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Apple Watch might be the fix for the Face ID + face mask dilemma

It’s quite inconvenient to use an iPhone in public these days. The newer iPhones no longer have Touch ID as Apple shifted its focus to Face ID, which was designed to be an easy but secure way to unlock the smartphone. But since we’re living through a pandemic where face masks are a necessity, Face ID is rendered useless—or very inconvenient. iPhone users mostly rely on the “old school” method of tapping in their passcodes to unlock their phones when they’re out and about instead of pulling down their masks to use the biometric security feature. This problem is a bother, more than anything else. But, of course, with the money you invest into your devices, you’d want them to work well.

Apple listened to the complaints and is offering a new stopgap solution through the upcoming iOS 14.5 update. Now released in beta, this version of iOS will let iPhone users who own an Apple Watch use the wearable to unlock their phones.

According to the Wall Street Journal‘s Joanna Stern, you need an unlocked Apple Watch on your wrist or nearby to unlock your iPhone with Face ID. This means you need to have the Watch’s wrist detection feature enabled. Inversely, you can use the Apple Watch to re-lock your iPhone, according to 9to5Mac.

The “Unlock the iPhone with the Apple Watch” feature is only available for unlocking the smartphone. If you want to use it for App Store and iTunes purchases, it requires other authentication if your face is covered. And as an additional security check, your iPhone will ask you to input your passcode every few hours when this function is enabled.

We haven’t tested the feature ourselves yet, but reliability might be a problem. Apple already implements this system with the Mac, which The Verge claimed had some reliability issues for some users. Hopefully, the company has refined the experience for the iPhone.

If Apple doesn’t optimize the experience, it might cause inconveniences that resemble its initial attempt to address this issue. Apple first tried to fix this Face ID dilemma in iOS 13.5, where the company sped up the transition from Face ID to the passcode input screen when the user’s face is obscured. But Engadget reported how this method was slower in practice as users were left to wait for iOS to decide what it needed to do.

You need to have the Apple Watch near your iPhone to get it to unlock with Face ID (Photo by cottonbro/Pexels)

A better solution would be to bring back Touch ID. Stern recently shared a new rumor claiming Apple is planning to add an optical in-display fingerprint reader to the next iPhone. Versions of this rumor have been going around for a while, but it’s crucial to approach these reports with some skepticism.

If Apple doesn’t take this route, another option it can explore is to add Touch ID to the power button like in the new iPad Air. 

I’m definitely on Team Touch ID. It’s good to have additional biometric security options on phones, especially when some aren’t useful right now.