iOS 13.5 arrives with COVID-19 focused features

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Face masks have become a common sight in recent months and it’s unlikely that they’ll go away anytime soon. While they are a minor annoyance, they do help keep people safe. For devices that use facial identification, however, they are a major problem.

Fortunately, iPhone users won’t have to worry about that anymore. On Wednesday, Apple released iOS 13.5, a semi-major update that comes packed with features geared towards making life easier during the COVID-19 pandemic. Perhaps the most notable is that users will now be able to unlock their phone more quickly while they are wearing a face mask.

Necessary Adjustments

Facial recognition is still a rather young technology. As such, conditions often need to be just right for a device to identify its owner. Apple’s Face ID is one of the most sophisticated examples of facial recognition and is fairly reliable thanks to its use of infrared sensors and facial geometry mapping. However, a face mask derails the whole process.

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Prior to iOS 13.5, users trying to sign in while wearing a face mask wouldn’t be recognized. Apple’s workaround, unfortunately, can’t fix that. Facial recognition technology simply doesn’t work when it can’t see an entire face. Trying to identify a user based solely on their eyes and forehead opens the door for inaccuracies and privacy concerns.

Right now, while attempting to use Face ID with a mask on users must wait through an awkward pause until their iPhone realizes it can’t see their face. The new iOS 13.5 update lets users swipe up to enter their passcode and bypass the delay. A few Twitter users also report that, if your phone detects a face mask, it automatically jumps to the passcode screen.

Although this isn’t a perfect solution, it does make life a bit more seamless. Likewise, it should encourage users to avoid removing their mask to sign in with Face ID.

Tracking Features

As mentioned, iOS 13.5 comes with some other helpful coronavirus-related features. One of these is a slight change to Medical ID. The feature usually lets iPhone owners list some of their important medical information for emergency use. Now, users will have the option to automatically share Medical ID information with 911 operators when a call is placed. For the time being, the new feature is only available in the U.S.

Due to the coronavirus pandemic, more people have been using FaceTime to stay in touch with friends and family. iOS 13.5 now allows users to tweak their settings and stop the app from automatically resizing the video when a new main speaker starts talking.

Finally, the latest update brings the early stages of Google and Apple’s new COVID-19 tracking tool. Eventually, the API will let public health authorities automate contact tracing. As the world starts to slowly reopen, that will be a crucial tool in the continued fight against the virus.

While iOS 13.5 might not be as exciting as typical iOS updates, it certainly brings some timely features that many users will find helpful.


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