iOS 15.4 is here: Unlock iPhone with Mask, Hear the New Siri Voice

The story of the Covid-19 pandemic – and the great battle to unlock our iPhones with masks – will be told in the iOS variants:

iOS 13.5 (May 2020)—Recognizing that wearing a mask prevents Face ID from reading your face and unlocking iPhone, Apple AAPL 0.13%

Releases a software update that makes accessing the password screen faster.

iOS 14.5 (April 2021)—Recognizing that passwords are a real pain, Apple has released a software update that allows those with Apple Watch to unlock their iPhone using a mask.

iOS 15.4 (March 2022)You realize that all this isn’t what people really want, Apple finally Releases an update that allows you to unlock Face ID while wearing a mask. No password needed. Only, you know, two years too late.

With the release of iOS 15.4 on Monday, our long nightmare to unlock the iPhone mask comes to an end. The software update also includes new emojis, an additional Siri voice, and more. It will be available as a free download for iPhone 6s 2015 and later. The mask feature will only work on iPhone 12 models and later.

When you set up Face ID with a mask, you can’t physically wear a mask.


Joanna Stern/The Wall Street Journal

As I always say, the question is not if – but when – you will upgrade to the latest version of iOS.

If you can, put off a few days, at least until any potential problems are fixed. I saw some small bugs here and there while testing beta versions on the iPhone 12 Pro.

I can understand if you can’t wait another millisecond to stop merging your password or get a new emoji. Here is a quick review of the features that will hit your iPhone and where to find them:

Face ID with mask

When you install iOS 15.4, a prompt will ask you if you want to set up Face ID with a mask. (You can also access it from Settings > Face ID & Passcode.)

To prepare it, you will need to do a complete head rotation like a yoga instructor to re-examine your face. This is because the system needs to collect more information about the unique features around your eye area. When your face is masked, Face ID will rely on these features to confirm your identity. You cannot wear a mask when recording your face. If you do, you will be prompted to remove it.

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You’ll feel like Harry Houdini the first time you see the lock open with your mask. Quick look at the screen while wearing the mask (I’ve tried cloth, surgery, N95s and KN95s) and Boom! You are subscribed. And just like your regular Face ID, you can use it to confirm Apple Pay transactions or autofill saved passwords.

There are some flaws. Because they need to see the area around your eyes, Apple says it doesn’t support sunglasses. I’ve found this to be true for two pairs of sunglasses, but one pair with more transparent lenses works well.

As with regular Face ID, Apple scans your face, something that can raise privacy concerns. But the company encrypts the data and saves it in a secure part of your iPhone’s processor. It does not go to Apple servers.

The more you cover your face with a mask, the less likely the new Face ID feature will be able to unlock the phone.


Joanna Stern/The Wall Street Journal

For regular glasses, if you don’t set up with them, you’ll likely have to scan another with them. Apple says it works best when it’s set up to recognize each pair of glasses.

I’ve also discovered that hats – especially winter hats – can interfere. If my hat obscured more of my forehead and the top of my eyes, the system didn’t seem to have enough information to let me in. Taking the hat off my eyebrows seems to do the trick.

Apple also warns that Face ID with a mask is less accurate than without a mask. I’ve definitely had some failed unlock attempts over the past month, but in this case, I just entered my passcode, something I’ve gotten pretty good at for the past couple of years.

Siri’s new voice

In an effort to bring more variety to Siri, the assistant no longer defaults to a female voice default, and last year, Apple added voices recorded by black actors. iOS 15.4 adds another US voice that is designed to be less explicit than either male or female. A company spokeswoman confirmed that it was registered by a member of the LGBTQ+ community.

To check this, go to Settings > Siri & Search > Siri Voice and select Voice 5. Feel free to try a few other options: I’m a huge British fan > Voice 2. I like to imagine Hugh Grant setting my kitchen timer.

In iOS 15.4, you can now customize the skin tone of both hands in the handshake emoji.


Joanna Stern/The Wall Street Journal

New emoji

Inverted disco ball, drained battery, face melts, bird’s nest, greets face, coral, beans. The new iOS is packed with tons of new random emojis. One of the most hidden and cool additions? You can now choose separate skin tones for each hand in the Handshake emoji. Simply press and hold on the handshake emoji and a new interface will appear where you can choose the skin tone of each hand.

Add AirTag warnings

Since their release about a year ago, AirTags, Apple’s missing item trackers, have raised privacy and safety concerns — like stalking or other surveillance. If you set up AirTag with your iPhone running iOS 15.4, you’ll now receive an additional warning that using the item to track people without their consent is a crime in many places.

Other things

There are a lot of other things too. A new “Click to Pay” feature allows businesses to accept Apple Pay payments using another iPhone – no payment terminal needed. Safari can now translate traditional Italian and Chinese web pages. The Podcasts app, which still needs a lot of work, at least now lets you filter by Seasons, Played Episodes, Unplayed, Saved, and Downloaded.

The Apple macOS Monterey 12.3 update comes with Universal Control, allowing users to scroll and move content more seamlessly between iPads, MacBooks, and iMacs using the same mouse and keyboard. WSJ’s Dalvin Brown explains how it works and why it’s part of Apple’s fenced-garden strategy. Photo: Dalphin Brown

Then there’s the much-anticipated Universal Control, which is more iPadOS 15.4 and macOS Monterey 12.3 than iOS 15.4. However, you can now drag your cursor from your Mac to your iPad, making it feel like one continuous computer. Check out my colleague Dalvin Brown’s video on how it all works.

Still missing from iOS 15.4? Supporting the long-awaited digital driver’s licenses. So we wait until some future iOS variants.

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