MTA: If Only Masked iPhone Users Could Unlock Their Phones Some Other Way

MTA: If Only Masked iPhone Users Could Unlock Their Phones Some Other Way
NYC commuters in April 2020. (Photo: Scott Heins, Getty Images)

New York’s public transportation agency would like Apple to come up with some way of unlocking phones that doesn’t involve passengers lowering their masks to use Face ID, according to ABC News.

Face ID has run into some problems during the novel coronavirus pandemic, namely that it isn’t really capable of identifying users wearing a mask. The Metropolitan Transit Authority, which runs the subways, buses, and railroads in and around New York City, is concerned because passengers are habitually removing their masks to unlock their phones with Face ID, spewing respiratory droplets everywhere, any of which might contain the virus.

MTA Chairman Patrick Foye wrote his letter to Apple that he wants the company to come up with an alternate method that does not require the bottom half of a human face to operate, according to ABC and the New York Post.

“Upgrades enabling users to unlock their phones while keeping their masks securely covering their nose and mouth would be beneficial in all public spaces, not just on public transportation,” Foye wrote. The MTA, which may or may not be aware that all iPhones can already be unlocked with a four- or six-number passcode, offered to promote whatever solution Apple comes up with through signs and digital bulletin boards.

“There’s nothing more important to us than the health and safety of our customers,” Apple, which both solved and created this problem, told ABC News in a statement. “We are fully committed to continuing to work with the MTA to support their efforts to prevent the spread of COVID-19.”

This might not have really become an issue had not Apple stripped Touch ID from many recent models of iPhone as it aggressively pushed Face ID as a next-generation technology.

It’s possible that Apple could come up with a version of Face ID that only scans the upper half of a user’s face (which is more difficult than it sounds) or bring back Touch ID in future phones (which doesn’t really help anyone right now). There’s also custom masks that are supposedly compatible with Face ID, but their unnerving creepiness far outstrips any phone-related convenience they might provide.

Alternatively, MTA riders could realise that taking off their mask to scan their phone both potentially exposes them and others to the virus and probably takes longer than just typing in the passcode. But really, don’t count on it.