Wearing a mask is becoming common around the world thanks to the coronavirus, with masks a requirement here in the UK in indoor locations.
However wearing a mask brings a problem: people wearing masks are finding that they can't easily unlock their iPhones.
One of the problems with wearing a mask - aside from sore ears from the loops - is that it makes unlocking your iPhone difficult if you rely on Face ID. This is a problem for all iPhone users from iPhone X onwards, as the newer generations rely on facial recognition instead of fingerprint recognition (not that fingerprint recognition is easy if you are wearing gloves as some choose to do when shopping).
An iOS update (iOS 13.5) arrived in April 2020 that means users are now able to swipe upwards on the iPhone to dismiss the requirement for Face ID and instead unlock using the passcode.
But for those who don't want to have to enter their passcode every time - how can you set your iPhone to unlock via Face ID if you have a mask on?
Unlock iPhone with Apple Watch
This is a new feature coming in iOS 14.5, which is currently in beta and will probably arrive on iPhones in March or early April.
If you are interested in trying it out now you could join Apple's public beta program.
What you will need
- To use the new unlock iPhone with Apple Watch feature you will, obviously, need an Apple Watch. That watch needs to be running WatchOS 7.4 (currently in beta). It will also need to be on your wrist and unlocked.
- In addition you will need to have a passcode enabled on your iPhone (if you haven't got a passcode go to Settings > Passcode > Turn Passcode on).
- You also need to have Wrist Detection turned on.
- Your iPhone will need to be running iOS 14.5.
How to unlock iPhone with Apple Watch
You need to turn on the Unlock with Apple Watch feature on your iPhone.
- Open Settings
- Face ID & Passcode
- Choose Unlock with Apple Watch
Now, as long as your Watch is on your wrist and unlocked when you attempt to unlock your iPhone with Face ID, and your iPhone detects that you have a mask on, it will unlock automatically.
A message will appear on your Watch to alert you to the fact that your iPhone is unlocked and indicating that you can lock it again.
This is a great new feature as long as you have a Watch, and as long as you don't mind waiting a month or two. But what if you want to unlock your iPhone now and don't fancy using a beta?
How to turn off Face ID
One option is to simply turn off Face ID as a means to unlock your iPhone.
- Go to Settings
- Face ID & Passcode
- Enter your Passcode
- Now you can deselect the sliders beside the options for iPhone Unlock etc.
Now your iPhone will require a passcode everytime you need to unlock it or identify youself for Apple Pay and so on.
How to set iPhone to unlock with a mask on
Here we will share some tricks that will allow you to set up facial recognition on your iPhone so that it recognises you even with your face half covered by a mask. Before we run through the steps please note that we had to try this several times until we were able to set up reliable face recognition, but it is possible. (We have a guide to using Face ID here.)
- Fold your face mask in the middle and attach the two eyelets to the ear, hold the mask with one hand in your face so that it covers it exactly in the middle.
- On your iPhone go to Settings > Face ID & Passcode enter your passcode.
- Select the Set Up an Alternative Appearance option. (If you have already set up an alternative appearance you won't have this option. You will need to reset your Face ID and set it up again.)
- You will be invited to set up Face ID. You may see a warning that your face is covered, but in our experience after a couple of tries this message will disappear.
- Follow the steps on screen to allow the True Depth camera to take its measurements and the circle appears guiding you to rotate your face in a circle.
- Wait while it takes the first scan of your face.
- Before the True Depth camera starts its second scans remove the mask and cover the other side of your face.
- Once the second scan is completed you should be able to unlock your iPhone while wearing a face mask.
If it doesn't work for you our tip is to reset your Face ID and start again, but this time create your first Face ID scan while holding the mask on one side of your face.
Then create the Alternative Appearance option while holding the mask on the other side of your face.
When we used the second method - with involved creating our Face ID from scratch while covering our face on one side and then covering our face on the other side to do an Alternative Option - we found that Face ID was capable of unlocking our iPhone while we were wearing a mask.
When we used the first method - just creating the Alternative Appearance option with a mask - we found it to be less accurate. It tended to work if the tip of the nose was visible - if the nose was completely covered we found it to be unreliable.
UK Free face mask offer by tech company.
This tip was identified by students in the Tencent Xuanwu Lab.
Another problem with Face ID you may be encountering is it refusing to unlock when you are wearing sunglasses - we explain how to use Face ID while wearing sunglasses here. Plus we have a complete guide to using Face ID and how to fix problems with it here.
This story includes reporting from Macwelt.