Regarding Apple Watch and Activation Lock

Apple Watch on passcode screen
Apple Watch on passcode screen (Image credit: iMore)

A theft deterrent system that requires your iCloud password to be disabled, Apple added Activation Lock to iOS in 2013 The Apple Watch, which runs a variant of iOS called Watch OS, doesn't yet secure the device beyond the default passcode/password intercept on the clock face. This was first noticed by @enMTW immediately following the Watch launch in April, but gained wider attention today following a story on iDownloadblog. So, what does it all mean?

No regular watch has a passcode or password, much less online theft-deterrent system, including those sold by Seiko, Timex, Omega, or Rolex. Because the Apple Watch stores some amount of personal data on it, it however, it does have value and risk beyond a regular watch. To mitigate that, you can set the Apple Watch passcode/password system to erase all data after 10 failed attempts.

The interesting part here is that the Apple Watch has all the elements in place to offer Activation Lock, and so the potential to offer even better security. My strong suspicion is that they simply haven't implemented the Watch-specific process for it all just yet. The Watch is unique in several ways — it's brand new, it has more limited input options, and it requires a paired iPhone to go online.

On an iPhone it's relatively painless to enter even a strong, unique, pseudorandom iCloud password on the rare occasions you need to, and to do it directly on-device and online. For the Watch, this process will need to be carefully reconsidered.

Given the emphasis Apple has placed on security in recent years, and how much the company has improved the iPhone as of late, I'd also strongly suspect it won't be too long before we see just that — Activation Lock on the Apple Watch.

In the meantime, there's no reason to panic. Secure your Apple Watch with a passcode or password and set it to erase after 10 failed attempts. And then treat it as you would any high profile, valuable piece of electronics or jewelry.

The real difference is, unlike a regular watch, the Apple Watch can and will be improved every time Apple improves Watch OS.

Rene Ritchie
Contributor

Rene Ritchie is one of the most respected Apple analysts in the business, reaching a combined audience of over 40 million readers a month. His YouTube channel, Vector, has over 90 thousand subscribers and 14 million views and his podcasts, including Debug, have been downloaded over 20 million times. He also regularly co-hosts MacBreak Weekly for the TWiT network and co-hosted CES Live! and Talk Mobile. Based in Montreal, Rene is a former director of product marketing, web developer, and graphic designer. He's authored several books and appeared on numerous television and radio segments to discuss Apple and the technology industry. When not working, he likes to cook, grapple, and spend time with his friends and family.

17 Comments
  • Can I locate my watch with my iPhone if both are connected to Wi-Fi? Sent from the iMore App
  • No - at least not in the one test I just did using Find My iPhone.app. It makes sense, though, because the Watch does not have built-in GPS. It relies on the iPhone for GPS when using navigation or fitness-tracking apps.
  • I know you linked to it, but considering how short this article is, you might have taken the time to actually state the problem before you wrote the article about said problem. I see a lot of articles like this on iMore, which are essentially elaborate defences or "apology" pieces for criticisms of Apple technology that crop up elsewhere but that don't actually reference the source material within the article. If you're gonna write apologist pieces, I think you should take the time to at least summarise what you're apologising for, first. It would be a lot clearer.
  • You are REALLY annoying... "Apple Watch doesn't have Activation Lock, no..." - that's the problem right there. Hit the link if you want to see the entire article - he's not re-writing it, instead referencing and replying to it. Anything just to bitch on here... Christ. Sent from the iMore App
  • I did state the problem: no activation lock theft deterrent. My goal is to inform people so they can make up their own minds. Sensationalism and scaring people is easy. Empowering them takes a little work. (Also: figuring out how activation lock would work on an Apple Watch is interesting. Entering potentially long pseudorandom text, number, and symbol strings into the watch, is interesting.) Sent from the iMore App
  • @Gazoobee - why do you troll so many websites and forums like an unwanted food or movie critic? Either contribute to the conversation, add an insight, or move on. If someone is even slightly pro-Apple, you bash, and when they are critical of Apple, you bash. We don't need a switch-hitting critic everywhere we go (case in point, your diatribes about watch sizes wherever you travel).
  • Why can't the aWatch use Wi-Fi & Bluetooth to report its last known location upon X failed attempts? Then furthermore, activate a bluetooth SOS beacon so if any nearby iPhones are around, they hear the SOS, and report the location/time etc??? The battery drain would be minimal on the iPhones since most people have BTactive if not connected (headset, smart watch, etc), same for the aWatch, since they use BT on all the time unless if in power save mode or off. Sent from the iMore App
  • Bluetooth doesn't work that way. It only broadcasts the device ID and very basic information about the device, and then only when in pairing mode. And receiving devices are "listening" for this information only when they are in pairing mode. Only after pairing can a device fully communicate with other devices (the ones it is paired with). Your idea is nice, but it would require a change to the Bluetooth protocol to allow it. For WiFi, naturally both devices have to be on the same WiFi network to communicate to each other. Apple Watch only knows the WiFi networks known to one's iPhone. The iPhone basically uses Bluetooth to tell one's Watch "hey, I'm on WiFi network XYZ, here are the parameters I'm using to connect to it, use them and try to reach me on that WiFi network". The Watch cannot join WiFi networks not previously allowed on one's iPhone.
  • Why do normal watches even need to be secure? They show.... The time. "Whoo lawd that man just ran off with my private time" - No One Ever. "I'm da Blur boys!" - Me with 1200 ping. Fiber in Nashville? Save me based Google.
  • I love how iMore continually posts articles about how Android is not a secure platform, but whenever an Apple product can be deemed not secure, we're told not to worry about it. This is not the first time this has happened either. If this was a feature that Apple Watch currently had, I'm sure this article would be have a completely different tone and be titled something like "Apple Watch has activation lock and Android Wear...does not." Or course, since I'm posting this from an Android device and neither of my iOS devices, anyone reading this will assume I'm just an Android fanboy who trolls Apple sites. Posted via the iMore App for Android
  • Not everyone lives in that iOS vs. Android, "if THEY did this, then..." mental state for everything imaginable, as you and others seem to. Personally, I took this article to be a "calm down, it's not that serious - but still an issue Apple should address, and likely will in the next software update" piece, rather than "apologetic". There's nothing to "apologize" for. Well, except for the 'no GPS' thing... that was just dumb, Apple. Sent from the iMore App
  • I didn't say not to worry, I said not to panic. Which is similar to what I say when it involves anything that's not a remote access, zero day exploit. Like I said with Google Hangouts earlier today, which runs on the iPhone, you just need to understand the context. If you want group video calls, use it; if you want end to end encryption, use something else. Apple Watch has passcode or password, and looks like it will have activation lock soon. Take that information and decide if it's useful or not to you. Sent from the iMore App
  • Exactly. Click-baiting headlines scream that you will be mugged, pistol-whipped, whatever now that your precious Apple Watch can be stolen and reset. It is good that somebody has the common sense to write a "get-a-grip" commentary on the subject.
  • I find this whole thing ridiculous, and I love that Renee has offered some clarity on this. My first thought was, the thing is physically attached to you! It's not like it can be misplaced and then stolen or pickpocketed - what about the people who have walked around with crazy expensive Rolex watches for decades?!?!
  • So if you were mugged and someone stole your Apple Watch what exactly would they get? What's on the watch without it being near your paired iPhone?
  • If you are offered a (reported) stolen AW, should u take it? What could go wrong? Let's see, you use your iPhone to pair it, Apple through
    iCloud will tell you you have several options: A. return the AW to its owner shown on the screen.
    B. Pay the full price so the owner will get a new AW.
    C. Continue the set up and we will brick your iPhone and freeze your iTunes account, and as a bonus report you to the Police.
    Your pick?
  • I'm 6'2", 260 pounds. That's called theft deterrent.