Why Apple Watch’s iPhone unlock changes your freakin’ face-mask life

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Why Apple Watch’s iPhone unlock will change your freakin’ life
Being able to to unlock your iPhone while wearing a face mask is the best reason yet to get an Apple Watch.
Photo: Ivan Samkov/Pexels CC

iOS 14.5 is the best update of the pandemic era because it works with your Apple Watch to remove the hassle of unlocking your iPhone while wearing a face mask. You don’t have to type in your passcode every single damn time. The phone just unlocks. Like it’s supposed to.

But the trick does require an Apple Watch. If you’ve been on the bubble about getting one, this feature should go a long way toward convincing you. It serves as yet another elegant example of how Apple’s ecosystem offers users simple solutions to modern life’s annoyances.

Unlocking your iPhone with your Apple Watch requires the iOS and watchOS versions that debuted on Monday. Get them now. Seriously.

Apple Watch iPhone unlock: You need this

A typical trip to the grocery store for me starts with walking down an aisle and glancing at the shopping list on my iPhone. Because I’m sane, I have a mask on. That means I need to type in my iPhone’s passcode to see the list.

In the next aisle, I check the shopping list again once more, again typing in the passcode to see it. It’s the same on the next aisle. And the one after that. And after that. I do this over and over until it feels like I’ve spent a third of the trip typing in the damn passcode.

But that was before I installed iOS 14.5 and strapped on an Apple Watch running watchOS 7.4. After doing so, I returned to the grocery store, glanced at my iPhone, felt a quick taptic “bump” on my Apple Watch, and the iPhone unlocked.

That’s all it takes. It feels wonderful.

Partially, it’s more convenient. Typing in the passcode whenever I’m unlocking my iPhone with a mask on has been like a stone in my shoe. Not crippling, but an irritant that went on and on.

But unlocking my iPhone with a quick glance also feels normal. And normalcy has been in very short supply during a year of pandemic lockdowns and mask mandates.

Not a security risk

Don’t be concerned that adding an Apple Watch to the mix makes your iPhone less secure. Your handset won’t unlock just because your wearable is nearby. The Watch must be on your wrist, unlocked and protected by a passcode.

Also, you still have to use Face ID. You need to look at your iPhone, which will recognize that it’s you wearing a mask. Only then will it check to see if the Apple Watch is ready to confirm your identity.

To be extra careful, you still will need to type in your passcode to pay for purchases with Apple Pay. And this feature deliberately doesn’t work to unlock individual applications. You still have to type in the passcode to unlock your banking app, for example.

Most importantly, the Apple Watch iPhone unlock trick is completely optional. You need to activate it if you want to use it. (To learn more, read the Cult of Mac guide on how to unlock your iPhone with your Apple Watch.)

Apple’s system stands in stark contrast to Google’s misnamed Smart Unlock, which lets users unlock their Android with a Fitbit. The Android will give access to anyone if that person puts on that Fitbit — very poor security.

Get iOS 14.5 and watchOS 7.4 now

The operating system upgrades you need for the Apple Watch iPhone unlock trick — iOS 14.5 and watchOS 7.4 — are out of beta testing and are available for all.

Some people hesitate about installing fresh updates because they’re worried about hidden bugs. But I’ve been running these new versions for weeks without problems. And unlocking your iPhone with an Apple Watch is so amazing it’s worth such a tiny bit of risk. Especially if you have a job that makes wearing a mask all day, every day mandatory.

Editors’ Note: We originally published this story on March 17, 2021. We updated it upon the launch of iOS 14.5 on April 26, 2021.