iOS 13.5 is here with smarter Face ID unlock when you're wearing a face mask

The update also adds support for COVID-19 exposure notification and improvements to Group FaceTime and Emergency Services.

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Apple just dropped iOS 13.5 for iPhones and iPadOS 13.5 for iPads and you should update your devices, especially if they have Face ID. Since COVID-19 forced everyone to wear a mask (shame on you if you're not wearing one outside), one thing has become apparent: iPhones with Face ID don't work.

Because Face ID needs to see open eyes and a mouth to work, wearing a face mask forces the face recognition system to try again after any failed attempts. Apple has made Face ID more tolerable in iOS 13.5. If Face ID detects you're wearing a mask, it'll immediately show the passcode screen when you swipe up to unlock. Prior to iOS 13.5, swiping up after a failed Face ID unlock attempt would prompt it to try another scan before displaying the passcode unlock screen.

Contact tracing support — As promised, iOS 13.5 bakes in exposure notification support for COVID-19 contact tracing apps. Apple says this exposure notification API will work with contact tracing apps from public health authorities. Contact tracing apps make use of low-energy Bluetooth connections to determine if you've come into contact with anyone who may have had COVID-19 or been exposed to it.

Apple and Google announced last month that these unprecedented times called for cooperation and the initiative emphasizes privacy and pledged it would be a fully encrypted opt-in feature. Below, you can see in a few easy-to-understand illustrations how contact tracing works.

Apple / Google
Apple / Google

Contrary to many reports, Apple and Google's contact tracing API doesn't log specific location data from GPS coordinates. And despite some governments lobbying for location data collection, Apple and Google have not backed down from their privacy-first approach.

Group FaceTime and Emergency Services — iOS 13.5 also contains a few other updates. There's now an option to stop a user's "video tile" from being highlighted when they speak on a Group FaceTime call. Anyone who's used video conference apps like Zoom or Google Meet understands how annoying it can be when multiple people speak and the screen is constantly bouncing around to display them.

The update also adds the ability to "automatically share health and other essential information from your Medical ID with emergency services when you place an emergency call" if you live in the U.S.

How to update — As always there's also a bunch of bug and security fixes included in the software update. iOS 13.5 is available for all iPhones and iPod touches that support iOS 13 and iPadOS 13.5 for all iPads that can install iPadOS 13.5. Updating is simple: Settings > General > Software Update.

To opt into the COVID-19 exposure logging you will need to install an app that supports it first. You can turn this feature on in Settings > Privacy > Health > COVID-19 Exposure Logging:

Screenshot: Raymond Wong / Input