How to use Apple Watch, Mac and iPhone to unlock each other
Apple made the iPhone the center of your digital life, becoming a media, email, health and security hub of sorts. An Apple Watch is an even further distillation of truly personal technology. Apple relies on proximity and other signals to allow a Watch, iPhone and Mac to unlock each other without requiring additional authentication.
You can unlock from one device to another in the following combinations.
Unlock iPhone with Face ID using an Apple Watch
Apple added a feature in iOS 14.5 and watchOS 7.4 to help with the problem of masks obscuring faces from correct Face ID recognition. IN Settings > Face ID and password, you can enable Unlock with Apple Watch. This only works with iPhones that have Face ID and you have Face ID active.
To use the watch to unlock iPhone, you must have a passcode set for the watch and wrist detection enabled; The watch must then be on the wrist and unlocked. (Use the Watch app’s passcode settings to add a passcode and turn on wrist detection.) Wi-Fi and Bluetooth must also be enabled on both devices. Your watch and iPhone must be within approx. 10 meters (33 feet), the standard distance given for Bluetooth, but the range can vary – closer will work more reliably than further away.
Furthermore, the iPhone must fail to unlock via Face ID due to facial coverings as identified by iOS. Then, and only then, the iPhone is unlocked via authentication from the watch. When it works, you’ll get a couple of vibrations via haptic feedback on your watch, and a banner will briefly appear on your iPhone. A lock button also appears momentarily on your watch, which you can press if you accidentally unlocked your iPhone. If you tap Lock, you’ll need to use your passcode to unlock your iPhone the next time you do so.
While that seems like a lot of conditions, I’ve seen it work consistently even when Face ID with a mask is also enabled in it Settings > Face ID and password on the iPhone and Face ID fails to recognize me right away.
For more information read: How to use Face ID to unlock iPhone while wearing a face mask
Unlock Apple Watch from an iPhone
Conversely, you can use your iPhone to unlock the watch. Go to in the Watch app Password and activate Unlock with iPhone. If you just put the watch on your wrist or it’s locked for some other reason, locking the nearby iPhone will also unlock the watch. Your iPhone will briefly display a banner with a lock button that you can press to cancel the operation. If you don’t tap it, your watch will be unlocked.
This feature appeared early on the watch — so early that Apple didn’t document when it was first available. You can use it with any working watch and iPhone paired with it.
Unlock a Mac from an Apple Watch
In 2016, Apple updated macOS to let you unlock your computer via a nearby clock. It works with all Watch models and most Mac models running macOS versions released since late 2016. The Watch and the Mac must be signed in to the same Apple ID, and two-factor authentication must be enabled on the Apple ID account . (Apple sherlocked Knock, an app that can use an iPhone or Watch to unlock your Mac.)
Go to System selection > Security and privacy > General and tick “Use Apple Watch to unlock apps and your Mac”. Enter your administrative password. macOS then communicates with the watch, which must be unlocked and on the wrist, and activates the feature.
In the upcoming macOS 13 Ventura, you may be prompted to turn on the unlock feature, as I was after enabling it on another Mac on my network that was still running macOS 12 Monterey. To enable it, go to System settings > Press ID and password and activate the function under Apple Watch.
The next time your Mac is locked, just being nearby while wearing the watch will unlock macOS. The usual disclaimers apply: it only works for unlocking not login. You’ll need to enter your Mac account password after a restart, restart from shutdown, or sign in if you’ve logged out but not shut down.
This feature also lets you use your watch instead of entering an administrative password or using Touch ID on equipped Macs or with the Magic Keyboard with Touch ID on Apple silicon M-series Macs. Your watch uses haptics for attention and then asks you to double-click the side button to approve.
As a security measure, Apple won’t let you unlock your Mac if your screen is shared.
Apple recommends that you check if this feature will work on your Mac: hold down Option and select > System Information and click WiFi. Auto Unlock will appear as a line item and the app will show Supported if it works on your Mac.
Read: How to unlock a Mac with an Apple Watch for more advice. We also cover how to unlock a Mac with an iPhone separately.
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