is seeing its owner.

As an additional safeguard, this reduced unlock feature also reportedly measures the strength of the Bluetooth signal between the phone and watch, to ensure that they are being held by the same person.

It should be noted that this Apple’s iOS 14.5 update, which currently has no firm release date, includes the Apple’s App Tracking Transparency feature.

This feature is being opposed by both Facebook and advertising associations, as it will force apps on the Apple App Store to explain to the user just what the app will do with their personal data, and if it tracks them across the internet.

Tom Jowitt

Tom Jowitt is a leading British tech freelancer and long standing contributor to Silicon UK. He is also a bit of a Lord of the Rings nut...

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