This week, Apple is rolling out a new iPhone feature that would've been incredibly useful two years ago: an update to Face ID that makes it possible to use while wearing a mask.
iPhone users will be able to unlock their phones with only the upper part of their face as part of the iOS 15.4 update, which is rolling out on Monday. The update includes a few other useful features, like a gender-neutral voice for Siri and some new emoji, like a melting face (what that’s supposed to convey, this writer has no idea).
Perhaps most importantly, the new iOS update includes improved safety warnings for Apple AirTags that will make it easier to learn if one of the devices is tracking you without knowledge or consent. The devices, along with rival Bluetooth trackers, have been used to stalk people in several high-profile incidents.
Yet, the mask-compatible Face ID is likely to generate the most buzz, given how much of a nuisance it’s been to use the iPhone's facial recognition feature to unlock the device in public over the last two years. Apple first acknowledged this in the spring of 2020 with the rollout of iOS 13.5, which more quickly prompted users to enter a passcode when it recognized they were wearing a mask and could not use Face ID. Apple notes that the new, mask-friendly Face ID might be less secure than a full facial scan.
The rollout of a mask-friendly Face ID feature comes almost too late, as remaining blue states discard their mask mandates. However, the feature is still likely to be a welcome change — the federal government just extended the mask mandate for air travel another month, for example, while many doctors' offices nationwide still require masks. Anyone who’s tried to access their boarding pass when their hands are full at the airport knows how irritating it's been to not be able to use Face ID.
Apple is also rolling updates to macOS and iPadOS that let Mac users control multiple Macs and iPads using a single mouse and keyboard. This means you can drag files between a Mac and an iPad seamlessly and use the iPad as an external monitor. This will reduce friction for those who use both Macs and iPads as part of their workflow.
Universal Control will require Macs that run on macOS Monterey 12.3, in addition to iPads updated with iPadOS 15.4. iOS 15.4, iPadOS 15.4 and macOS Monterey 12.3 are all available today.