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Impatient? Apple Has Quick Way to Unlock iPhone While Wearing Face Mask

Smartphone software has a tough time recognizing you in a mask

 New York's mass transit agency wants Apple to come up with a better way for iPhone users to unlock their phones without taking off their masks, as it seeks to guard against the spread of COVID-19 in buses and subways.

AP Photo/John Minchillo

If you have an iPhone that uses facial recognition to unlock the device, Apple has simplified your ability to get into your phone, which has been made more difficult in public places because of the pandemic.

The problem occurs when people wearing masks try to unlock their phones. Apple's software wants to see your eyes, nose and mouth to work. Previously, iPhone users wearing a mask would have to wait a few seconds as face recognition software tried to identify them before they eventually could enter their personal identification number as the passcode.

Riders on New York's subway system have been seen removing their masks, which lessens the advantages of wearing the face covering, so they could unlock their phones using face recognition technology, according to a letter to Apple Chief Executive Tim Cook from Chairman Patrick Foye of the Metropolitan Transportation Authority that the Associated Press obtained.

Shortcut: Swipe from bottom of locked screen

This has been occurring despite Apple's iOS 13.5 update, released in May, that automatically presents the passcode field after a user swipes up from the bottom of the lock screen. Apple Pay Express Transit, introduced last year, also allows riders on some bus and subway lines to pay with their iPhone or Apple Watch without having to wake the device.

"We understand Apple is working to address the issue and know that Apple has a range of technologies at its disposal as a global leader among tech companies,” Foye wrote in the letter sent Sunday. “We urge Apple to accelerate the deployment of new technologies and solutions that further protect customers in the era of COVID-19."


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Public transportation use plunged nationwide at the start of the pandemic. New York lost more than 90 percent of its subway ridership. Although ridership has slowly increased, it lags far behind levels before March, in part because people are worried about exposure to coronavirus in enclosed spaces.

New York's public transit system requires all riders to wear masks and stay at least 6 feet apart. The transportation authority also took the unprecedented step of shutting down the subway overnight to deep clean the cars and stations. More than 9 in 10 riders wear some form of face covering, the agency said in recent weeks.

IPhone Settings to Help You See or Hear Better

You can turn off facial recognition

iPhone users make up an estimated 45.3 percent of all smartphone users, according to digital research firm eMarketers. Android phones comprise 53.6 percent of the total, with the remainder scattered among Windows phones, BlackBerrys and other operating systems.

iPhone retired its fingerprint sensor in 2017 when it introduced facial recognition. If you already are using facial recognition on your newer iPhone, you can disable it permanently or temporarily until wearing masks in public isn't necessary.

Turn off Apple's Face ID by going to Settings | Face ID & Passcode, and clicking the toggle next to iPhone Unlock so the green dot turns white. You may want to do the same with Apple Pay and iTunes & App Store in the same area if you're using Face ID to validate those services.

Samsung, the largest smartphone maker in the world, has a fingerprint sensor on its most expensive Android models in addition to facial scanning. Samsung Galaxy S8 and Galaxy S9 models, released in 2017 and 2018, have iris scanners, which will work because face masks don't cover the eyes.

You can turn off Android phones’ facial recognition by going to Settings | Lock screenScreen lock type | Biometrics | Face and touching the toggle to change it from on to off.

"There's nothing more important to us than the health and safety of our customers,” Apple said in an emailed statement that noted the upgrades it already has made. “We are fully committed to continuing to work with the MTA to support their efforts to prevent the spread of COVID-19."

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