Starting with the iPhone X, Apple ditched Touch ID in favor of Face ID. And for plenty of people, that’s just fine—until the global pandemic made mask wearers of us all. Now Face ID struggles to recognize people, even with new mask detection efforts. But the latest iOS beta pulls a new trick to solve the problem: use your Apple Watch as a key.
Now before you get too excited, this new feature is part of Apple’s latest beta. So it’s not out for the general public yet, and there’s a possibility (though slight) that it never will be. But in the latest iOS 14.5 beta, iOS can better handle when you’re wearing a mask if you also have an Apple Watch.
When the phone detects your mask during the Face ID process, it’ll reach out to connect to your Apple Watch. If you’re wearing one and the “Face ID & Passcode” setting is on, the Watch will facilitate the unlock process, just like it can for Mac devices. You’ll get a nudge on your Watch to indicate the process worked. To keep things secure, your Watch needs to be nearby and unlocked. You can also quickly lock your iPhone from the Watch.
That’s a step better than Android’s Smart Lock process, which prevents your primary device from locking if any of your paired Smart Lock devices (nearly anything Bluetooth) are nearby. In this case, since you need it nearby and unlocked and Face ID is part of the process, it’s less likely someone could pick up your phone and get into it.
Again, this is still just in beta, and it may not work reliably yet. Only Apple knows if and when it will reach the general public. But if it does and our mask-wearing days continue (as they probably will), now more than ever, you should buy an Apple Watch to go with your iPhone. Unless you’re still on an old device with Touch ID, those don’t care about masks.