Ever wonder how to use Face ID with a face mask? You’re not alone. Face ID is the most secure biometric authentication system in a smartphone on the planet. But with the world wearing face masks now, Apple’s iPhone security system no longer works. Or at least it didn’t until now…
Apple introduced Face ID in 2017 with the debut of the iPhone X. Security experts hailed the biometric authentication system as groundbreaking and many iPhone fans quickly fell in love with it (some, however, still prefer the older Touch ID).
But one “problem” with Face ID is that the module built into the top of iPhones needs to be able to see your face to work. A face mask, by its very design, blocks your face–thus blocking the ability to use Face ID to unlock your iPhone. Until now, that is. That’s because Apple has released iOS 14.5, which is packed with new features. And one such new feature is the ability to unlock your Face ID iPhone while wearing a mask. Apple calls this new feature “Unlock with Apple Watch.”
One drawback is that this new method requires more than iOS 14.5 and a compatible iPhone to work, however. As Apple’s name for the new feature suggests, it also requires an Apple Watch to work. We’ll explain why this is below. But first, here’s how to unlock your iPhone via Face ID while wearing a face mask.
What Hardware & Software You’ll Need
Unlocking an iPhone using Face ID while wearing a face mask requires the following hardware and software:
- An iPhone with Face ID (so an iPhone X or later)
- iOS 14.5 or later installed on that iPhone
- An Apple Watch Series 3 or later
- watchOS 7.4 or later installed on that Apple Watch
Extra Requirements For Use
If you have an iPhone and Apple Watch with the right software on it, you’ll also need to make sure of a few things. These are requirements for Face ID unlock to actually work with the above devices. The requirements are:
- Your Apple Watch needs to be paired with the Face ID iPhone you are using.
- Both the iPhone and Apple Watch need to have Wi-Fi and Bluetooth enabled.
- The Apple Watch needs to be protected by a passcode.
- The Apple Watch needs wrist detection enabled.
- Your must be wearing your Apple Watch and it needs to be unlocked (that is, after you put it on your wrist, you must have keyed in your Apple Watch PIN code when prompted.
- And obviously, you need to be wearing a face mask that covers both your mouth and nose.
How To Set Up “Unlock with Apple Watch”
Once you’ve met the hardware and software requirements you’ll still need to set up Unlock with Apple Watch before its first use. This is relatively simple to do and you’ll only need to do it once. Here’s how:
- Open the Settings app on your iPhone.
- Tap Face ID & Passcode.
- Enter your iPhone passcode (PIN) when prompted.
- Scroll down until you see the Unlock with Apple Watch header. Toggle the switch next to your Apple Watch’s name to ON (green).
How To Use “Unlock with Apple Watch”
Once the set up above is completed, you’re not ready to use “Unlock with Apple Watch.” And the good news is you know the drill. Here’s what happens:
- When you pull out your iPhone when wearing your mask, bring it up to your line of sight as normal.
- There will be a brief pause, and then you’ll feel your Apple Watch vibrate on your wrist.
- Once the vibration happens, you’ll see your lock screen has opened to reveal your home screen–just like it would do if you unlocked your iPhone with Face ID.
How “Unlock with Apple Watch” Actually Works
If you’re interested in how Unlock with Apple Watch actually works, read on. It’s pretty clever what Apple did.
But first know that Face ID is not like other facial recognition systems found on Android phones. Those systems rely on the image of a person’s face to unlock the Android device. Face ID is so much more advanced and secure because it doesn’t rely on image recognition.
Instead, Face ID works by scanning the unique characteristics and depths of your face–the dips in your eye sockets, the protrusion of your nose and cheekbones. It’s that depth mapping that makes Face ID so secure and advanced in the world of biometric security. And now you also can understand why Face ID can’t work with a face mask–because the mask blocks Face ID’s ability to read the depth of your facial features.
What Unlock with Apple Watch does is bypass this depth requirement by acting as a kind of two-factor authentication intermediary. Unlock with Apple Watch still relies on Face ID recognizing that you want to unlock your iPhone, but when Face ID sees you’re wearing a mask, it knowns to kick the unlock process over to your Apple Watch.
This is why the Apple Watch is required to be on your wrist, unlocked with your PIN, and linked to your phone in order to work. It’s hardware-based 2FA and a rather brilliant solution from Apple.
Accidentally Unlocked Your iPhone?
If you accidentally unlocked your iPhone with Unlock with Apple Watch–or someone grabs your iPhone from your when Unlock with Apple Watch is enabled and holds it up to your face to unlock it and then runs away with it, fret not. Apple built a security feature into Unlock with Apple Watch that allows your to lock your iPhone instantly from your Apple Watch itself.
Every time you unlock your iPhone with Unlock with Apple Watch, a notification will appear on your Apple Watch letting your know your iPhone was unlocked by your Apple Watch. Below that notification is a “Lock iPhone” button. Tap it once to instantly lock your iPhone again.
Frequently Asked Questions
Q: Can Face ID recognize me with mask?
No. But you can still unlock your iPhone with a mask on without entering your PIN on the lock screen if you have a compatible Apple Watch. The feature is called “Unlock with Apple Watch.” Check out how to use it above.
Q: Is Unlock with Apple Watch secure?
Yes. It’s not as secure as Face ID on its own, but it is a fairly secure method. That’s thanks to Unlock with Apple Watch requiring your Apple Watch to be worn and paired with your iPhone while using it.
Q: What iOS does Unlock with Apple Watch require?
Unlock with Apple Watch requires an iPhone with Face ID running iOs 14.5 or higher. It also requires an Apple Watch Series 3 or later running watchOS 7.4 or higher.
Apple expert and novelist, Michael Grothaus has been covering tech on KnowYourMobile for the best part of 10 years. Prior to this, he worked at Apple. And before that, he was a film journalist. Michael is a published author; his book Epiphany Jones was voted as one of the best novels about Hollywood by Entertainment Weekly. Michael is also a writer at other publications including VICE and Fast Company.