Apple Watches not unlocking iPhone 13 is a poor bug to have, but at least Apple's on the ball now

iPhone X passcode screen
iPhone X passcode screen (Image credit: iMore)

If there's one thing that can take the shine off getting a new toy — I mean super important business phone — it's having features that did work before, not work anymore. That's the situation Apple created with the infamous bug that causes iPhone 13 to not be unlocked by Apple Watches. And it's a doozy.

Quite what Apple broke isn't clear, nor is it obvious why some people seem to be able to do the thing just fine. But plenty of people, including yours truly, haven't had their Apple Watch unlock their iPhone since Friday — and it's surprising how much I miss that feature when walking around a store while wearing a mask. Of course, if Apple had put Touch ID into this thing it wouldn't matter — but that's a conversation for another time.

This is, undoubtedly, a bug that shouldn't have found its way into a shipping iPhone or iOS 15, whichever is causing the problem. I didn't see any reports of this happening during the iOS 15 beta program and as far as I can tell, it's a problem only afflicting iPhone 13 handsets. So Apple broke something somewhere and only for those who went out and bought new hardware. That's a bit of a kick in the teeth, to be sure.

I'm usually one of the first people to suggest Apple's quality control isn't what it should be and I've done that plenty over the last 72 hours. But there's light at the end of the tunnel and Apple should be commended for that — as it should be for the support document it published on Sunday. Think of it as a mea culpa in support document form, if you will.

Apple has identified an issue where Unlock with Apple Watch may not work with iPhone 13 devices. You might see "Unable to Communicate with Apple Watch" if you try to unlock your iPhone while wearing a face mask, or you might not be able to set up Unlock with Apple Watch.This issue will be fixed in an upcoming software update. Until the update is available, you can turn off Unlock with Apple Watch and use your passcode to unlock your iPhone 13.

Iphone 13 Pro Sierra Blue Hero

Iphone 13 Pro Sierra Blue Hero (Image credit: Christine Romero-Chan / iMore)

Apple might have dropped the ball initially — the bug shouldn't be there at all — but its management of the situation is what matters now. Things have started well — Apple says there's a problem and that it's working on it. It even says there's a fix coming in a future update and, realistically, what more could we ask for two days after the problem was noticed?

Apple is already testing iOS 15.1 but I'd expect an emergency fix update to arrive long before that's ready for primetime. I'll be disappointed if there isn't a fix hitting Apple's servers within a week, but I've no idea what's actually broken here nor how long a fix should take to implement. But that's why I don't work at Apple and I sit here and write about it instead.

All of this is to say that sure, this bug is a bad one and it's irritating us all right now. But Apple's done what it needed to do so far — let's just hope that fix comes sooner rather than later. This is an issue that's already taken some of the gloss off the launch of the best iPhone ever. Apple won't want that to be a story that drags on for too much longer, just the same as we don't.

Oliver Haslam

Oliver Haslam has written about Apple and the wider technology business for more than a decade with bylines on How-To Geek, PC Mag, iDownloadBlog, and many more. He has also been published in print for Macworld, including cover stories. At iMore, Oliver is involved in daily news coverage and, not being short of opinions, has been known to 'explain' those thoughts in more detail, too. Having grown up using PCs and spending far too much money on graphics card and flashy RAM, Oliver switched to the Mac with a G5 iMac and hasn't looked back. Since then he's seen the growth of the smartphone world, backed by iPhone, and new product categories come and go. Current expertise includes iOS, macOS, streaming services, and pretty much anything that has a battery or plugs into a wall. Oliver also covers mobile gaming for iMore, with Apple Arcade a particular focus. He's been gaming since the Atari 2600 days and still struggles to comprehend the fact he can play console quality titles on his pocket computer.