Apple’s iOS 14.5 is out, and with it comes the ability to have your Apple Watch unlock your Face ID-protected phone if you happen to be wearing a mask. This will make it a lot easier to get through your day without having to enter your passcode each time you need to use your phone (because the Face ID can’t recognize you with that mask on). As long as your phone and watch are in close proximity, you will be able to unlock your iPhone just by turning on the screen.
Once you’re officially running iOS 14.5 (and watchOS 7.4), it’s easy to enable the feature that lets you unlock your iPhone with your watch.
Now that you have it installed, here’s what you can expect. First, and most important to note, is that your phone isn’t looking for your face with a mask, it’s looking for a face with a mask. With this feature on, when my wife was wearing a mask, she was able to unlock my phone with no problem if I was within three or so feet. Apple even warns you about this when you turn the feature on.
Apple’s mitigation to this is whenever your Apple Watch is used to unlock your phone, the watch buzzes you, along with a notification saying your phone has been unlocked and a button to lock it. Pressing that lock button immediately locks your phone and requires a passcode on next unlock.
With that caveat out of the way, so far I’ve had great success with the feature. I tried it with a variety of masks, and it worked with all of them for me. It is worth noting again that the phone is looking for a face with a mask, so this feature won’t help you if your phone is lying on the table and you try to unlock it — because the Face ID camera can’t see you.
Still, I find that not having to put in my passcode every time I want to check my grocery list while shopping is a huge benefit and worth what I consider to be a relatively minor security trade-off. The feature may not be for those with super-secret info on their phones, but for everyone else it’ll be a nice quality-of-life improvement.