How to Unlock Your Computer with Your Phone or Watch

iphone and macbook

Everyone wants to replace the password with something better. Well, we already have smartphones — and some of us even have smartwatches. These tools can log you into your computer with a smartphone or smartwatch.

The best, most polished options are available for Mac users with iPhones. Solutions available for Windows and other platforms are much more limited.

Mac and iPhone or Apple Watch

Mac users with iPhones have the most — and most polished — options available:

Knock allows you to use either an iPhone or Apple Watch to unlock your Mac. Walk up to your Mac with your iPhone on you and it will communicate with your Mac using Bluetooth Low Energy. Knock on your phone’s screen — even if it’s just in your pocket, knock on your pocket — and it will unlock your Mac. There’s no need to even pull your phone out of your pocket, much less turn its screen on.

There’s now a Knock Apple Watch app for unlocking your Mac, which provides some good security — if someone puts your watch on, they won’t be able to authenticate and unlock your Mac. If someone grabs your phone and you’ve set up Knock, however, they’ll be able to log into your Mac unless you remotely disable Knock.

Knock costs $3.99 for the iPhone app. You’ll also need the Mac app installed on your Mac — that’s available for free.

Tether works entirely using Bluetooth Low Energy. Walk up to your Mac and your iPhone and Mac will establish a connection. Tether will automatically unlock your Mac when you approach. Walk away from your Mac with your iPhone on you and Tether will notice the iPhone is no longer in close proximity, automatically locking your Mac for you.

There’s now a Tether Apple Watch app, too. One concern with this solution is security — if you’re nearby your Mac in the same area, it will automatically be unlocked. If someone grabs your phone, they can approach your Mac and have it automatically unlock for them. It’s up to you whether this is good enough security for your needs.

The Tether apps for both iPhone and Mac are free. Tether offers in-app purchases for additional functionality, but the standard auto-unlock and auto-lock features are free.

MacID takes a different approach. Rather than automatically unlocking your Mac, it allows you to unlock your Mac from your phone. This means you can use the Touch ID sensor on your iPhone to authenticate and unlock your Mac.

As with Knock and Tether, MacID also offers an Apple Watch app. Unlike with the above options, MacID can’t be used by just anyone who has your iPhone and Mac. It requires a bit more work because you have to actively log into your Mac via your phone, but that may be appealing to you. If your Mac has a long, strong password, using Touch ID on your phone could certainly be faster.

MacID’s iPhone app costs $3.99 on the App Store, and the required Mac app is available for free.

Chromebook and Android Phone

Chromebooks deserve an honorable mention here because Google has integrated a way to unlock your Chromebook with an Android phone. This feature is named Smart Lock, and it requires an Android phone with Android 5.0 or newer.

If you have a modern enough Android phone, you can quickly set up Smart Lock and pair your Chromebook with your phone without any third-party software. This feature doesn’t yet support Android Wear watches for some reason — you need an Android phone.

Windows PC and Android Phone

Similarly polished options for Windows just aren’t available. Previously, the most popular option was BTProximity, which used the proximity of a Bluetooth-enabled device (such as your smartphone) to automatically unlock your Windows PC. We wrote about using BTProximity in the past. However, BTProximity has been discontinued. We can’t find any comparably polished solutions to replace it at the moment.

You can still rig up something to do this yourself with various tools on Android. This solution requires EventGhost on your Windows PC to do the unlocking work, AutoRemote for communicating from your phone to your Windows PC, and Tasker for automatically sending a signal to EventGhost via AutoRemote when certain conditions are met.

The Unlock PC from Android discussion over at StackExchange has some detailed information on setting this up.

Mac and Android Phone (or Any Other Bluetooth Device)

If you have a Mac and an Android phone (or any other Bluetooth-enabled device), you could use the free Proximity tool for Bluetooth proximity detection and set up AppleScripts that unlock and lock your Mac depending on the proximity of the device to your Mac. This requires some manual setup, but it should work similarly to Tether when you’re done.

Lifehacker provides AppleScript code that will do this in this post.

Linux and Any Bluetooth Device

On Linux, try the BlueProximity application for locking and unlocking your PC in response to the proximity of a Bluetooth device. It should be available in your Linux distribution’s software repositories, but may require some configuration before it automatically locks and unlocks the PC correctly.


If you’re sick of unlocking your phone constantly, Android 5.0 provides other “smart unlock” features. These can automatically keep your phone unlocked when you’re connected to your home Wi-Fi network, for example.

Image Credit: Alejandro Pinto on Flickr

Chris Hoffman is a technology writer and all-around computer geek. He's as at home using the Linux terminal as he is digging into the Windows registry. Connect with him on Google+.

  • Published 07/24/15
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