Apple has officially enabled the Apple Watch as an authentication token for unlocking the iPhone.
The functionality arrives via the iOS 14.5 software update. Essentially, it’s one way that Apple is adapting its technology to the growing prevalence of face masks, which can reduce the accuracy of its Face ID biometric authentication system, which is the de facto phone unlocking mechanism on Apple’s most recent iPhones (aside from the iPhone SE).
Now, users who also have an Apple Watch can pair it with the iPhone so that when the devices are in close proximity, one needs only to glance at the iPhone to unlock it, even if a face mask is being worn. Haptic feedback through the wearable device will confirm that the phone has been unlocked.
The functionality first came to light in a beta version of the operating system update in February. It followed a previous, ad hoc face mask workaround that Apple introduced last year, wherein the iPhone’s authentication system would automatically bypass Face ID if a mask was detected, and instead go straight to passcode entry.
The Apple Watch phone unlock system is compatible with iPhone X and later, and with the Apple Watch Series 3 model and later.