Wednesday, Feb 03, 2021, 16:45 Test reports

Test: iOS 14.5 & The New Face ID With Face Masks

Almost a year after the (more or less) international introduction of the mask mandate, Apple finally has a solution for the Face ID "mask problem" with the arrival of iOS 14.5 this March. Until then, iPhone users with Face ID will continue to have to enter their PIN to gain access to the phone when wearing a face mask.

Requirements, Activation, & Apple Pay
The face mask compatibility feature for iOS 14.5 will only work when the user has explicitly activated the feature in their device's system settings and when they have an unlocked Apple Watch paired to the phone. The setting to enable Face ID with face masks can be found in the System Settings under "Face ID & Passcode". After enabling it, Face ID will now check to see if the user is wearing a face mask and when one is recognized, it will only initiate a partial scan of the user's face. The Apple Watch will then vibrate (haptic feedback), but there's no further sort of confirmation needed to be undertaken on the part of the user. For security reasons, Apple Pay won't work with Face ID when masks are worn, and those preferring to pay via iPhone rather than with the Apple Watch will have to enter their PIN.



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Test: Different Mask Sizes, Wearing Methods, & Closed Eyes
When a face mask is worn "normally", the new Face ID with mask recognition works pretty much as expected. However, how does it work with more irregular masks or methods of wearing? For example, glasses wearers sometimes pull their masks up further (to prevent lens fog) than those without. Even here, the new Face ID has no problem. Even if (for whatever reason) you should decide to pull your mask up all the way to the edge of your eyelids, the new Face ID will still be able to recognize you. It'll also do so when you somehow manage to cover either half of one eye or all of one eye with a mask, but not when both are completely covered. One thing we noticed that was of note: Face ID with face mask recognition enabled still allowed the user access to the phone when both eyes were closed, despite "attention aware" being activated in the settings.

Face ID A Little Less Safe In "Mask Mode"
In "Mask Mode", Face ID only needs a relatively small area of the user's face to be visible for scanning, and in all of our tests, the user's chin was completely hidden from sight. Face ID with Mask Mode only needs to be able to view the eyes, forehead, hairline, and general shape of the head in order to work. Unfortunately, we weren't able to run the tests with a large group of people (even our offices at work have undergone the transition to home-office), but one can safely assume that having Mask Mode enabled would lead the user's iPhone to mistakenly allow unauthorized users access to the phone than when disabled – due to the reduced security standards. It's for exactly this reason that an unlocked Apple Watch is required for the feature to be enabled.


Notification, when the Apple Watch is too far away.


In at least one case in our small test run, it was possible for a foreign face to outsmart the new Face ID with Mask Mode on – when the Apple Watch was close by enough. If the Apple Watch is too far away, then the user will be met with a screen requesting that the Apple Watch be brought closer to the device. When the smartwatch is more than 6 feet away from the iPhone, Face ID with Mask Mode will stop working and ask for the PIN to be inserted instead. Thus, it wouldn't be impossible for someone to swipe an iPhone out of your bag and quickly unlock it, should you have Mask Mode enabled – those in large cities with public transport should consider the risk. The Apple Watch can still tell when your iPhone's been unlocked (in the eventuality that someone near to you stole it and unlocked it), although you'd need to catch the following notification:


"Lock" will also deactivate Face ID.

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