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Editor's take: What took Apple so long to implement this feature? I was crying for a workaround for Face ID a year ago when I was required to wear a mask everywhere I went. Now that most of the mask restrictions in my area have lifted, the feature is of little use.
In February, beta testers revealed that watchOS 7.4 would have a feature that would help Face ID unlock the iPhone. When combined with iOS 14.5, Face ID uses Apple Watch to authenticate the user when a face mask hinders facial recognition. The company said both operating systems would be available next week. However, 9to5Mac notes, developers and public beta testers can install the RC (release candidate) versions right now.
It is unclear if the final update will have the feature enabled by default. Beta testers had to turn it on manually. In any event, it never hurts to know how to activate new device features. So here's how to get started with assisted Face ID, which Apple officially calls "Unlock with Apple Watch."
Go to Settings on your iPhone. Scroll down and tap Face ID & Passcode, then login when prompted. On the next screen, you will see a new toggle labeled Apple Watch. Flip it on, and you're good to go. Once enabled, the iPhone will open as usual, even with a face mask in place. It works similarly to how users can unlock their Macs with their Apple Watch, but it must meet several requirements.
First of all, the Apple Watch must have wrist detection on and a passcode enabled. Then the feature will only trigger when the camera sensors detect a mask. It still has to "see" your eyes. The iPhone will then ping the watch. As long as it is unlocked, near the phone, and being worn, it sends an authentication signal to the iPhone. If, by chance, it triggers unintentionally—like if someone else wearing a mask picks up your phone—the watch screen will briefly display an option to relock the phone.
As mask restrictions begin to lift, the feature is going to become more and more unnecessary. Why Apple waited so long to implement it is anybody's guess. It would have been much more helpful a year ago when mask mandates were in full effect. Better late than never, I guess.
Image credit: 9to5Mac