iPhone's Face ID mask problem just got a 'fix' with iOS 13.5

Face ID face mask
(Image credit: Future)

It will soon be easier to unlock your iPhone while still complying with health advisories to wear a face mask outside during the coronavirus pandemic. Apple just released a new iOS 13 developer beta that tackles the annoyance of using Face ID with your face covered.

Normally, unlocking any iPhone equipped with Face ID — essentially, any iPhone model since the iPhone X with the exception of the iPhone SE 2020 — is as simple as glancing at the screen and letting the built-in face unlocking features do their thing. But don a face mask (as you should be doing when you're out in public these days) and your iPhone won't unlock. Instead, you have to swipe up to get to a screen where you can enter your passcode.

The problem with Face ID and face masks is caused by just how secure Apple's face unlocking technology is. The TrueDepth camera on the front of your phone uses a 3D map of your face to recognize that you, in fact, are you. If the camera can't see your mouth and chin, then Face ID won't work.

The iOS 13.5 update currently with developers doesn't eliminate that issue, but it does provide a faster workaround. Now when you try to unlock your iPhone with your face mask in place, swiping up will take you straight to the passcode screen instead of Face ID trying once again to recognize your face. It should alleviate some of the frustration iPhone users have experienced without compromising the security of Face ID.

In addition to unlocking your phone, the simplified passcode screen will also appear when you need to authenticate purchases in the App Store, iTunes or Apple Books. It will also work with Apple Pay use or with any other app that features Face ID support.

That's not the only COVID-19-inspired feature arriving in iOS 13.5. The new beta also includes an exposure notification API as part of the COVID-19 contact tracing efforts Apple is developing with Google. Public developers will get access to this API so they can provide feedback before the Bluetooth-based notification system rolls out in mid-May.

In addition, iOS 13.5 includes a new feature in Group FaceTime where users now control automatic prominence during group chats. That means the size of a video tile will no longer change depending on who's speaking. Instead, video tiles will be laid out as they are now, and you can tap on a tile to make it larger. That feature's sure to come in handy in the increasing number of group chats we've been having as we practice social distancing.

With this third beta of iOS 13.5 in developers hands, the update will still need to go through the public beta process, which usually happens a few days later. The full public release will happen after that.

Philip Michaels

Philip Michaels is a Managing Editor at Tom's Guide. He's been covering personal technology since 1999 and was in the building when Steve Jobs showed off the iPhone for the first time. He's been evaluating smartphones since that first iPhone debuted in 2007, and he's been following phone carriers and smartphone plans since 2015. He has strong opinions about Apple, the Oakland Athletics, old movies and proper butchery techniques. Follow him at @PhilipMichaels.