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How to set up Unlock with Apple Watch on your iPhone

As I noted in my review of the iPhone 12 Pro Max this year, Apple is the last smartphone OEM to offer a device that doesn't have a method of biometric authentication with a mask on. Indeed, while Google went all-in with facial recognition last year, it brought back the fingerprint sensor this year. Apple did not, despite regular mask mandates all around the world due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

A year in, and Apple finally has a solution, but you'll need an Apple Watch for this to work. Last year, one of the first things Apple did was in iOS 13.5, when your iPhone would actually be able to tell that you're wearing a mask and it would ask for a PIN quicker. Previously, you'd have to wait a few seconds for it to attempt to recognize your face and then fail. With iOS 14.5, if your iPhone detects a mask, it will allow you to unlock your phone with your Apple Watch.

If you've got an iPhone and an Apple Watch, this is probably something worth being excited about. But it's not on by default. Here's what you'll need to do.

You'll need the following items:

  • iPhone X, XS XS Max, XR, 11, 11 Pro, 11 Pro Max, 12, 12 mini, 12 Pro, or 12 Pro Max
  • Apple Watch Series 3 or higher

Here's what you need to do:

  1. Get the betas
    This feature is currently in beta, and it's only available to developers. You can go to Apple Developer and download the profiles to your devices to enroll in the iOS 14 and watchOS 7 betas, and then you'll get OTA updates for iOS 14.5 and watchOS 7.4. If you're on the public beta, you'll likely see the updates within a couple of days.
  2. Turn on the feature
    This part is even easier than the first. Go to Settings -> Face ID & Passcode -> Unlock with Apple Watch, and turn it on.

That's it. Once you've turned it on, grab your favorite mask, put it on, and try unlocking your phone. Your phone will attempt to recognize you and then quickly say that it's unlocking via the Apple Watch. Then, you'll get a rather annoying vibration on your wrist, something that I hope will get worked out during the beta period.

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