How to Unlock Your iPhone with Your Apple Watch While Wearing a Mask

by Barbara Wilson

Unlocking your iPhone using Face ID while wearing a mask has become a common frustration in our mask-wearing era. We’ve all been there – struggling to access our devices swiftly and securely. Apple, being at the forefront of innovation, recognized this challenge and responded with a seamless solution: unlocking your iPhone using your Apple Watch. This feature seamlessly combines convenience and security, ensuring you can access your device without the hassle of removing your mask. In this comprehensive guide, we will not only walk you through the process of setting up and using this feature but also delve into the underlying technology, ensuring that you can confidently navigate the complexities of our mask-donning world.


I. The Mask Dilemma

Face ID Limitations: Face ID, the facial recognition technology on iPhones, is exceptionally secure and efficient under ordinary circumstances. However, it encounters issues when faced with a partially obstructed face, a frequent scenario when wearing a mask.


Expanding on this, it’s essential to understand why Face ID faces limitations with masks. The technology relies on sophisticated facial mapping and recognition algorithms. When you enroll in Face ID, it creates a 3D map of your face, including various data points such as the distance between your eyes, the contour of your nose, and the unique pattern of your facial features. This map is then used to authenticate your identity when unlocking your iPhone. However, when a significant portion of your face is covered by a mask, Face ID’s algorithms may struggle to find enough data points to provide a confident match.


Security and Convenience: Apple is renowned for prioritizing user security, but they also value convenience. Balancing these two factors is essential, which is why Face ID becomes less sensitive when it detects a mask. This intentional decision maintains a high level of security while ensuring that the user experience remains as smooth as possible.


To elaborate further, Apple has always been at the forefront of ensuring user data and privacy are protected. With Face ID, they introduced an advanced biometric authentication method that is not only highly secure but also remarkably user-friendly. However, in the era of mask-wearing, it’s crucial to strike a balance between security and convenience. Apple’s approach is to maintain a secure biometric authentication method while recognizing the need for a more accessible way to unlock your device when wearing a mask. By slightly reducing Face ID’s sensitivity in such situations, they achieve this balance, ensuring your data remains secure while allowing you to access your device more conveniently.

II. Prerequisites for Apple Watch Unlock

Apple Watch Compatibility: To utilize this feature, you must have a compatible Apple Watch. Specifically, it is available on Apple Watch Series 3 or later, provided they are running watchOS 7.4 or a later version.

Expanding on compatibility, this feature was introduced as part of watchOS 7.4, making it available to a wide range of Apple Watch users. If you own an Apple Watch Series 3, Series 4, Series 5, Series 6, or the latest Apple Watch SE, you’re in luck. These models can take advantage of the Apple Watch Unlock feature. However, it’s essential to ensure that your watch is running the required watchOS version, which can be updated via the Watch app on your paired iPhone.

iPhone Compatibility: Your iPhone needs to run iOS 14.5 or a later iteration to enable this feature.

Expanding on this, the compatibility requirement for your iPhone aligns with the introduction of this feature. iOS 14.5 was a significant update that brought several enhancements, including support for unlocking your iPhone with your Apple Watch while wearing a mask. It’s a testament to Apple’s commitment to improving the user experience by addressing real-world challenges.

Two-Factor Authentication: Ensure that you have two-factor authentication set up for your Apple ID. This adds an extra layer of security to the process, making it more robust and reliable.

Two-factor authentication (2FA) is a critical security feature that adds an additional layer of protection to your Apple ID, which is central to many of Apple’s services, including iCloud, the App Store, and more. When you have 2FA enabled, it means that even if someone gains access to your password, they still cannot access your account without the second authentication factor, which is often a code sent to your trusted devices. This is particularly important when it comes to unlocking your iPhone with your Apple Watch because it ensures that only you, the authorized user, can use this feature.

III. Enabling the Apple Watch Unlock Feature

Software Updates: Begin by ensuring that both your iPhone and Apple Watch are updated to the latest software versions. This step is crucial for compatibility and ensuring that the feature works seamlessly.

Expanding on this point, keeping your devices up to date with the latest software is not only essential for this feature but also for the overall performance, security, and functionality of your Apple devices. Apple regularly releases software updates that include bug fixes, performance improvements, and new features. By staying up to date, you not only get access to the latest innovations but also ensure that your devices are protected from known vulnerabilities.

Enable Unlock: Open the “Settings” app on your iPhone, navigate to “Face ID & Passcode,” and there you will find the option to enable “Unlock with Apple Watch.” Enable this feature to activate it.

Expanding on the setup process, it’s worth noting that Apple has made it relatively straightforward to enable the Apple Watch Unlock feature. By integrating it into the Face ID & Passcode settings, they’ve ensured that it’s easily accessible and manageable. Once enabled, you’ll find that unlocking your iPhone with your Apple Watch becomes second nature, providing a seamless experience.

Authentication: During the setup process, you may be prompted to enter your iPhone passcode and Apple Watch passcode to confirm the setup. This authentication step adds an extra layer of security to prevent unauthorized access.

Expanding on authentication, it’s crucial to understand why this step is necessary. Passcodes are a fundamental aspect of security, serving as a fallback method to ensure that only the authorized user can enable or disable features that impact device security. In the case of enabling the Apple Watch Unlock feature, entering both your iPhone and Apple Watch passcodes is a security measure to ensure that no one can tamper with this feature without your explicit authorization.

IV. How It Works

Proximity Detection: When you attempt to unlock your iPhone while wearing a mask, Face ID first detects the presence of the mask on your face. It then proceeds to look for a nearby unlocked Apple Watch.

Expanding on proximity detection, this is a key aspect of how the feature operates. Face ID is highly attuned to the physical environment, and it uses multiple sensors to assess the situation. When it detects that you’re wearing a mask, it understands that its usual facial recognition process may not yield the desired results. Therefore, it turns to your Apple Watch, which is typically in close proximity to your iPhone, to facilitate the unlocking process.

Watch Authentication: If your Apple Watch is on your wrist and unlocked, it initiates communication with your iPhone to confirm your identity. Once your identity is confirmed, your iPhone unlocks.

Expanding on watch authentication, this step involves a secure and encrypted communication process between your Apple Watch and iPhone. This communication verifies that the Apple Watch on your wrist is indeed yours and is currently unlocked. It’s a crucial security measure to ensure that someone else cannot use their Apple Watch to unlock your iPhone, even if they are in close proximity.

Notifications: Your Apple Watch discreetly notifies you each time your iPhone is unlocked using this method. This notification serves as an additional security measure, alerting you to any unauthorized access attempts, ensuring your peace of mind.

Expanding on notifications, this feature is designed to provide you with transparency and control. While the Apple Watch Unlock feature enhances convenience, it’s essential to be aware of when your iPhone is being unlocked, even if it’s being done automatically. The discreet notification on your Apple Watch serves as a security checkpoint, allowing you to quickly verify that you initiated the unlock or take action if you suspect any unauthorized access.

V. Security Considerations

Secure Connection: The communication between your Apple Watch and iPhone for unlocking purposes is highly secure and encrypted. This ensures that your data remains protected throughout the process, safeguarding your privacy and sensitive information.

Expanding on the secure connection, it’s vital to understand the level of security applied to this feature. Apple places a significant emphasis on protecting user data, and this extends to every aspect of their devices and services. When your Apple Watch communicates with your iPhone to facilitate unlocking, the data exchanged is encrypted, meaning that it’s scrambled and can only be deciphered by your devices. This encryption ensures that even if someone were to intercept the communication, they would not be able to understand or misuse the data.

Mask Detection: It’s crucial to emphasize that Face ID does not store an image of your face with a mask. This privacy-conscious approach guarantees that your facial data remains secure and confidential.

Expanding on mask detection and privacy, this is an area where Apple has taken extra measures to protect your personal information. Some may wonder if Face ID stores images of their face when wearing a mask for future reference. The answer is a resounding no. Face ID’s design is rooted in privacy and security. When it detects a mask, it does not capture or store images of your face with the mask. Instead, it adapts its recognition algorithms to work with the unique facial data points that are available while wearing a mask, without compromising your security or privacy.

Limitations: While this feature enhances convenience, it’s essential to understand its limitations. It only unlocks your iPhone; it does not authorize App Store purchases or grant access to sensitive data, such as passwords or financial information. This selective access ensures that your security remains uncompromised.

Expanding on the limitations, it’s crucial to set realistic expectations for what this feature can and cannot do. While it streamlines the process of unlocking your iPhone, it is not a universal authentication method. For instance, it won’t authorize purchases in the App Store or grant access to highly sensitive information like your passwords or financial data. This selective approach preserves the integrity of critical security features while offering a practical solution for mask-wearing situations.

VI. Troubleshooting and Tips

Proximity Matters: To ensure that the feature works seamlessly, keep your Apple Watch within a reasonable proximity to your iPhone. Maintaining an adequate distance is essential for swift and successful authentication.

Expanding on proximity, this is a practical tip that can significantly impact your experience with the Apple Watch Unlock feature. Your Apple Watch needs to be close enough to your iPhone for the two devices to communicate effectively. While the exact distance may vary depending on environmental factors, keeping your Apple Watch within arm’s reach of your iPhone is generally a good practice.

Wrist Placement: Ensure that your Apple Watch is worn on your wrist and unlocked when attempting to unlock your iPhone. Proper wrist placement is a fundamental aspect of the authentication process.

Expanding on wrist placement, this is another essential factor in ensuring that the feature functions correctly. The Apple Watch relies on being on your wrist to detect that it’s in proximity to you. Additionally, it must be unlocked, which is typically the case when you put it on your wrist after entering your passcode. Correct wrist placement and ensuring that your Apple Watch is actively worn and unlocked are key components of a smooth unlocking experience.

Face ID Adaptation: Face ID is designed to learn and adapt to your facial features, including when you wear a mask. It continually improves recognition over time, making the process smoother with regular use.

Expanding on Face ID adaptation, this is a testament to the continuous improvement of Apple’s technology. Face ID’s ability to adapt and enhance recognition when you wear a mask is a result of machine learning and AI algorithms. When you use Face ID in various scenarios, it learns from your interactions and refines its recognition capabilities over time. This means that the more you use the feature, the better it becomes at accurately identifying you, even when you’re wearing a mask.

Passcode as Backup: Always have your passcode ready as a backup method in case Face ID and Apple Watch unlocking do not work as expected. Your passcode acts as a reliable failsafe, ensuring you can access your device even in exceptional circumstances.

Expanding on using your passcode as a backup, this is a prudent approach to device security. While the Apple Watch Unlock feature is incredibly convenient and reliable, there may be rare instances where it doesn’t work as expected. This could be due to various factors, such as temporary connectivity issues or unusual environmental conditions. Having your passcode ready ensures that you always have a reliable method of accessing your device, guaranteeing that you’re never locked out, regardless of the circumstances.


Unlocking your iPhone while wearing a mask has evolved from being a cumbersome chore to a seamless experience, all thanks to Apple’s innovative solution. This feature not only aligns with Apple’s commitment to user security but also reflects their dedication to enhancing the user experience.

By understanding the prerequisites, enabling the feature, and comprehending the intricate technology behind it, you can maximize the benefits of this functionality. Importantly, this method respects your privacy and ensures that your data remains secure, thanks to robust encryption that safeguards the connection between your Apple Watch and iPhone.

In a world where technology continually evolves, Apple remains at the forefront of innovation, offering solutions to everyday challenges. So, the next time you venture out with a mask on, rest assured that unlocking your iPhone is as effortless as a glance at your trusted Apple Watch, simplifying your journey in our mask-wearing world.


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