How to Unlock iPhone and Mac with Apple Watch

Your Apple Watch can do more than mirror your phone’s notifications or track your activities. It can also be the key to unlocking both your iPhone and your Mac.

The feature is especially handy when you’re wearing sunglasses or have part of your face covered, so using Face ID will be tricky. Also, in the case of your Mac, you will no longer have to enter your password after each alarm clock. Let us show you how to unlock your iPhone and Mac with an Apple Watch.

How to Unlock iPhone with Apple Watch

Face ID doesn’t work when you’re wearing sunglasses or your iPhone is in landscape orientation. Fortunately, in such cases, you can use the “Unlock with Apple Watch” feature to unlock your iPhone.

Preconditions:

  • An iPhone with Face ID (iPhone X or newer) running iOS 14.5 or later.
  • An Apple Watch Series 3 or newer, running watchOS 7.4 or later.
  • Bluetooth and Wi-Fi enabled on your iPhone and Apple Watch.
  • Password setup and wrist detection enabled on your Apple Watch.

1. Set up Unlock with Apple Watch on iPhone

To set up “Unlock with Apple Watch” on iPhone, follow these steps:

  1. Launch the “Settings” app on your iPhone.
Unlock with the Apple Watch Settings app
  1. Scroll down to the “Face ID & Passcode” section and tap it.
Unlock with Apple Watch Face ID and Password
  1. Enter your iPhone password.
Unlock with Apple Watch Enter your password
  1. On the “Face ID & Passcode” settings page, scroll down to the “Unlock with Apple Watch” section and turn on the switch next to your Apple Watch name.
Unlock with Apple Watch Enable Toggle
  1. A confirmation prompt will tell you how and when the “Unlock with Apple Watch” feature works. Tap the “Enable” text to give final permission.
Unlock with Apple Watch Enable Feature

That’s all you need to set up unlock with Apple Watch on iPhone.

2. Use Unlock with Apple Watch on iPhone

  1. When you want to unlock your iPhone, tap on its screen.
  2. You will feel haptic feedback on your wrist and receive a notification on your Apple Watch saying “Unlocked by this Apple Watch”.
Unlock with Apple Watch
  1. The notification has a “Lock iPhone” button. If you didn’t want to unlock your iPhone, tap it to instantly lock your iPhone. Keep in mind that tapping Lock iPhone will disable “Your iPhone Unlocked by This Apple Watch” until you enter your iPhone passcode.

Unlocking your iPhone with Apple Watch has some limitations. For security reasons, it does not verify your identity to pay for App Store purchases, pay with Apple Pay, grant you access to saved passwords in iCloud Keychain, or unlock password-protected apps . However, you can use these features by entering your iPhone passcode.

How to unlock your Mac with Apple Watch

Like “Unlock with Apple Watch” on your iPhone, you can unlock your Mac with your Apple Watch using “Auto Unlock”.

1. Check Auto Unlock

Apple has set specific requirements for the “Auto Unlock” feature to work. Your Mac must be mid-2013 or newer running macOS Sierra or later. Here’s how you can check your Mac model and auto-unlock support:

  1. On your Mac, tap the Apple logo in the upper left corner of the menu bar.
Unlock Mac with Apple Watch White Apple Logo Menu Bar
  1. In the Apple menu options, click “About This Mac”.
Unlock Mac with Apple Watch Tap About This Mac
  1. You’ll find your Mac model under its OS version, along with the year it was released (in this case, it’s 2020).
Unlock Mac with Apple Watch About This Mac Screen on Mac
  1. If you want to make sure your Mac supports “Auto Unlock” or not, tap on “System Report”
  2. Next, expand “Network Information” and tap Wi-Fi in the left sidebar. Look for “Auto Unlock: Supported” in the Interfaces section of the Wi-Fi information page.
Unlock Mac with Supported Apple Watch Auto Unlock

Once you’ve verified that your Mac supports auto-unlocking, there are a few other things you need to check:

  • Both Bluetooth and Wi-Fi are enabled on your Mac.
  • You are not using Internet Sharing or Screen Sharing on your Mac.
  • You’re signed in to iCloud with the same Apple ID on your Apple Watch and Mac.
  • Your Apple ID has two-factor authentication enabled.
  • Your Apple Watch model is running watchOS 3 or later.
  • Your Apple Watch has a password.

2. Set Up Auto Unlock on Mac

If you meet all the requirements, follow the steps below to set up “auto unlock” on your Mac.

  1. Tap the white Apple logo in the upper left corner of your Mac screen.
Unlock Mac with Apple Watch White Apple Logo Menu Bar
  1. In the Apple menu options, tap on “System Preferences”.
Unlock Mac with Apple Watch Tap System Preferences
  1. You can also open “System Preferences” from Launchpad or do a quick Spotlight search.
  2. Under “System Preferences”, tap on “Security & Privacy”.
Unlock Mac with Apple Watch System Preferences on Mac
  1. By default, this should take you to the General tab. If this is not the case for you, just tap on the General tab yourself.
Unlock Mac with Apple Watch Enable using your Apple Watch to unlock apps and your Mac
  1. Once there, check the option “Use your Apple Watch to unlock apps and your Mac”.
  2. You’ll get a “System Preferences is trying to change your system settings” prompt. Enter your Mac password in the box below and press “Change Settings”.
Unlock Mac with Apple Watch Change Settings on Mac

Once all this is done, you will be able to unlock your Mac using Apple Watch.

3. Use Auto Unlock on Mac

  1. To use “Auto Unlock” on Mac, bring your Apple Watch closer to your Mac and wait for a few seconds.
  2. You’ll hear a sound, feel haptic feedback, and receive a notification on your Apple Watch that says “Your MacBook unlocked by this Apple Watch.”
Unlock Mac with Apple Watch Auto Unlock

4. Approving other password requests

There are several cases where Mac needs to enter the password before making changes. This includes unlocking Settings in System Preferences, viewing saved passwords in Safari Preferences, unlocking a locked note in Apple Notes, approving a new app install, and more.

You can authorize these password requests using the Apple Watch. For example, when you want to make changes in “System Preferences”, you can double-click the side button on your Apple Watch to approve the password request.

Unlock Mac with Apple Watch Double Click to Approve

Frequently Asked Questions

1. Is unlocking iPhone/Mac with Apple Watch safe?

Apple uses “Time of flight” as a security mechanism to secure “Unlock with Apple Watch” and “Auto Unlock”. However, unlocking an iPhone or Mac with Apple Watch is not as secure as using Face ID on iPhone or password on Mac.

2. How far away does Apple Watch have to be to unlock Mac?

Apple hasn’t specified how close the Apple Watch should be to unlocking a Mac. But according to a test conducted by the senior Apple community moderator, Apple Watch unlocks the Mac with a maximum distance of 48 inches (4ft/1.22m). Any distance above and you’ll see a message “Wireless connection too weak for Apple Watch to unlock this Mac.”

3. My Apple Watch seems unable to unlock my iPhone/Mac. What can I do?

If your Apple Watch won’t unlock your iPhone and Mac, try the quick fixes below.

  • Disable Bluetooth and Wi-Fi and re-enable them.
  • Disable automatic login on your Mac.
  • Disable Internet Sharing and Screen Sharing on your Mac.
  • Restart your Mac, iPhone and Apple Watch.
  • Reset Apple Watch and setup again.

Image credit: Unsplash

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Steven L. Nielsen