Apple today released watchOS 7.4, the fourth major update to the watchOS 7 operating system that was released in September 2020. watchOS 7.4 comes three months after watchOS 7.3, an update that introduced a new watch face, a Time to Walk feature, and expanded ECG availability.
The watchOS 7.4 update can be downloaded for free through the dedicated Apple Watch app on the iPhone by going to General > Software Update. To install the new software, the Apple Watch needs to have at least 50 percent battery, it needs to be placed on a charger, and it needs to be in range of the iPhone.
Paired with iOS 14.5, watchOS 7.4 brings a new “Unlock with Apple Watch” feature that lets an iPhone with Face ID use an unlocked and authenticated Apple Watch as a secondary authentication measure when you’re wearing a mask, alleviating the need to enter a passcode to unlock the iPhone.
Because Face ID does not work when wearing a mask, it can be a hassle to use an iPhone with a mask on. The new Apple Watch feature provides an easy but still secure way to access the iPhone without hassling with a passcode. It’s almost identical to unlocking on Mac and can be enabled in the Settings app under Face ID & Passcode.
An unlocked Apple Watch paired with Face ID can unlock the iPhone when a mask is worn, but the entire face cannot be covered and the eyes still need to be visible. Apple Watch mask authentication can’t be used for Apple Pay or App Store purchases, nor can it be used to unlock apps that require a Face ID scan. In these situations, the mask will need to be removed or a passcode/password will need to be used instead.
When the Apple Watch unlocks the iPhone, you’ll feel a haptic tap on the wrist and will receive a notification on the watch to let you know when your iPhone has been unlocked, similar to how it works when using the watch to unlock a Mac. There is a proximity feature as well, to ensure that you must be near your iPhone for it to unlock with the Apple Watch.
For Apple Fitness+ users, the watchOS 7.4 update enables AirPlay 2 for Apple Fitness+, so workouts can be streamed to an AirPlay 2-enabled TV or set-top box. Apple Watch metrics do not show up on the screen when AirPlayed, however, and that feature is limited to iPhone/iPad/Apple TV.
watchOS 7.4 introduces an option to choose a Bluetooth device type in settings to correctly identify audio notifications, and it introduces ECG support and irregular heart rhythm notifications in Australia and Vietnam. Apple’s full release notes with additional features are listed below:
watchOS 7.4 includes new features, improvements, and bug fixes, including:
– Ability to unlock your iPhone X and later with Apple Watch when you attempt to use Face ID while wearing a face mask
– Option to classify Bluetooth device type in Settings for correct identification of headphones for audio notifications
– Ability to stream audio and video content from Apple Fitness+ workouts to AirPlay 2-enabled TVs and devices
– Support for the ECG app on Apple Watch Series 4 or later in Australia and Vietnam
– Support for irregular heart rhythm notifications in Australia and Vietnam
More information on the watchOS 7 operating system that runs on modern Apple Watch models can be found in our watchOS 7 roundup.