Tuesday, February 2, 2021

iOS 14.5: Unlock an iPhone While Wearing a Mask

Juli Clover (tweet):

In iOS 14.5, there’s a new option to unlock an iPhone with Face ID and an Apple Watch paired together, with the Apple Watch’s authentication providing an extra layer of security.

If you’re wearing an unlocked Apple Watch and use Face ID as you normally would, the iPhone will unlock after a partial face scan. When the unlock happens, you’ll feel a haptic buzz and will receive a notification on the Apple Watch informing you that the unlocking procedure was successful, similar to how it works when unlocking a Mac with an Apple Watch.

This is the best reason I’ve seen to buy an Apple Watch.

John Gruber (tweet):

I jumped on this beta to try this feature out, and it works great. Pretty much just like the excellent longstanding feature that lets you log into your Mac automatically if you’re wearing an Apple Watch — it just works.


My understanding is that this feature was a lot trickier to implement than you might think, because of the fact that you can also use your iPhone to unlock your watch. The “chain of trust” was originally designed to work in one direction — from your iPhone to your watch.

John Gruber:

I would love to know more, but I do know they’ve been working on this all year. Think about how serious it is that you can unlock your phone from a remote device of any kind. High stakes to get it right.

Joe Cieplinski:

So the new unlock FaceID with your watch thing works on unlocking the home screen and revealing home screen notifications. But doesn’t work for Apple Pay, FaceID unlocking individual apps, and so on. Makes sense, but good to know.


Update (2021-02-05): Benjamin Mayo:

Even for a first beta, it works really well. It’s fast. Written down, it sounds analogous to the macOS feature, but it feels very different when you try it.

Unlocking your Mac with your watch is comparatively sluggish.

Update (2021-02-22): John Gruber:

Because it’s a two-step process (step #1 first, then step #2), it does take a bit longer than Face ID without a mask (which is really just step #1). But it works more than fast enough to be a pleasant convenience experience. Regular Face ID is so fast you forget it’s even there; “Unlock With Apple Watch” is slow enough that you notice it’s there, but fast enough that it isn’t a bother.

It’s important to note that in step #2, it works with any face wearing a mask. It’s not trying to do a half-face check that your eyes and forehead look like you, or anything like that. My iPhone will unlock if my wife or son is the face in front of my iPhone — but only if they’re wearing a mask, and only if my Apple Watch is very close to the phone. I’d say less than 1 meter — pretty much about what you would think the maximum distance would be between a watch on one wrist and an iPhone in the other hand.


Also, if your Apple Watch is in Sleep mode (the bed icon in WatchOS’s Control Center), the feature does not work.

Update (2021-04-16): Joel Breckinridge Bassett:

I think performance will vary, a lot, depending on the user, the mask and the environment. For some, perhaps the majority, it will be enough. I find it fails me too often on the daily commute and in stores, usually at the very moment I need to launch dPOINT or dPay apps at checkout. I also get the feeling that Apple Watch battery life takes a hit too, but take it with a grain of salt along with my impressions.

1 Comment RSS · Twitter

I've been wondering why they don't do Face ID based on turning your head slightly to the side, so that it captures parts that aren't covered by a mask? (eye, ear, neck) I'd rather ID the side of my head than not have it work at all with a mask on. Making it work only for people who have an Apple Watch is dumb. What's that, 10% of iPhone users at most?

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