How to unlock your iPhone with Apple Watch

Unlocking your iPhone with Face ID when wearing a face mask used to be challenging, but not anymore. With iOS 14.5, you can now unlock the iPhone with your Apple Watch even while wearing a face mask. We show you how to configure and use this helpful time-saving feature.

Apple has created this exciting new capability in iOS 14.5 to make unlocking your iPhone more convenient during the global COVID-19 pandemic. If your iPhone uses Face ID, you probably dislike the unlocking experience while wearing a mask as the areas around your mouth and nose must be visible to the TrueDepth camera in order for Face ID to work reliably.

Face ID in the COVID-19 age

With the release of iOS 13.5 in April 2020, Apple has made it somewhat easier for iPhone customers to skip Face ID immediately when wearing a mask. The trick is in swiping up to immediately skip the Face ID session in progress and jump to the passcode entry screen.

But you still had to punch in your passcode.

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With iOS 14.5, you can now unlock your iPhone just by wearing your passcode-protected Apple Watch. Despite much lower facial recognition accuracy due to wearing a mask, this feature works in a secure manner because a user’s nearby Apple Watch is already authenticated.

All you need is an iPhone X or newer with Face ID and iOS 14.5 installed along with an Apple Watch Series 3 or later running the watchOS 7.4 or later software. Follow along to learn how to unlock your iPhone with Apple Watch while wearing a mask.

How to set up unlock iPhone with Apple Watch

Before you can unlock your iPhone with Face ID while wearing a mask, you must set up the option to allow the handset to be unlocked with the Apple Watch in the first place.

  1. Open the Settings app on your iPhone/iPad with iOS/iPadOS 14.5 or later.
  2. Choose “Face ID & Passcode” from the root list, then enter your passcode if requested.
  3. Toggle the switch next to “Unlock With Apple Watch” to the ON position.

You may see the option greyed out. If so, update your Apple Watch to watchOS 7.4 or later. With the feature configured, you can now unlock your handset just by wearing your watch.

How to unlock iPhone with Apple Watch

Simply bring up the handset close to your face to initiate a Face ID scan.

For security purposes, you’ll be asked to manually enter your passcode the first time you do that. After that, you” be able to unlock the handset with Face ID like you normally would, even if wearing a mask. You will feel haptic feedback on the wrist confirming the watch has unlocked the phone—and that’s how you unlock your iPhone faster while wearing a face mask!

With this feature configured, you’ll also be able to lock your iPhone from your Apple Watch. Other actions, such as approving the App Store purchases, continue to require a facial scan.

A photo illustrating how to unlock iPhone with Apple Watch while wearing a mask

The operating system will require your password again to re-enable the feature after the iPhone has restarted or the watch got removed from your wrist. In order for this feature to work, your watch must be on your wrist, in the Bluetooth range and unlocked.

If you haven’t set up a passcode on the watch, you can do so in the companion Watch app on your iPhone: tap My Watch → Passcode, then enable the option labeled “Turn Passcode On”.

Don’t forget you can also use your Apple Watch to unlock your Mac, as well as approve various macOS system requests and access your saved passwords.