Apple Releases iOS 15.4 and iPadOS 15.4, Bringing New Emoji, Face ID While Wearing a Mask, Universal Control, and a New US Siri Voice

Member of the AppleVis Editorial Team

Apple has today released iOS 15.4 and iPadOS 15.4, bringing a slew of new features and enhancements.

Our experience is that the following bugs specific to VoiceOver and braille users have been resolved or significantly addressed in these releases:

At the time of writing, we are aware of one new bug in these releases for braille users:

As we always stress, we can make no claims on the completeness or accuracy of our testing. We are only a small team, and it is simply impossible for us to test all devices, configurations, applications, and use cases. Accordingly, to help us ensure that the information on this page is as complete and accurate as possible, please let us know in the comments of any additional fixes; enhancements; or regressions that you find in your own use of iOS 15.4 and iPadOS 15.4.

New Features and Enhancements

iOS 15.4 and iPadOS 15.4 add a number of new features and enhancements, including new emoji, the ability to use Face ID while wearing a mask, Universal Control, improvements to iCloud Keychain, and a new US Siri voice.

As is common for Apple's major Spring releases, iOS 15.4 and iPadOS 15.4 bring new emoji characters - 37 emoji and 75 skin tone additions for a total of 112 new characters.

According to MacRumors,“new faces include melting face, saluting face, face with open eyes and hand over mouth, face with peeking eye, face with diagonal mouth, and dotted line face, while new emojis include biting lip and bubbles.”

There are several new hand emojis, such as heart hands, rightwards hand, leftwards hand, palm down hand, palm up hand, hand with index finger and thumb crossed, index pointing at the viewer, along with an update to the handshake emoji.

Nest with eggs, empty nest, x-ray, crutch, playground slide, wheel, ring buoy, hamsa, mirror ball, jar, identification card, and low battery are new items, while plants and animals will include coral and lotus. As for fantasy characters, we can expect a new troll emoji, and eggs, beans, and pouring liquid make up new food items.

For those with an iPhone 12 or newer, you now have the option to unlock your device while wearing a mask. This uses the area around your eyes for authentication purposes. It works with glasses, but not sunglasses. Significantly for members of our community, it also requires that you are looking at your device. This does not require that ‘Require Attention for Face ID’ is enabled, but Apple does state that “Face ID will always require attention when you’re wearing a mask.”

iPadOS 15.4 and macOS Monterey 12.3 bring support for Universal Control, which allows you to use a single cursor and keyboard to control the Macs and iPads that are signed into your iCloud account. This means that if you have a MacBook and an iPad, for example, the MacBook's trackpad and keyboard can be used to navigate and control the iPad.

We've not had an opportunity to test the operation of Universal Control with VoiceOver, so please share your own experience below of this feature. Is it compatible with VoiceOver? Does it allow for seamless transition between devices as it does for sighted users? We look forward to hearing your experiences.

There are a number of enhancements to iCloud Keychain. The first of these is that you can now add a note to password entries in Keychain, which brings iCloud Keychain a step closer to being a fully fledged password manager.

Next up is the ability to hide alerts about potentially weak or compromised passwords. This may be helpful for passwords which you aren't able to change, such as those provided to you by a company or agency. Previously dismissed alerts can be viewed under ‘Hidden Security Recommendations’ in Password settings.

The final enhancement to iCloud Keychain, is that you will be prompted to provide a username when saving a password‌‌‌‌ in Safari and a username has not automatically been detected.

Prior to these releases, it was possible to use your own email domains with Apple Mail, but the initial setup had to be done on the iCloud website. It is now possible to do this directly on your device by navigating to Settings > Apple ID > iCloud‌ > iCloud‌ Mail. Note that custom email domains require a paid iCloud+ storage plan.

The final new feature we will mention here, is a new US Siri voice, simply labeled “America (Voice 5).” This voice is available to be used with VoiceOver, and is less explicitly male or female, with Apple telling Axios that it hired “a member of the LGBTQ+ community” to record it.

Apple's release notes below set out what else is new and changed in iOS 15.4 and iPadOS 15.4.

iOS 15.4 Release Notes

iOS 15.4 adds the ability to unlock with Face ID while wearing a mask on iPhone 12 and newer. This update also includes new emoji, a new voice option for Siri, and other features and bug fixes for your iPhone.

Face ID

  • Face ID while wearing a mask option on iPhone 12 and newer
  • Apple Pay and password autofill in apps and Safari can be used with Face ID while wearing a mask

Emoji

  • New emoji including faces, hand gestures, and household objects are now available in emoji keyboard
  • Handshake emoji allows you to choose separate skin tones for each hand

FaceTime

  • SharePlay sessions can be initiated directly from supported apps

Siri

  • Siri can provide time and date information while offline on iPhone XS, iPhone XR, iPhone 11 or newer
  • Siri now includes an additional voice, expanding the diversity of options

Vaccine cards

  • EU Digital COVID Certificate support in Health enables you to download and store verifiable versions of COVID-19 vaccination, lab results, and recovery records
  • COVID-19 vaccination cards in Apple Wallet now support the EU Digital COVID Certificate format

This release also includes the following enhancements for your iPhone:

  • Safari webpage translation adds support for Italian and Chinese (Traditional)
  • Podcasts app adds episode filters for seasons, played, unplayed, saved, or downloaded episodes
  • iCloud custom email domains can be managed from Settings
  • News offers enhanced discovery of audio content in the Today feed and Audio tab
  • Camera in keyboard can be used to add text to Notes and Reminders
  • Shortcuts now supports adding, removing, or querying tags with Reminders
  • Emergency SOS settings have changed to use Call with Hold for all users. Call with 5 Presses is still available as an option in Emergency SOS settings
  • Close-up in Magnifier uses the ultra-wide camera on iPhone 13 Pro and iPhone 13 Pro Max to help you see small objects
  • Saved passwords can now include your own notes in Settings

This release also includes bug fixes for your iPhone:

  • Keyboard may insert period between typed numbers
  • News widgets in Today View may not open articles when tapped
  • Photos and videos may not sync to iCloud Photo Library
  • Speak Screen Accessibility feature may quit unexpectedly within the Books app
  • Live Listen may not turn off when switched off in Control Center

How to Update

iOS 15.4 and iPadOS 15.4 are available via Over-the-Air Update (Settings > General > Software Update) via Finder on a Mac with macOS Catalina or later, or via iTunes on a PC or Mac with macOS Mojave or earlier.

Before updating, we strongly recommend making a full and complete backup of your device (either locally or in iCloud, depending on personal preference). This will ensure that, in the unlikely event that something goes wrong during the update process, you will have a current backup on hand in case a device restore becomes necessary. Also, if using OTA update, we recommend plugging your device into a power source for the duration of the download/installation process, so as to prevent the unlikely event of your battery going dead during the update.

More information on how to update the software on your device is available on this Apple Support page.

As always, we look forward to hearing your thoughts and experiences of the new features and enhancements in these releases, so please let us know by posting a comment below.

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Comments

Submitted by alex wallis on Monday, March 14, 2022

Another nice feature is that if you have set up automations in the shortcuts app, you now have the option to disable notifications when run. I'm personally taking advantage of this so that I don't get notifications come up when my automations run to speak changes in the charge state that i've set up. This means that my automations will still automatically run, I just don't need notifications to tell me that they have run from the shortcuts app. You have to set this setting for each automation you want to change.

Submitted by Jo Billard on Tuesday, March 15, 2022

What a disappointment! I have a brand-new 13 Mini and I won't be able to unlock my phone with a mask since I can't look at the phone. What a waste!

Submitted by Skippy on Tuesday, March 15, 2022

For the first time, in a long time, I got all 3 of my activity rings today, thanks to Apple fitness+, and its new audio hints feature for voiceover users.
I think it’s really cool, that that feature enables itself, automatically, if you’re using voiceover.

Submitted by Jenna Pepper on Tuesday, March 15, 2022

Club AppleVis Member

Overall, I quite like the new Siri voice. It’s not as expressive as I would like, but the pitch and resonance are pleasing. It’s firmly androgynous, featuring some feminine and masculine qualities. It sounds a bit nasal, and has some headspace like you were typically here on a woman. It also has some chest resonance and buzzyness like you were would on a man. If I had to guess, I would say that it was probably done by somebody either transfeminine or trans non-binary.

Submitted by Earle on Tuesday, March 15, 2022

I am using face ID with a mask and I'm having no problems at all. I've been testing this feature throughout the beta cycle and I'm very happy with it. I'm using an iPhone 12 pro and I'm totally blind. You can use the unlock with a mask feature even if you don't have face ID requires attention on. Although I recommend having requires attention turned on if possible because it is more secure.

Submitted by ming on Tuesday, March 15, 2022

well, when I am wearing a mask
and trying to unlock my phone.
my phone seems can not detect anything.
and locked again.

Submitted by Skippy on Tuesday, March 15, 2022

Hi,
I wear glasses, then have a double prescription.
As part of the Face ID set up, you have the option of adding classes.
I could not get this to work, so called Apple Accessability.
They said that my phone probably can’t see the portion of my face that it needs to, in order to make this feature work properly, and put in some feedback on my behalf.
Also, voiceover is not very helpful in that area. It only tells you when your face is out of you.

Submitted by Oliver Kennett on Tuesday, March 15, 2022

So, I had a quick play with my macbook air and ipad and, with trackpad commander on and sweeping towards the iPad, it does seem to spill over and have some control. Now, from my understanding, voiceover control on iPad is spotty at best, so maybe it is acting correctly. Unfortunately I couldn't find any way of using the macbook's keyboard to control the iPad.

I'm wondering if it only applies to text fields. I'll have to do some more testing, but I have also emailed apple accessibility to ask them about it. It seems silly that there isn't a shortcut to throw keyboard control back and forth from a handoff device, even if we can't use pointer devices.

Submitted by Earle on Tuesday, March 15, 2022

I don't wear glasses so I can't comment on face ID with a mask and glasses. I can only say I'm using this feature successfully as a totally blind person. I'm glad Apple added this in 15.4.

Submitted by Clare Page on Tuesday, March 15, 2022

Hi! I updated my iPhone SE 2020 to IOS 15.4 a few hours ago, and I've already noticed two improvements since then. Notifications no longer repeat themselves: before today's update I'd have VoiceOver saying "now" or "X minutes ago" before it spoke the notification for the first time, and the exact time of the notification the second time. Also, since I got IOS 15, my rotor had an annoying habit of randomly jumping out of Braille Screen Input without me turning it when I was using that: as far as I can tell from using BSI today, that doesn't happen any more, I can braille on the screen without having to turn the rotor from time to time to get back into BSI.

Submitted by Bruce Harrell on Tuesday, March 15, 2022

Hi All.

I was surprised to stumble onto an Apple support article claiming we can go backwards to a previous MacOS whenever we choose. the page gives instructions and links to a variety of prior operating systems, going back quite a ways. Smile. Here's the link:

https://support.apple.com/en-us/HT211683

Anyway, I imagine there are a few people who regret they upgraded to Monterey. The link is for you.

Joy!

Bruce

Submitted by Maldalain on Tuesday, March 15, 2022

Panning issue still exists. Wondering what Apple is doing!

Submitted by tripolice on Wednesday, March 16, 2022

The long-standing problem of VO focus unreliably jumping from one element to other remains. This problem appears mainly on the homescreen where, regardless of which app ikon you touched before opening an app, the focus jumps to the first item when one comes back to the homescreen.

Also, the focus is extremely unreliable on recent calls tab in the native phone app, to the extent that most of thetime VO interacts with a different item than the one one is trying to interact with, resulting in accidental calls.

Submitted by Scott Davert on Wednesday, March 16, 2022

Member of the AppleVis Editorial Team

I'm finding that the System tables give me less issues with panning than Liblouis. I wonder if others also have noticed the same thing?

Submitted by Bingo Little on Wednesday, March 16, 2022

Tell you what, fooks, I'm guessing I'm the only one with this issue because I've now flagged it twice elsewhere and nobody has said they have the same thing. So I'm flagging it again as it has carried over: UK Siri female voice is still swearing at me! Or rather, its expletives are being bleeped out. Honestly, it's like listening to a well-spoken female Gordon Ramsay! i have worked out that the bleep kicks in every time she encounters the letter V followed by a vowell. So it's v-bleep-oiceover, nav-bleep-igation, the Police and criminal Ev-bleep-idence Act 1984, you get the idea. It seems to happen ev-bleep-ery time this combo of letters is encountered and it's bleepin' annoying! The best that can be said is it's consistent. Can anyone explain what's going on? I've deleted and redownloaded in order to try and recov-bleep-er normal behav-bleep-iour but nothing works. I give-bleep up - yes, it does occur at the end of words too, which means words like give, have, I've are off the menu and if I worked in the financial services sector specialising in derivitives I'd be in a right old state! Am I really the only one experiencing this? Using an iPhone 13 and now running 15.4 with no change.

Still reading? Well, on panning I do tend to find the system tables give me far less trouble. Generally, in fact, I think the system table (at least with UEB) works better than Liblouis. I occasionally switch to Liblouis as for some reason it is better at translating certain things like fractions, but I've encountered a fair share of translation problems with Liblouis when I've tried it for general use whereas the system table is pretty nailed on accurate. I have UEB Liblouis and UEB system available and changing on the fly is very easy - just a two-finger flick up when you're in braille screen input in case folk have forgotten.

Submitted by Curtis Chong on Wednesday, March 16, 2022

With the update to iOS 15.4, VoiceOver now says that buttons and other things are images as well as telling you what the button is. This is excesively talkative given that I have turned off all of the description and text recognition functions. Is anyone else noticing this problem?

Submitted by Bingo Little on Wednesday, March 16, 2022

So jsut after I said the system table worked better I'm noticing some very odd translation issues. For example, Voiceover crashes every time I type the sign that indicates a change from block capitals back to lower case (dot 6, dot 3) as in words like MPs or NCOs. it also seems to have a problem translating the word 'just' as in J on its own. Liblouis no such problems.

Submitted by Holger Fiallo on Wednesday, March 16, 2022

Well still get notification repeating twice. Now it says. Notification, notification and whatever it is be it message or news. Nuts.

Submitted by Holger Fiallo on Wednesday, March 16, 2022

In iOS 14, whenever I muted phone and screen was lock, VO did not speak notification. Now iOS 15.4 does speaks. But! This is a major pain for me.

Submitted by Missy Hoppe on Wednesday, March 16, 2022

This feature doesn't work for me either. I set it up, but when I tried to unlock while wearing a mask, literally nothing happened. It didn't even try or give me an error or anything. I tried enabling attention, just to see if it would help, but no luck. Not sure it matters, but apart from light perception, I'm totally blind, and my "good" eye is constantly rotating; I have absolutely no control of its movement. So, while I'm disappointed that I can't use face ID with a mask, I'm choosing to be thankful for the fact that this update fixed the double reading of notifications. That made updating more than worthwhile in my book.

Submitted by Missy Hoppe on Wednesday, March 16, 2022

I've never experienced this bleeping voice thing, but it definitely sounds like it would be annoying. The voice is very pleasant, but due to some annoying pronunciation quirks that not even the pronunciation dictionary can fix, I can't use the voice. They'd have to make some major, major improvements before I'd ever switch away from using good old Alex for VO. As for siri, I've become partial to the Irish female voice. Have you contacted Apple accessibility team about the bleeping thing? That sounds like something that urgently needs to be fixed, and I can't imagine how the voice made it through testing with such a serious glitch.

Submitted by Jo Billard on Monday, March 21, 2022

One little blip and nothing more. I thought the scan was happening, but since Voiceover didn't say anything, that obviously wasn't the case.

Submitted by Taeshim on Friday, April 1, 2022

Hi, I'm waiting on a new phone and still using the iPhone 6s plus and was curious if anyone on here still has a 6s plus and can share how well ios 15.4.1 works on the 6s plus? I'm still on the latest ios 14 and not sure if I should update it...
Thank you