A reader asked me about using face masks with Express Transit. The great thing about Express Transit with Suica and Octopus is that the user doesn’t need Face ID or Touch ID to use transit or buy stuff. It’s very convenient to have, especially in our face mask era. iOS 13.5 added a small Face ID tweak for easier passcode entry when wearing a face mask. It helps with the basic unlock but for me regular Apple Pay authentication is still a pain.
The reader wanted to know if the iOS 13.5 Face ID tweak affected Express Transit. It does not. You don’t need Face ID to use Apple Pay Express Transit. But Face ID needs to be ‘on’ in order for Express Transit to work and finding the right information on Apple support pages is a little confusing. The reference page you want is If Face ID isn’t working on your iPhone or iPad Pro>If you need to enter your passcode:
The key sentences are outlined in red. Wearing a face mask is not a problem with Express Transit and Face ID turned on. However, “five unsuccessful attempts to match a face,” turns off Face ID and Express Transit. You need to enter your passcode to turn on Face ID and Express Transit again.
Unfortunately turning off Face ID wearing a face mask with five unsuccessful attempts without realizing it is easy to do and trips up a lot of Express Transit users who are not aware of it. That’s why I suggest turning off the ‘Raise to Wake’ option in Settings > Display & Brightness. Doing so reduces the chance of ‘five strikes’ and makes Face ID with face mask life a little easier.
Lots of people in Japan and China wear face masks at different times of the year for flu season, pollen season, pollution season, etc. Whatever the reason, Face ID is simply not an option for these people. If it doesn’t work, why bother paying lots of money for a Face ID iPhone model? If Chinese manufacturers are selling under-display fingerprint sensor at a cheaper price than a Face ID iPhone, the choice for a face mask user is a no-brainer.
Whatever the outcome of the China market iPhone rumor, Apple going all in with Face ID has left money and marketshare on the table for others to grab.
Japanese iPhone X users on the daily commuter grind with face masks look like they have finally gotten relief: iOS 12 Face ID supports Alternate Appearances. Hay fever sufferers, high school students and many more people who would never consider using an iPhone X because Face ID doesn’t work with face masks will have the option to do so.
Apple Insider says you can use it to add a second person to Face ID too.
UPDATE I was stupid and posted without actually testing it. Reddit user kazuma_san pointed out that I was wrong and that Face ID/Alternate Appearance simply does not work with face masks. I finally got hold of some masks (not easy when traveling) and tested it. kazuma_san is right and I own him thanks for the correction: Alternate Appearance does not work with face masks. If you try to register with a face mask on Face ID tells you to “Remove the Obstruction.”
Lots of people use masks in Japan, when commuting, at school, for hay fever or flu. Since getting an iPhone X, I use face masks much less now and feel a little naked on the daily commute in Tokyo. One way to mitigate the problem is to turn off Face ID for unlocking iPhone but leave it on for Apple Pay. It works but is not a convenient workaround.
Until the Face ID camera develops the ability to see through scarfs and masks, there will be plenty of demand for Touch ID iPhones in Japan.