Hands-On With the Apple Watch iPhone Unlocking Feature in iOS 14.5
Apple today released the iOS 14.5 and iPadOS 14.5 beta updates for developers, and included in the new software is a feature that's designed to make it easier to unlock an iPhone while wearing a mask by leveraging the Apple Watch.
An opt-in setting lets you turn on a feature that allows an iPhone to be unlocked with both Face ID and an authenticated Apple Watch combined. You can find this setting by opening up the Settings app, going to the Face ID & Passcode section, entering your passcode, and then toggling on "Unlock with Apple Watch."
Both iOS 14.5 and watchOS 7.4 are required to enable this feature, and once turned on, you can begin unlocking your iPhone with an unlocked and authenticated Apple Watch while wearing a mask. The first time you go to unlock your iPhone with Apple Watch after enabling the feature you'll need to enter a passcode, but after that, Apple Watch unlocking is smooth, seamless, and quick.
When you're wearing a mask and go to use Face ID, you'll feel a haptic vibration on your wrist and it will let you know that your iPhone was unlocked with your watch via a notification that pops up on your wrist.
Face ID will work like normal on the iPhone, so you'll only feel a difference through the Apple Watch, though sometimes there's a slight delay that says "unlocking iPhone with Apple Watch." This seems to depend on the distance between your iPhone and your watch, and if your authenticated watch is too far away, you'll be told to move it closer.
Every time you unlock, you'll feel the vibration and see the pop up, and it's generally an interface that looks like the interface that comes up when you unlock your Mac with your Apple Watch. Unlocking a Mac through an authenticated Apple Watch has long been a feature.
You cannot make an Apple Pay or App Store purchases with the Apple Watch, nor can you use it for authenticating in apps that use Face ID. In these situations, you still need to remove your mask and use the standard Face ID authentication or enter a passcode.
For those concerned about security or possible authentication bypasses with this method, the feature is entirely opt-in and is not enabled by default. You do need an unlocked Apple Watch for this to work, so there's no way to use it with an Apple Watch that has not been unlocked via the iPhone or by your Apple Watch passcode.
All in all, unlocking an iPhone with a paired Apple Watch is as seamless as unlocking with standard Face ID, and it's just about as quick, so this will be a welcome change for people frustrated with using an iPhone while wearing a mask. Future iPhones may include in-display Touch ID alongside Face ID, but for now, this is a useful solution for iPhone owners who also have an Apple Watch.