How to unlock your Mac with your Apple Watch

By , Sep 21, 2016

macOS Sierra Auto Unlock teaser 003

With Auto Unlock, a new Continuity feature from Apple, logging into your Mac is as easy as wearing an authenticated Apple Watch on your wrist—no password typing required whatsoever.

For added security, Auto Unlock uses Bluetooth proximity information to determine when the watch you’re wearing and your Mac are at an arm’s length.

In this step-by-step tutorial, we’re going to take you through the process of setting up and using Auto Unlock on your Mac.

Your devices and Apple ID must meet certain requirements for Auto Unlock to work:

Auto Unlock system requirements

Auto Unlock requires the following:

  • Mid-2013 Mac or newer running macOS Sierra or later
  • Apple Watch with watchOS 3 or later
  • iPhone 5 or newer with iOS 10 and up
  • Mac, Apple Watch and iPhone must use the same iCloud account
  • Apple Watch must have a passcode set up
  • Mac’s user account must have a password
  • Apple ID must use Two-Factor Authentication, not Two-Step Verification

If your Mac was manufactured before 2013, you won’t be able to use Auto Unlock.

See our detailed tutorial to learn how to enable Two-Factor Authentication for your Apple ID (needed for Auto Unlock to work) or upgrade from the older Two-Step Verification (which doesn’t support Auto Unlock) to Two-Factor Authentication.

How to set up Auto Unlock

1) On your Mac, go to System Preferences → Security & Privacy → General.

2) Tick the box next to “Allow Your Apple Watch to Unlock Your Mac”.

macOS Sierra System Preferences Auto Unlock MAc screenshot 001

You may be asked to provide a password for your Mac’s user account. You will also be asked to enter a password for your Apple ID account. As your Mac and Apple Watch are pairing via iCloud, you’ll see a spinning indicator and a message saying “Turning On”.

macOS Sierra System Preferences Auto Unlock MAc screenshot 002

If the message goes away and the box stays ticked, Auto Unlock has been turned on.

Using Auto Unlock

With Auto Unlock enabled, simply wear your Apple Watch when waking the Mac from sleep and just like that, you’ll be logged in and ready to go without typing any passwords. For your convenience and security, a notification pops up on your wrist as soon as your Mac is unlocked with Auto Unlock.

macOS Sierra Auto Unlock login screen Mac screenshot 001

It may take a second or two for Auto Unlock to log you into your Mac, with a message on the login screen saying ”Unlocking with Apple Watch”.

As mentioned before, Auto Unlock uses Bluetooth proximity information in order to prevent anyone from getting access to your Mac as soon as you step away from it.

Problems with Auto Unlock?

If you get a message saying Auto Unlock cannot be enabled at this time, or you don’t see the checkbox, try restarting your Mac. It usually takes several minutes for the checkbox to show up in the Security and Privacy preference pane.

If the checkbox is not visible after you restart the computer, read the system requirements to double check that your Mac model is supported. As stated, Auto Unlock is supported by Mac models introduced in mid 2013 or later.

You also need an Apple Watch with watchOS 3 and an iPhone 5 or later to use Auto Unlock and all your devices must use the same iCloud account. You cannot use Auto Unlock on an iPhone.

If your Apple Watch doesn’t show up as a trusted device on the Apple ID webpage, Auto Unlock won’t work. If that’s the case, you may want to unpair the watch from your iPhone, then pair it back up again to resolve this issue.

Is the Automatic Login option enabled in System Preferences → Users & Groups → Login Options? If so, disable it because it may clash with Auto Unlock.

macOS Sierra System Preferences disable automatic login Mac screenshot 001

Cannot use Auto Unlock to log into your Mac following a restart?

This is by design—Auto Unlock can be used to get into your Mac after it’s awoken from sleep, but you’ll still need to enter your account password after powering on or restarting the computer, similar to how iOS requires you to enter a passcode after a restart.

Auto Unlock cannot be used to automatically lock your Mac when you step away.

Wrapping it all up

Auto Unlock is one of those features that “just work” and a real time-saver. If you’re concerned about your security or use a strong password for your Mac’s account, Auto Unlock will make re-typing incorrectly entered passwords a thing of the past.

It also strengthens your Mac’s security because passwords can be intercepted, even on the login screen, by malicious software like key loggers.

What has your experience with Auto Unlock been so far? Were you able to set it up successfully at the first attempt or did you have to jump through hoops a couple times until it worked?

  • Share:
  • Follow:
  • LanceTX

    I could not get Auto Unlock to work even though I met all of the system requirements listed and had also gone in and turned off two-step authentication and then successfully setup two-factor in its place.

    Turns out that the missing link was that my Apple Watch was not showing up as a trusted device. The only way I could figure out to accomplish that was to Unpair it from my iPhone and then turn right around and Pair it back up again. Auto Unlock has now been working fine ever since.

    • Zach Krase

      haha! I just wrote the same thing!

      • LanceTX

        Believe me it was frustrating because I couldn’t find it documented anywhere how to actually make the Watch become a trusted device under the new two-factor system! I’m just glad I finally thought to try unpairing and then pairing it back up again which worked.

      • Thanks, added a paragraph to tell other readers about it

  • Zach Krase

    Just a friendly tip, I had the old two factor setup and I had to adjust to the new two factor authentication system to set this up. After adjusting to the new Authentication system, after shutting my Mac, iPhone, and Apple Watch off and back on, I still did not have the option under the system preferences. I had to re-pair my watch to get the option to return to my Mac.

  • Hussain Alsanona
    • Albert

      It should

      • Yes

      • JohannASSburg

        I’ve done all the steps in the guide, turned of two factor, restarted everything, checked the device list, are we sure it can work on early 2013 Macs? I also have the Retina 13 inch early 2013…

    • Knyw413

      Sorry man, I also have the same machine, but it just doesn’t work.

      And as it turns out, because it doesn’t only uses Bluetooth LE but also the time-of-flight WiFi, which means it requires a Mac with a 802.11ac card. And only Mid-2013 and later macs equipped with ac cards…..

  • Scott

    Why do you need an Apple Watch? Why can’t I use just my iPhone?

    • Jeffrey

      Because Apple wants you to buy an Apple Watch 🙂

      • Scott

        I hate that they’ve become that type of company. I used to want their products but now I feel like I’m forced to buy them instead. Very disappointing.

      • Jeffrey

        Well yeah, but Apple has always done this kind of stuff, for example, Siri on the iPhone 4s, it wouldn’t run on the iPhone 4 because Apple wanted us to upgrade to the 4s…

        Even though Apple does this, I feel like it’s normal for such companies and they have to, and I personally don’t feel forced to buy their stuff to get new features… But I do get your point and respect that you do feel that way though…

      • Scott

        I remember when Apple pulled that. I turned to my friend and said, “well, that’s the end of the Apple that innovated and gave a crap about customers.” And I was absolutely right.

        I know what you mean about companies wanting customers to buy new stuff, but it used to be because it was radically different and you really saw a huge benefit to the upgrade. They had clearly worked hard to create something amazing. Unfortunately, Apple realized that they had become a fashion statement and that people will buy anything with an Apple logo, regardless of what it does or costs. It’s a status symbol to the vast majority of Apple “fans” now and that’s why I really miss the old Apple.

        I’ll say one thing for their innovativity: the new AirPods (while a touch overpriced..) look incredible. That was the reveal that excited me the most at the September event. An engineering marvel, that team did an awesome job. Put those guys on the next Apple Watch 🙂

      • Jeffrey

        Hahah yeah I agree that Apple hasn’t really innovated much the past couple of years (since TouchID in my opinion), and I really feel sad about the fact that Apple has let me down time upon time the past years but I do think that it has become much much harder to innovate on smartphones because there just isn’t a lot left to put on a smartphone…

        That said I do also miss the old Apple, the iPhone 2017 (8?) is Apple’s last chance to show us that Apple still knows how to innovate. I’m hoping for REAL wireless charging, curved glass screen (not saying that’s innovative but it’s still nice), real waterproofing (shower, swimming), a beautifull screen with very thin bezels and an in-screen TouchID. If they bring me an iPhone with those features, my faith in Apple will be back 🙂

      • Just glad it doesn’t require the seriers one or two..

      • Jeffrey

        Yeah indeed, too bad it requires a mid 2013 or later MacBook and I have an early 2013 MacBook…

      • yup that sucks. I updated my 2011 with new bluetooth/wifi chip I wonder what else they need..

      • Jeffrey

        Nothing but it’s the software I think…

    • Warren L Shafor

      Winter is coming time to put a scarf on

  • VotaNO

    Never worked for me

  • Can we use the same tweak we used before to enable the continuity and hand-off? What else does the Mac need other than the newer BT/WiFi chip?