Near the end of last month, Apple surprised us with the first iOS 15.4 beta, which not only came quickly on the heels of the public release of iOS 15.3, but also revealed an entirely new feature that we hadn’t even heard rumours about: the ability to use “true” mask-aware Face ID to authenticate to your iPhone.
To be clear, this latest enhancement is a big improvement over the Apple Watch-driven Face ID unlocking that came in iOS 14.5 last year. Firstly, that required that you have an Apple Watch in the first place, but even if you did, you were still limited only to unlocking your iPhone; this method couldn’t be used for Apple Pay or even to unlock apps secured with Face ID.
The new mask-aware Face ID feature in iOS 15.4 is an entirely different matter, as it doesn’t just look for a mask and then check with another device. Instead, it performs an actual Face ID scan using the upper half of your face. While that won’t be as accurate as scanning your entire face, Apple clearly feels it’s secure enough to be used for everything that normal Face ID can. That even includes Apple Pay transactions.
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From our testing over the past couple of weeks, this already works really well, and it’s safe to say that it’s going to work even better as Apple refines it throughout the beta cycle.
However, that’s far from the only thing in iOS 15.4, and the second beta reveals quite a bit more, although most of the changes still seem to be under the hood.
What’s New in iOS 15.4 Beta 2
The most prominent feature in the second iOS 15.4 beta is undoubtedly the new APIs for Tap to Pay on iPhone, the mobile payment terminal service that Apple announced earlier this week.
As expected, this is buried within the iOS 15.4 code, since as we explained yesterday, this won’t be a feature that will be implemented directly by Apple. Instead, it will be up to third-party apps and payment providers to use the APIs that Apple providers in the underlying operating system.
In other words, you’re not going to see any outward signs of it, but developers have confirmed that the new code to support it is already in there. This includes a new “PaymentReceived” sound file to provide a unique audio notification that’s distinct from a normal Apple Pay transaction, as well as a few images that show how the system will work.
It’s also notable that Apple’s launch partner for the new feature, payment provider Stripe, has already announced a closed beta, adding that the feature will be “coming this spring.” This suggests that developers of point-of-sale and payment apps can likely start building their apps now and be ready to launch as soon as iOS 15.4 is released to the public.
It’s probably fair to say that Tap to Pay on iPhone and mask-aware Face ID will make up the two marquee features of iOS 15.4, but there’s some other interesting stuff hidden in this latest beta:
- Apple appears to be inching closer to the final release of Digital IDs, which are the last big promised iOS 15 feature that we’re still waiting for. New text strings in iOS 15.4 provide additional prompts and help screens to assist users in getting started with the feature.
- New code suggests users will soon be able to report issues with audiobook narration directly in the Apple Books app.
- Mask-aware Face ID has been tweaked with some new prompts. Specifically, there’s a new message that tells users to “Look down to unlock,” since eye contact is more crucial when scanning only the top part of your face.
- The second iOS 15.4 beta also addresses a bug that could have inadvertently shared Siri recordings with Apple, even for users who had opted out. In a statement to ZDNet, Apple noted that it actually quietly fixed the problem back in iOS 15.2 by simply disabling the Improve Siri & Detection setting for many folks. It’s remained off for those users since then, but now that it’s been fully resolved, Apple is asking them if they want to opt in again, rather than just assuming. Anyone updating to iOS 15.4 anytime after this second beta will be asked whether they would like to opt in to share their audio recordings to improve Siri. Nothing will change for those who decline, as the feature has already been disabled, but it’s fair to say that those who chose to share their Siri recordings in the first place should be given an opportunity to turn this back on, since they wouldn’t have known it was turned off in the first place.
- The HomePod is getting support for captive Wi-Fi networks. This came to the first tvOS 15.4 beta for the Apple TV, so it makes sense that it’s also coming to the HomePod, where it will be particularly handy in helping college students get their speakers online in a dorm.
- Code found in iOS 15.4 also reveals that Apple is adding new frameworks to address the kind of third-party payment processing that it’s being required to allow in places like the Netherlands and South Korea.
- New code in the News and TV apps suggests that Apple is working on expanded sports integration, with a “Manage My Sports” section hidden in the News frameworks, plus sports-related terms like “Kickoff” and “First Pitch” found in the TV app’s code.
Although it’s not yet clear when we’ll see the public release of iOS 15.4, based on Apple’s usual timing for such things, we’re guessing it’s probably coming next month. This is even more likely since there’s every indication that Apple is announcing a new iPhone SE and iPad Air 5 early next month, both of which will also likely ship with iOS/iPadOS 15.4.
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