Apple continues to take steps to improve the performance of Face ID for people who are wearing masks. The facial recognition solution is still the primary biometric authentication option in most iPhone models. However, the user experience has suffered during the pandemic because Face ID struggles when asked to recognize someone wearing a mask.
Apple tried to address that problem with a series of iOS updates in the past few years, though most of its solutions have been workarounds rather than true fixes. iOS version 13.5 introduced an option that would let users skip biometric authentication and proceed right to PIN entry if the camera detected a mask, while iOS 14.5 allowed users to pair their iPhone to an Apple Watch. The feature essentially turned the Watch into a security token that would unlock the phone (without facial recognition) whenever someone looked at the screen.
The latest update will finally introduce true mask recognition capabilities. The feature arrives with the beta 1 edition of iOS 15.4, and lets users specify that they want to use Face ID while their face is covered.
The new mask recognition utility will not work for people who are wearing sunglasses. The improved Face ID function analyzes the area around the eye to identify someone with a mask, and can be set up while the user is wearing some kind of covering. People can also get set up with an uncovered face, and then select the mask option in the settings once setup is complete.
In either case, iPhone owners do need to have a separate Apple Watch to take advantage of the service. While mask recognition is a welcome feature, Apple stressed that Face ID will be more accurate for those who choose the (uncovered) full face identification option.
iOS 15.4 will also improve the performance of Face ID for people who are wearing ordinary prescription glasses. Those glasses can be worn while using both the masked and unmasked versions of the service.