How to unlock your iPhone with Apple Watch while wearing a face mask in iOS 14.5

Unlocking your iPhone while wearing a mask and using long passcodes requires patience. iOS 14.5 tries to fix this issue by allowing authentication via a paired Apple Watch instead of Face ID.

faceid-applewatch-hero.jpg

Image: CNET

When 2020 started, I'm sure that no one pictured people everywhere needing to wear masks to protect others, but it's where we're at in an attempt to get back to normal under COVID-19. As iOS users transition back into offices, many are finding an unintended side effect of mask wearing: the inability to unlock your iPhone or iPad using Face ID. 

This is due to Face ID not being able to see your entire face to verify that it's you attempting to unlock your device. As a result, Apple has attempted to resolve the issue by adding mask detection to Face ID-enabled devices, which immediately prompts for a passcode when running iOS 13.5 while wearing a mask and attempting to unlock your device.

While there have been Face ID registration hacks to get your iPhone to recognize your face with a mask on, it's not recommended. It can decrease the security of your iOS devices by either failing to recognize your face, or allowing unauthorized users to access your device.

SEE: Return to work: What the new normal will look like post-pandemic (free PDF) (TechRepublic)

As a result of continued mask utilization, Apple has added a new feature to iOS 14.5 that will let you more easily unlock your iPhone using a paired Apple Watch as the authentication mechanism. This feature is available beginning in iOS 14.5, which was released on April 26, 2021.

How to install iOS 14.5 

To use the mask unlocking feature of iOS 14.5, you need to update your iPhone to the latest version of iOS. To do this, perform these steps: 

  1. Open the Settings app.

  2. Select General | Software Update.

  3. Select Download And Install when prompted.

How to install watchOS 7.4

In addition to iOS 14.5, this feature also requires that you have watchOS 7.4 installed on your Apple Watch. To update your Apple Watch, perform these steps: 

  1. Open the Watch app on your iPhone.

  2. Select General | Software Update.

  3. Select the Download And Install button when prompted. 

Note: To install an update on the Apple Watch, the watch must be at least 50% charged and placed on its charger.

How to enable Apple Watch unlocking

To allow your Apple Watch to unlock your iPhone, the feature must first be enabled on your iPhone. To do this, follow these steps:

  1. Open the Settings app on your iPhone.
  2. Select the Face ID & Passcode option.
  3. Enable the toggle for Apple Watch under the Unlock With Apple Watch section (Figure A).
  4. Agree to the details by tapping Turn On.

Figure A 

faceid-applewatch-figure-a.jpg

Once you've enabled the Apple Watch toggle in Face ID & Passcode settings, your paired Apple Watch will be eligible to unlock your iPhone.

How to unlock your iPhone with Apple Watch

If you've ever enabled the feature on macOS where your Apple Watch can unlock your Mac, then you'll recognize this feature on iPhone is almost identical to the way it functions. To begin, you'll need to be wearing your Apple Watch, and ensure that the passcode has been entered and your Apple Watch has been unlocked.

Now, simply swipe up on your iPhone as you'd unlock it normally with Face ID. As long as you're looking at the device and a portion of your face is visible, then your iPhone will unlock.

As a security measure, your paired Apple Watch will also get a notification that your iPhone has been unlocked, and it will have a notification action button called Lock iPhone (Figure B). Tapping this button on your Apple Watch will immediately lock your iPhone screen, in case you weren't the one that triggered the unlock from your iPhone.

Figure B 

faceid-applewatch-figure-b.jpg

When unlocking your iPhone with the Apple Watch, your Apple Watch will receive a notification that the device has been unlocked with the Unlock With Apple Watch feature.

A few notes on Apple Watch unlocking:

  • This feature will be used whenever your iPhone detects a mask is on a face.
  • If no mask is detected, then your iPhone will use your normal registered Face ID face to unlock the device.
  • This feature will recognize any face with a mask on and unlock your device, so long as your Apple Watch is unlocked and nearby.
  • Your Apple Watch must be protected by a passcode to use this feature.

Also see

Editor's note: This article was updated to reflect the release of iOS 14.5.

By Cory Bohon

Cory Bohon is an indie developer specializing in iOS and OS X development. He runs a software company called Cocoa App and is also a developer at MartianCraft. He was introduced to technology at an early age and has been writing about his favorite te...