Donning a mask has become commonplace around the world amidst the pandemic, and even with the world slowly returning to some semblance of normality, it’s highly likely that masks and social distancing will still be a requirement for some time. The problem is that people wearing masks can’t unlock a Face ID-enabled iPhone, rendering Apple’s impressive facial recognition technology essentially useless – or has it?

With the release of iOS 14.5, Apple introduced a way for mask wearers to unlock a Face ID-enabled iPhone by using a paired Apple Watch. It’s not quite the Face ID experience we’ve come to know, but it’ll speed up the unlock process. And for those without an Apple Watch, there’s an unofficial hack available that’ll let you unlock an iPhone while wearing a mask.

We outline both methods right here.

Unlock an iPhone when wearing a mask using an Apple Watch

With the release of iOS 14.5, Apple has introduced the ability to use a connected Apple Watch as a fallback when a Face ID-enabled iPhone notices you’re wearing a mask.

It’s a feature that has been available on macOS for quite some time, and it works in much the same way: as long as your Apple Watch is unlocked and connected to your iPhone, you’ll be able to bypass Face ID when wearing a facemask, and you’ll get an alert on your wrist whenever it happens too.

If you’ve got an iPhone X or later with Face ID running iOS 14.5 and an Apple Watch Series 3 or later running watchOS 7.4, here’s how to unlock an iPhone while wearing a mask using an Apple Watch:

  1. Open the Settings app on your iPhone.
  2. Tap Face ID & Passcode.
  3. Enter your iPhone passcode to authenticate.
  4. Scroll down to ‘Unlock with Apple Watch’ and toggle the switch next to Apple Watch on. If the toggle is greyed out and unavailable, you need to update your Apple Watch software.

The first time you try and unlock an iPhone while wearing a mask, you’ll still be prompted to enter a passcode. Once you successfully entered your passcode once, all subsequent attempts to unlock your iPhone should automatically default to your connected Apple Watch.

It’s worth noting that this is only for the convenience of quickly unlocking an iPhone – using Apple Pay still requires either a full face scan or a passcode, mainly because it’s possible for someone to take your iPhone and unlock it if you’re still in relatively close proximity.

You’ll need to re-enter your passcode on your iPhone whenever you remove your watch from your wrist, and you’ll also need to do it the first time you unlock your iPhone each day for added security.

Unlock an iPhone when wearing a mask by tricking Face ID

While using a connected Apple Watch is Apple’s preferred workaround for unlocking a Face ID-enabled iPhone when wearing a mask, there is a way to set up Face ID to recognise you when wearing a mask – although with the somewhat obvious caveat that this method is far less secure than usual, and may result in other people wearing facemasks being able to unlock your iPhone. If you’re comfortable with those risks, here’s how to do it:

  1. On your iPhone, head to the Settings app.
  2. Tap Face ID & Passcode.
  3. Enter your passcode to authenticate.
  4. Tap Reset Face ID.
  5. Tap to set up Face ID, and when prompted to scan your face, hold a folded facemask on half of your face.
  6. Once complete, tap Set Up an Alternate Appearance and repeat the process, this time holding the mask on the other side of your face.

Once both scans have been completed, you should be able to unlock your iPhone while wearing a mask without issue.

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