What Is a Lock Screen?

Android, iOS, PC, and Mac all have lock screens. Are they useful?

The modern lock screen is an evolution of the old login screen and serves a similar purpose: It stops a person from using your device unless they know the password or passcode.

What Are Lock Screens Used For?

The lock screen has been around for almost as long as the computer, but in these times where mobile devices are so intertwined in our daily lives, the ability to lock our devices has never been more important.

But a device doesn't need a password for a lock screen to be helpful. One very important facet of a lock screen on our smartphones is to keep us from accidentally sending it commands when it is still in our pocket. While the lock screen hasn't made the accidental dial completely obsolete, the process of unlocking the phone with a specific gesture has certainly made it much rarer.

Lock screens can also provide us with quick information without the need to unlock our devices. The iPhone and Android-based smartphones like the Samsung Galaxy series and the Google Pixel can show us the time, events on our calendar, recent text messages, and other notifications without the need to ever unlock the device.

And let's not forget PCs and Macs. Lock screens can sometimes seem synonymous with smartphones and tablets, but our PCs and laptops also have a screen requiring us to log in to unlock the computer.

The Windows Lock Screen

Windows has edged closer and closer to the lock screens we see on our smartphones and laptops as hybrid tablet/laptop computers like the Microsoft Surface have become more popular. The Windows lock screen isn't quite as functional as a smartphone's, but in addition to locking unwanted visitors out of a computer, it can show a snippet of information such as how many unread email messages we have waiting for us.

The Windows lock screen generally requires a password to unlock. The password is attached to an account and is set when you set up the computer. The input box for it appears when you click the lock screen.

Let's look at Windows 10 and how its lock screen operates. 

  • How to Lock the Device: You might not be aware that you can lock your Windows 10 computer at any time. It's easy to miss, but also easy to do. Simply click the Windows button in the lower-left corner, click the Accounts button from the vertical buttons along the far left edge and choose Lock. The Accounts button is labeled with the name of the current account, which is usually your name.
  • What to Do If You Get Locked Out: If you have a Microsoft Live account linked to your login, you can simply change the password to that account.
  • How to Change the Lock Settings: Click into the search bar next to the Windows button at the bottom of the screen and type "lock screen settings" and choose the option when it pops up in the results. It's as simple as that!
  • The Best Lock Setting to Change:  If you use Microsoft's Calendar app, choose Calendar under Choose an app to show detailed status and you can get a look at your day's meetings and events before you sign into your computer.

The Mac Lock Screen

It might seem odd that Apple's Mac OS has the least functional lock screen, but this isn't really much of a surprise. Functional lock screens make more sense on mobile devices like our smartphones and tablets where we might want to get some information quickly. We generally aren't in as much hurry when we use our laptop or desktop computer. And unlike Microsoft, Apple isn't turning the Mac OS into a hybrid tablet/laptop operating system. 

The Mac lock screen generally requires a password to unlock. The input box is always present in the middle of the lock screen. 

  • How to Lock the Device: Click the account name, which is usually your name. The account name is on the right side of the menu bar across the top of the Mac. Next, click Login Window... to lock the Mac.
  • What to Do If You Get Locked Out: You may end up needing to call Apple support, but Apple has several methods of regaining access to your Mac before you call them.
  • How to Change the Lock Settings: In the System Preferences, choose Security and Privacy. You can change your password in the General tab in Security and Privacy. 
  • The Best Lock Setting to Change: Apple allows for a small text message to be displayed on the lock screen. This is a great place to put an "If lost please call..." message. You can set this message from the same General screen in Security and Privacy.

The iPhone/iPad Lock Screen

The iPhone's and iPad's lock screen can be easily bypassed if you have Touch ID set up to unlock your phone. The newest devices register your fingerprint so fast that if you tap the Home Button to wake up your device, it will often take you right past the lock screen to the Home Screen. But if you really just want to see the lock screen, you can press the Wake/Suspend button on the right side of the device. (And don't worry, we'll cover setting up Touch ID to unlock the device too!)

The lock screen will show your most recent text messages on the main screen, but it can do more than just show you messages. Here are a few things you can do on the lock screen:

  • Swipe Right-to-Left: Open the Camera. This is great for quickly getting that perfect shot.
  • Swipe Left-to-Right: Open the Today view, which can show you meetings scheduled for that day, current news, etc.
  • Swipe Up: Show your current notifications such as Apple Pay payments or Facebook alerts. You can also do a quick check of notifications by swiping down.
  • Swipe Up from the Bottom Edge: Open the Control Panel, which lets you toggle settings like Wi-Fi or Bluetooth, control your music among other settings.

As you might imagine with so much functionality, the iOS lock screen can be customized. You can also set a custom wallpaper for it in the Photos app by selecting a photo, tapping the Share button and selecting Use as Wallpaper from the bottom row of buttons in the share sheet. You can also lock it with a 4-digit or 6-digit numerical passcode or an alphanumerical password.

  • How to Lock the Device: You can press the Wake/Suspend button on the right side of the iPhone/iPad to lock it at any time.
  • What to Do If You Get Locked Out: You may end up needing to reset your device and restore it from a backup. Luckily, there are several methods for dealing with a locked iPad.
  • How to Change the Lock Settings: Launch the Settings app and tap Touch ID and Passcode from the menu. This screen will let you choose which features are enabled from the lock screen.
  • The Best Lock Setting to Change: Enable iPhone Unlock in the Touch ID and Passcode settings to allow Touch ID to unlock your device. You'll be surprised at just how fast this feature works, but you will still need the passcode the first time you log in after rebooting the iPhone/iPad, so don't forget your passcode!

The Android Lock Screen

Similar to the iPhone and iPad, Android smartphones and tablets tend to display more useful information than their PC and Mac counterparts. However, because each manufacturer can customize the Android experience, the specifics of the lock screen may change slightly from device to device. We'll look at "vanilla" Android, which is what you'll see on devices like the Google Pixel.

In addition to using a passcode or alphanumeric password, you can also use a pattern to lock your Android device. This allows you to quickly unlock your device by tracing the specific pattern of lines on the screen rather than fooling around with entering letters or numbers. You generally unlock Android devices by swiping up on the screen.

  • Swipe Down: Open the Control Panel, which lets you toggle settings like Bluetooth and Airplane mode.
  • Swipe Up from the Microphone: Activate Google's voice assistant.
  • Swipe Up from the Camera: Gain quick access to the camera.

Android doesn't come with a ton of customization for the lock screen out of the box, but the fun thing about Android devices is just how much you can do with apps. There are a number of alternative lock screens available in the Google Play store such as GO Locker and Next Lock Screen. 

  • How to Lock the Device: Click the Suspend button on the right side of the device.
  • What to Do If You Get Locked Out: You have a few choices when dealing with a locked Android device, but some depend on exactly which device is locked.
  • How to Change the Lock Settings: You can change the password and password type by opening the Android Settings app, choosing Security under the Personal section and tapping Screen Lock. You can use the aforementioned Pattern technique, a Password, a numerical PIN, a Swipe (which bypasses any password protection) or turn off the lock screen completely by choosing None.
  • The Best Lock Setting to Change: You can turn on Smart Lock if you want to keep your device unlocked while at home or on your person. Open the Android device's Settings app, choose Security and tap Smart Lock. The Smart Lock settings allow you to tweak the feature to keep your device unlocked in situations like being on your body or in a trusted place, being near a trusted device or even setting up facial or voice recognition.

Should You Lock Your Lock Screen?

There is no absolute yes or no answer as to whether or not your device should require a password or security check to use it. Many of us are fine leaving our home computers without this check, but it is worth noting that many important websites like Facebook or Amazon can be easily logged into by anyone simply because the account information is often stored in our web browser. And the more functional our smartphones become, the more sensitive information is stored within them. 

It is usually best to err on the side of caution when it comes to security. And between iOS's Touch ID and Face ID options, and Android's Smart Lock, security can be simplified.

A passcode can help keep the curious hands of children out of our devices as well. 

  • What is a dynamic lock screen?

    Dynamic lock is a feature in Windows 10 that automatically locks your screen when you move away from your computer. It uses the location of a paired Bluetooth-enabled smartphone to detect when you physically move away from your PC. To enable dynamic lock, go to Start > Settings > Accounts > Sign-in options > under Dynamic lock, select Allow Windows to automatically lock your device when you're away.

  • Can you turn the lock screen off?

    To turn off the lock screen on Android, go to Settings Security > Screen Lock and choose None. On iOS, go to Settings > Face ID & Passcode > enter your code > choose Turn Passcode Off. To turn off the lock screen in Windows, you have to change the registry key.

  • How do you change the lock screen's image?

    On Windows, go to Settings > Personalization > Lock screen. Find the Background section and select Picture or Slideshow to use your picture as the background image. On Android, long-press the Home screen, then choose Styles & wallpapers. On an iPhone, go to Settings > Wallpaper > Choose new wallpaper.

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