How it all started
My wife called me up a few days ago and said, “I have raised a ticket with my IT people but any idea why when I use Outlook and I am typing my emails, my screen goes black and then I have to login again? This happens throughout the day and I don’t know why…any ideas?”
Well, I thought to myself this could be a whole list of things. I said to her if this was something that came in to our IT business as a ticket from a client, it would be one of those issues that would take a while to get to the bottom of. For example, Operating System up-to-date, Microsoft Office up-to-date, could there be a virus (eek!), could there be a hardware problem? Do we need to wipe and re-install everything?
Is there warranty still attached to the laptop, would the hardware scans come back with anything that would enable the manufacturer to actually look into it (often if the hardware scans come back “OK” they will say there is nothing wrong with it and imply it’s a software issue i.e. “so you go and fix it!”).
First attempt to help
I said it can’t just be an issue with Outlook as Outlook cannot tap into the hardware/screen in that way, especially not locking the laptop to force you to log back in periodically which is essentially what it’s doing. I suggested to use Word and the other programs installed and see if the same thing happens. The problem is she really only uses Outlook for extended periods of time especially when typing which was when she was experiencing the issue. I said to her “the Shift key is near the Windows key so are you accidentally using the Windows key with the L key to try and do a capital L in your emails, as if that is the case, that is the shortcut keystroke to lock the laptop, the screen would go black and then ask you to log back in”. I felt pretty proud of myself and thought genuinely that could be the problem. She looked at me with a face as if to say, “I am not an idiot, I know how to do a capital L!”
That sinking feeling
As any IT support engineer or experienced IT consultant would deduce from this, is, “oh god, this is one of those times that is going to suck me and my time into a black hole for a long period and I don’t think I am ever going to find out the cause of the issue”. A lot of the time in this situation, one might just suggest, after going through all the normal technical checks, updates and re-installs to simply purchase a new laptop.
So my wife is a public servant and after speaking with her IT Support Department, going through some of the Line 1 checks as outlined above, the engineer said he needed to escalate the issue up to somebody more technical. My wife didn’t know how long that would take. Within a few minutes, a senior engineer had called her back (much to her surprise!) and said the following:
So we have had this issue come in to us before and we have had at least 5 laptops that we have stripped down to the bare essentialls, replaced hardware, reinstalled software, spoken to manufacturers and we never found out what the problem was. It was a complete mystery. Until one day, whilst looking at another issue with a laptop, the same issue happened to one of our own engineers! We couldn’t believe the coincidence and then everything just ‘clicked’.
He said, do you have an Apple watch, my wife said YES, and he said, and do you wear it on your left wrist, my wife said YES, and he said and do you have a watch band which is magnetic like the milanese loop, and she said YES YES! Well he said, the issue is that the magnet in your Apple watch strap when your wrist is over the laptop sends a command that the lid is closed, causing the screen to go black and then asks you to log back in! We found this out some time ago by a complete coincidence and I am very glad to be able to tell you how to fix it! The solution is to go to your power settings and change the setting when the lid is closed to, “do nothing”.
So there you are. The workaround for people who are experiencing this issue who are wearing a magnetic watch strap (I imagine this is not just limited to Apple watches) is to change your power settings to “do nothing” when you close the lid. Note that this issue doesn’t seem to affect all laptops, but certainly Macs (ha! go figure that, I am surprised Apple have not done something to combat that!) and Lenovo. I use a Dell laptop and have not experienced this issue and my power settings are to hibernate when the lid is closed on power and battery. There’s even a community thread on apple.com who have experienced the same problem https://discussions.apple.com/thread/7505983
But there are lots of laptops, watch straps and smart watches out there and now you know how to solve this strange mystery if you have had this problem. So to any IT company who have had calls from clients over this and have never got to the bottom of it, this is what the issue and solution is! I suppose the only other way around this problem is to simply take your watch off when using your laptop or change your watch strap. But seemingly all irritating solutions and especially, like me you do use the “hibernate when closing lid” power setting but hey, life with technology isn’t perfect!