Apple is testing a feature that would allow its Face ID facial recognition system to work with masks and without the Apple Watch.
The iPhone maker on Friday released the first iOS 15.4 developer beta version – the version used in final testing before commercial release. This contains an update that gives users the ability to use Face ID with masks on and without an Apple Watch nearby.
Face ID allows users to unlock the iPhone, log in to supported apps and services and verify purchases on the App Store and other compatible platforms. The technology, using the iPhone's TrueDepth front camera, combines data from the user's eyes and other features.
Until now, users have not been able to unlock their iPhones while wearing masks – now an everyday item due to the Covid-19 pandemic.
Apple has received criticism for not fully addressing the face mask issue using the iPhone alone. It did try a fix on iOS 14.5 last April – but that required the user to be wearing an Apple Watch with at least the watchOS 7.4 operating system installed.
Competitors, notably Samsung Electronics, gives users the option to use only an iris scan to unlock their devices, thereby bypassing masks.
There had been talk of Apple bringing back its popular Touch ID biometric fingerprint authentication technology on the iPhone 13 series last year.
A survey of Apple users last July found almost half those polled said they would like to have Touch ID placed “under the screen” – presumably where the home button was placed in previous iPhones.
Apple made its announcement about iOS 15.4 beta – which also includes new emojis and the ability to copy text from objects using the camera while in the Notes or Reminders apps – alongside the release of Universal Control in developer beta releases of the macOS Monterey 12.3 and iPadOS 15.4 operating systems
Universal Control is a long-awaited feature that allows the keyboard and mouse of a Mac to be used on an iPad by just placing the iPad next to the Mac.
This comes shortly after Apple on Tuesday quietly released a new portal to address privacy issues, amid mounting concerns on its AirTag device trackers.
The Personal Safety User Guide for Apple devices details what users need to do in the event they suspect their privacy and security are at risk. It contains pointers on how Apple's security ecosystem works, how to keep personal information safe and what actions can be taken in the event of a breach.
Its most notable sub-topics are Stay Safe with AirTag and Find My Accessories.
AirTags was launched last April, but critics have expressed concern that the devices could be used by stalkers. The company has said that information – including identity and location – on AirTags is encrypted and no one, Apple included, can access it.
In June, the iPhone maker issued a software update by adjusting the time period that an AirTag which is no longer with its owner beeps to deter abuse.
Last December, Apple unveiled an Android app that will help users who do not use iPhones or iPads to detect unexpected AirTags and other devices compatible with Apple's Find My network that are near them.
“We are raising the bar on privacy for our users and the industry, and hope others will follow,” an Apple representative told The National at the time.
Apple released its financial results for its fiscal 2022 first quarter on Thursday, in which it posted record quarterly sales and net profit, despite supply chain challenges.
It also retained its position as the world's most valuable brand at $355.1 billion, according to a report from Brand Finance on Wednesday.