Apple's iOS 15.4 and iPadOS 15.4 changes and features – what's new?

Face ID with a mask and Universal Control among key features in latest operating system updates

Users of iPhone 12 or later now have the option to use Face ID even with masks on, but Apple warns the full face scan is still the more secure method. Reuters
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Apple has made the latest versions of its operating systems available to users, and the biggest update is the ability to unlock iPhones while wearing a face mask and without an Apple Watch.

We take a look at this and some other notable features in the 15.4 updates of iOS and iPadOS.

Face ID unlock with a mask on

This feature was first reported in late January, when the Cupertino-based company rolled out the operating system’s first beta version, which a version used in final testing before a commercial release.

‌Face ID‌ with a mask scans the area around your eyes to authenticate your identity – although Apple cautions the full face scan is still the more secure option. It can also still authenticate transactions on Apple Pay and logins to supported third-party apps.

Keep in mind that while it does work with glasses on, it won't with sunglasses. And while you can use it on iOS 15.4, it only works with the iPhone 12 and later, according to Apple's website.

The unlocking update has long been awaited by Apple users amid continued mask mandates across the world, and the delay has attracted criticism for the world’s most valuable company.

Other smartphone manufacturers, such as Samsung Electronics and Huawei Technologies, have options such as iris scanning and fingerprint sensors to unlock their devices. Apple’s Face ID technology requires a full face and eye scan, and is the only biometric option in the iPhone line-up from the iPhone X, not counting the recently-launched third-generation iPhone SE.

AirTag anti-stalking

Apple's latest AirTag update has a clear message: anyone who tries to use it for illicit purposes is a crime. During the set-up of an AirTag or any other Find My accessory, there will be a warning that states the device is locked to an ‌Apple ID‌, and that using it to track someone without consent is a crime.

AirTags have been hit with privacy and security concerns, something that Apple has continued to work on. In December, Apple unveiled an app for Android devices that will help users who do not own iPhones or iPads to detect unexpected AirTags and other devices compatible with Apple’s Find My network that are near them.

New settings for Emergency SOS

Emergency SOS has now been defaulted to pressing and holding both the side and either volume button to show the SOS screen. The previous option of pressing the side buttons five times can still be toggled in settings.

To initiate an emergency call, either drag the slider on top, or continue holding those buttons until the countdown runs out to start the call.

Apple Card widget

iOS 15.4 now gives you the option to place a widget for Apple Card – the company’s credit card issued by US bank Goldman Sachs – on the Today view, which can also be added to your home screen.

The widget shows how much you’ve spent across various categories and how much balance you currently have. This is, however, available only in the US.

Health app now holds vaccination records

Health records that are verifiable now support adding vaccination records, specifically in the EU Digital Covid Certificate format to the Health and Wallet apps. This allows EU residents to add to and easily access their vaccine cards in Wallet.

Universal Control

Probably at par with the mask-unlocking bit is Universal Control, which allows other Apple devices to function as second screens and, using a wireless Apple keyboard and mouse, drag and drop files between them. However, this doesn’t work on iPhones – only on iPads and Macs with the latest iPadOS 15.4 and macOS Monterey 12.3, respectively.

On a Mac, go to system preferences, then displays, and tick on Universal Control; check the boxes for "Allow your cursor and keyboard to move between any nearby Mac or iPad" and "Check the box for Push through the edge of a display to connect a nearby Mac or iPad". On an iPad, go to settings, general and AirPlay & Handoff, then enable cursor and keyboard. Place the two devices side-by-side and you're good to go.

Adjust keyboard brightness

In iPadOS 15.4, you can add a new Keyboard Brightness option to Control Centre, which allows you to adjust the brightness of a connected keyboard that has backlighting. While it is compatible with Apple's own Magic Keyboard, you still need to add it to Control Centre via settings.

New emojis!

Of course, what’s a hyped-up iOS update without some new emojis?

Among the new additions to the cute characters are the face with peeking eye, saluting face, face holding and the highly-popular melting face. Gestures and handshakes have seven new ones, including index pointing at the viewer, palm up/down and heart hands, in addition to multi-racial handshakes.

New to the animals and object categories include a coral, lotus, nest with and without eggs, crutch, bubbles and x-ray.

iOS 15.4 is compatible with all mainstream iPhones from the 6S series, plus all the SE models. iPadOS 15.4 supports all iPads from the fifth generation, iPad Airs from the second generation, iPad minis from the fourth generation and all iPad Pros.


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Updated: March 21, 2022, 7:34 AM