Apple may make it easier to unlock an iPhone while wearing a face mask

30 Apr 2020

Image: © Jo Panuwat D/

The latest iOS beta release includes some features that Apple has designed in response to changed behaviours during the coronavirus pandemic.

Apple’s iOS 13.5 beta, released to developers on Wednesday (29 April), has some new features put in place in direct response to the ongoing coronavirus pandemic.

It’s not yet clear whether all of these features will make it to the final release of iOS 13.5, which is expected to launch within the next few weeks. The beta was released alongside the beta of Xcode 11.5, which enables developers to create apps for iPhone, iPad, Mac, Apple Watch and Apple TV.

One feature in the iOS 13.5 beta that was picked up on pretty quickly addresses the fact that many users are now wearing face masks to prevent the spread of Covid-19.

Easier to unlock

Some users noticed that it was more difficult to use the Face ID feature to unlock Apple devices while in public and wearing face coverings. This is an issue that particularly affects users of iPhones that do not have a physical home button, such as the iPhone X, XS or 11.

In response, Apple has introduced a feature that causes Face ID to jump to the backup passcode-entry screen if the system detects that the user is wearing a mask. This means that the passcode can be typed in, saving users from having to remove their mask or fiddle with the phone until it brings them to the passcode-entry screen.

Prior to this, a failed Face ID login attempt could take upwards of 10 seconds to rectify by manually accessing the passcode input screen.

With more people using video-conferencing technology at the moment, Apple has also made some changes to FaceTime, allowing users to disable the feature that causes the image of the active speaker to grow larger on the screen. If users choose to enable this new feature, they have to tap on a caller’s feed in a FaceTime call to make it larger in the grid.

Covid-19 exposure notification

On Wednesday, Apple and Google also released their first versions of their exposure notification APIs, which they previously called the contact tracing API.

The goal of the API release is to collect feedback from a select group of developers, look at how to improve the API ahead of its official release in mid-May. Tomorrow (1 May) the two companies are set to release further information, which will include sample code to help developers understand how the exposure notification system will work.

Apple has decided not to release the exposure notification API broadly, but instead only to public health authorities. Although release is limited, Apple and Google have both updated their developer website documents to describe the technology’s function in detail and how it aims to protect user privacy.

Kelly Earley was a journalist with Silicon Republic