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You can unlock your iPhone while wearing a mask, but there's a trick

You'll need an Apple Watch to unlock your phone without taking off your mask.


Since the release of iOS 14.5, Apple made it a little easier to unlock your iPhone while wearing a mask. 

Patrick Holland/CNET

Unlocking your iPhone with Face ID during the pandemic has been a hassle, to say the least. Instead of your iPhone unlocking as soon as the screen lights up, you're instantly asked to enter your PIN code. It's extremely frustrating with mobile payments or sending a text while you're out -- especially when trying to avoid touching your mask at all costs. 

But the ability to unlock your iPhone using Face ID while wearing a face mask on isn't a new feature. It was announced earlier this year. Apple found a solution to the problem (kind of) with the release of iOS 14.5, and it still works with the latest iOS 15 updates. The latest Apple update comes with a few tricks, like scanning any text (even in photos), real-time rain alerts and more. 

But before you get too excited, it's good to know that this trick requires an Apple Watch to work. Apple borrowed the Apple Watch unlock feature for Mac users and brought it to the iPhone. Below I'll walk you through how to set up the new Face ID unlock feature, and show you how it works. And if you're considering an Apple Watch, it hits stores this Friday but you can preorder the Apple Watch Series 7 now. You may even be able to snag a later version for cheaper. This story was recently updated. 

Unlock with Apple Watch

Make sure your watch is nearby when you set up Unlock with Apple Watch. 

Screenshots by Jason Cipriani/CNET

Find and turn on the 'Unlock' feature with your Apple Watch

Once your iPhone is running iOS 14.5 or later and your Apple Watch has WatchOS 7.4 (or newer) installed, you can turn on Unlock with Apple Watch with a few taps. 

Open the Settings app on your iPhone and then select Face ID & Passcode, enter your PIN when asked. Next, scroll down until you find the section titled Unlock with Apple Watch. The name of your Apple Watch should be listed there. Next to it is a toggle to turn the feature on or off. Slide that switch to the On position and then back out of the Settings app. 

Raise your phone and before you know it, it's unlocked thanks to your watch. 

GIF by Jason Cipriani/CNET

How to use Apple's 'Unlock' feature while wearing a mask 

Going forward, whenever you're wearing a face covering, all you have to do is hold your phone up like you normally would to unlock it with Face ID. You'll feel a haptic tap on your wrist, letting you know your watch was used to unlock your phone. 

The alert on your watch is more than just an acknowledgment that your phone was unlocked, though. It includes a button to lock your phone, in case it was unlocked by someone else. It's a security feature to ensure that someone else doesn't pick up your phone and unlock it while wearing a mask. While unlikely that it will happen, it's a reassuring fallback method to keep your data safe.

You can also check out the latest iPhone update, iOS 15. There are still a few highly anticipated features that are missing with the latest software upgrade. Check out our review of Apple's latest improvements and changes to see what we think.