iOS 15.4 beta Face ID upgrade lets you unlock your iPhone with a mask on

iPhone X
(Image credit: Future)

Apple's next iOS 15 update might make it possible to unlock your phone without taking off your mask. iOS 15.4 beta, released to developers on Thursday, shows the new security feature as a new FaceID option.

In a sign that Apple, like the rest of us, knows masks aren't going anywhere anytime soon, the California tech giant is, according to the iOS 15.4 beta, working on a new way to read your face and unlock your phone.

This update, which appears under Settings, Face ID & Passcode, was spotted by, among others, Brandon Butch on Twitter, and verified by TechRadar. It will let you select the option of reading the portion of your face that appears above the mask for facial recognition. 

Essentially, the system will use the identifying features of your eyes and the area around them to identify you and, if it's a match, unlock your phone.

This is not like the current two-factor authentication system Apple is currently using to help mask-wearers unlock their iPhones, and that was introduced with iOS 14.5. In that case, instead of waiting for the iPhone's Face ID to fail, it automatically unlocks your iPhone if you're wearing your Apple Watch with you for authentication.

In the current iOS 15.4 beta, there is a warning on the Face ID setting page that says, "Face ID is most accurate when it's set up for full-face recognition only."

Even though the system will be able to recognize your masked face, it doesn't require that you wear a mask during setup.

Current Face ID registration requires you to look at the screen and rotate your head around in a slow, clockwise fashion as the TrueDepth module on your iPhone scans your face. It takes two rounds of this before your face is in the system. You cannot register more than one face. So, this is about using whatever face registration you have or setting it up to recognize both your unmasked and masked face.

There is still the option, by the way, to continue using only mask-free face recognition. The mask-wearing Face ID capabilities can be turned on and off in the settings.

As with all beta software, this is all subject to change. iOS developer betas go through multiple rounds and updates before being released to the general public. The language on the page could change, as could the Face ID with a Masks functionality. It might even disappear altogether.

Lance Ulanoff
Editor At Large

A 38-year industry veteran and award-winning journalist, Lance has covered technology since PCs were the size of suitcases and “on line” meant “waiting.” He’s a former Lifewire Editor-in-Chief, Mashable Editor-in-Chief, and, before that, Editor in Chief of and Senior Vice President of Content for Ziff Davis, Inc. He also wrote a popular, weekly tech column for Medium called The Upgrade.

Lance Ulanoff makes frequent appearances on national, international, and local news programs including Live with Kelly and Ryan, the Today Show, Good Morning America, CNBC, CNN, and the BBC.