But the feature will only work for those people who have an Apple Watch, since it uses the wearable to ensure that the iPhone has not been stolen.
The new feature is introduced in iOS 14.5, the latest software update for iPhone and iPad. It was released alongside updates for the rest of Apple’s platforms, including the operating systems for its Watch and Macs.
The most significant new features come in iOS, including the introduction of new anti-tracking tools, a redesigned Podcasts app and the ability to ask Siri to play songs from apps other than Apple Music.
But perhaps the most awaited feature is the new tool that allows phones to be easily unlocked even if they can’t see their owners face.
The feature will be triggered when an iPhone looks at its owner’s face and sees their nose and mouth are covered with a mask. Because that covers the parts of the face used to check their identity with the Face ID recognition system, the phone is unlikely to unlock.
But the iPhone will then check whether the owner is wearing a paired Apple Watch that is on their wrist, unlocked and near the phone. That will then allow the iPhone to unlock.
When that happens, the Watch will buzz on the wrist, informing its owner that it has been used to unlock the phone. That notification also features a prominent “lock” button that can be used if the iPhone has been unlocked erroneously.
In advance of the release of the iPhone 12, some users urged Apple to re-introduce the fingerprint sensor from old phones, so that it could be unlocked while wearing a mask. But the long lead times of the iPhone means that it was likely a long way through the production process before the coronavirus outbreak – and widespread mask wearing – even began.