The iPhone’s Incompatibility with Masks

It is harder for phones as well as people to recognize us when we’re masked.


When Apple introduced its facial recognition/unlock feature in the iPhone X in 2017, it did away with the formerly present fingerprint sensor.  This is unlike every Android phone I’m aware of – although many Android phones also offer a face-unlock feature, they all still have a fingerprint sensor – either invisibly under the screen, on the side of the phone, or on its rear.

A physician pointed out a problem with his iPhone.  Many medical professionals are spending much of their days with a mask on at present, and when they try to unlock their phone via facial recognition, the phone doesn’t recognize them because of the mask.

This is probably unavoidable.  Masks can take various different shapes and sizes and outlines and colors; it would be almost impossible to recognize a person wearing a mask because the mask part of their face looks different with every wearing.  The only approach would be to ignore the masked part and match only the remaining visible facial features above the mask.

Unfortunately, it is more difficult to reliably recognize a face when all you can see is the forehead, eyes, and the start of a nose.  Most facial recognition algorithms work on the relationship between ears, eyes, nose and mouth.  The reduced number of reference points by taking out most of the nose and all of the mouth makes both false positives and false negatives more likely, and at present we’re unaware of any phone-based facial recognition that will work with a partially visible face.

It might be possible to enhance the recognition software to do a reasonable job of recognizing just the upper half of a face, but so far, all Apple has done is reprogram its software to recognize the presence of a mask and ask the user to remove the mask or enter in their passcode.  That’s of course not always possible, practical, or desirable.

Some websites are suggesting you can try to fool Apple’s FaceID into recognizing your face by registering two versions of your face, each with a mask on half of it.  Based on reader comments, this seems to sometimes work, but often not work, and you might like to try this as a workaround.

To be fair, some people are in environments where they must wear gloves as well as a mask, making fingerprint reading difficult, but many of us are not.  And to be even more fair, some people report having their fingerprints recognized through a thin clear glove.

We understand why Apple removed its distinctive command button with built-in fingerprint reader so as to fit more screen on the phone, but we don’t understand why Apple – innovator and design leader that it claims to be – can’t now build a fingerprint reader into its phone the same way that Android phones have been doing for years.

It is unfortunate that Apple again dictates what its users can and can’t do, and removes things it decides, arbitrarily, users should not be allowed to have – micro SD card slots and headphone jacks come to mind as well as the fingerprint reader.

Something to consider next time you’re deciding what your next phone purchase should be.

1 thought on “The iPhone’s Incompatibility with Masks”

  1. I am struggling with a rational response. Beyond anger.

    Apple — worth about 2 TRILLION dollars — can’t find a way for health care professionals wearing a mask to use their phones without removing it?

    I work in technology, I’m embarrassed.

Leave a Reply

Scroll to Top
Scroll to Top

Free Weekly Emailed Newsletter

Usually weekly, since 2001, we publish a roundup of travel and travel related technology developments, and often a feature article too.

You’ll stay up to date with the latest and greatest (and cautioned about the worst) developments.  You’ll get information to help you choose and become a better informed traveler and consumer, how to best use new technologies, and at times, will learn of things that might entertain, amuse, annoy or even outrage you.

We’re very politically incorrect and love to point out the unrebutted hypocrisies and unfairnesses out there.

This is all entirely free (but you’re welcome to voluntarily contribute!), and should you wish to, easy to cancel.

We’re not about to spam you any which way and as you can see, we don’t ask for any information except your email address and how often you want to receive our newsletters.

Newsletter Signup - Welcome!

Thanks for choosing to receive our newsletters.  We hope you’ll enjoy them and become a long-term reader, and maybe on occasion, add comments and thoughts of your own to the newsletters and articles we publish.

We’ll send you a confirmation email some time in the next few days to confirm your email address, and when you reply to that, you’ll then be on the list.

All the very best for now, and welcome to the growing “Travel Insider family”.