When Apple first shipped the Apple Watch earlier this year, its software wasn’t capable of Activation Lock—the technology that Apple uses to prevent someone from activating a lost or stolen iOS device without first validating ownership.
Activation Lock is a feature that first appeared with the introducion of iOS 7. It works by preventing an iOS device from being activated after being reset without first disabling Find My iPhone. By enabling Find My iPhone, a user is effectively enabling Activation Lock, therefore providing a layer of protection against would be thieves.
When we first reported that Activation Lock didn’t ship with watchOS 1, many users were perplexed. Why wouldn’t Apple include such a feature in its popular wearable? After all, Activation Lock has been credited with reducing iPhone thefts by as much as 50% in some regions.
While we never were told exactly why Activation Lock didn’t ship with watchOS 1, chances are that it just wasn’t ready at the time. With watchOS 2, however, things have changed. As Apple promised back at WWDC 2015, Activation Lock is included with its latest watchOS update…and it works.
How to use Activation Lock on Apple Watch
Using Activation Lock is super easy on the Apple Watch. To do so, just make sure each of the following are true:
- You’re running watchOS 2 on your Apple Watch
- You’re signed in to your Apple ID account inside the Watch app
- You’re signed in with iCloud on your paired iPhone and have Find My iPhone enabled
Update to watchOS 2
If you’ve yet to update to watchOS 2 on your Apple Watch, you’ll need to do that first. Learn how to update to watchOS 2 using this tutorial.
Sign in with your Apple ID
You can sign in with your Apple ID during the initial Apple Watch setup process, or you can do so after the fact in Watch → General → Apple ID.
Sign in with your Apple ID during initial setup (left) or via Apple Watch settings (right)
Enable Find My iPhone
You must enable Find My iPhone on the iPhone that is paired with your Apple Watch. To do so, go to Settings → iCloud → Find My iPhone and enable the Find My iPhone switch.
What Activation Lock means for Apple Watch
Enabling Activation Lock by following the above steps means that your Apple Watch is essentially worthless if stolen. Similar to iOS, a thief would have to correctly guess both your Apple ID and password in order to bypass the activation screen that appears after resetting an Activation Lock-enabled Apple Watch. The chances of that happening are slim to none.
Here is what a thief will see when trying to pair a stolen Apple Watch:
So unless the thief can figure out your Apple ID user name (Apple truncates this for added security) and your Apple ID password, the Apple Watch can never be activated, and as such, it’s effectively worthless on the resale market.
With watchOS 1, this wasn’t the case. A thief could simply factory reset the Apple Watch with a couple of button presses and pair the Apple Watch with another device. With watchOS 2, the Apple Watch can still be just as easily factory reset, but if Activation Lock was previously enabled, it can’t be paired until the Apple ID and Password of the last paired device is validated.
Apple has made good on its promise to add Activation Lock security in watchOS 2. Now it’s up to Apple Watch owners to take advantage of said security.