With iOS 14.5 and watchOS 7.4, Apple will solve one of the most vexing iPhone problems of the last year: the fact that Face ID doesn’t work when wearing a mask.
The software is currently in beta (see how to download the beta here), but when released, those who have an Apple Watch will be able to unlock their iPhone quickly and seamlessly when Face ID detects they’re wearing a mask. Here’s how it works.
First, you’ll need an iPhone that has Face ID and an Apple Watch. The iPhone must be updated to iOS 14.5 and the Apple Watch must be updated to watchOS 7.4. Furthermore, your Apple Watch must secured with a passcode, worn on your wrist, and unlocked. It must also be nearby to your iPhone.
In other words, the requirements for unlocking your iPhone with your Apple Watch are basically the same as unlocking your Mac with it.
Enabling Apple Watch unlock
To enable the feature, open the Settings app on your iPhone and tap on Face ID & Passcode. You’ll be asked to enter your iPhone’s passcode. Then scroll down to the Unlock with Apple Watch section and hit the toggle to enable the feature.
Once enabled, it works incredibly well. Your Apple Watch is likely unlocked most of the time it’s on your wrist (by default it will require you to unlock it once when you first put it on, but stay unlocked as long as you don’t remove it). If you try to use Face ID, either at the lock screen or to access a password or something in an app, your iPhone will operate as usual.
But if Face ID recognizes that you’re wearing a mask, it will immediately unlock with your Apple Watch rather than showing you a screen full of numbers and waiting for your passcode. The screen may briefly notify you that it’s unlocking with your Apple Watch, and you’ll feel a quick double-tap on your wrist from the Apple Watch’s taptic engine. It’s a lot like unlocking your Mac with your Apple Watch.
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I have written professionally about technology for my entire adult professional life - over 20 years. I like to figure out how complicated technology works and explain it in a way anyone can understand.