How to unlock your Mac with your Apple Watch

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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”.

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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”.

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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.

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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.

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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?