Face ID has been a standard feature of Apple’s iPhone since the release of the iPhone X in 2017. Once the preferred method of unlocking your iPhone, Face ID has become a little less convenient since the outbreak of Covid-19 and the dawn of the age of masks in 2020. Luckily, Apple’s latest OS update released to developers circumvents the need to remove your face mask to use the Face ID utility.
Users can currently unlock their iPhones with a mask on if they have the Apple Watch, but the new iPhone 12 and up feature eliminates their need for the watch. The new Face ID With a Mask feature operates by recognizing the face area around the eyes when you’re wearing a mask. This feature is arguably not as secure as unlocking your phone without a mask, but it is more convenient when you’re out and about.
It is not clear why the feature isn’t available to Apple users with an iPhone 11 or earlier, but some users took to the comments section of MacRumors to debate the issue. A user named ‘Anshuvorty’ proposed that the machine learning chip on older iPhones isn’t powerful enough to run the new feature.
‘Alchemistmuffin’ agreed, attributing the issue to hardware limitations regarding the Neural Engine on the Ax Series chip and the fact that the newer iPhones have superior face-mapping sensors.
Factoring in how technology often filters down into older or less powerful models as time progresses, we might see a similar feature release for iPhone 11 and earlier. If the compatibility of the new Face ID with a mask feature is to do with software, we might very well see it filter down to older models.
However, if the issue is hardware-related, older phones would need a complete hardware reconfiguration to run the new feature, which would be costly to implement and ultimately pointless. Studies find that users typically upgrade to newer devices every two years.
For now, it seems, if you have an iPhone 11 or earlier, you’re stuck with having to use your Apple Watch to unlock your phone with a mask on. While this isn’t exactly the biggest problem the modern world faces, it is inconvenient.