How to fix the “iPhone is disabled” error

Sure, iPhone pass codes are a pain — most security measures are boring and time consuming — but the alternative is unthinkable. If you ever accidentally leave your iPhone in a public bathroom or some thief gets the better of you, that four- or six-digit pass code prevents whoever finds it from instantly accessing your private life via your email, bank account, photos, text messages, and other personal apps and information you may be toting around.

The dreaded “iPhone is disabled” message pops up specifically when you or someone else has entered the wrong passcode to your device more than six times. Even if you tap in the right combination on your seventh try, too bad. You are locked out, though maybe only for a minute or so. The more times you try the wrong code, the longer it will delay before you can actually enter the right pass code and once again be at one with your device. Depending on how you set up your iPhone, if you enter a wrong pass code 10 times, it will automatically wipe all data.

Here are a few easy ways to get out of this unfortunate situation — depending on the iPhone you own — and how to avoid it in the future.

Restore from iTunes

With your iPhone in hand, you can use your last iTunes backup to restore the data on your phone, and that is probably the easiest way to go. Most Mac and PC users have iTunes installed, even if they never use it as a backup. These days, Apple prefers that you use iCloud to back up your iPhone data, but many people still back up their iPhone playlists, movies, TV shows, books, and podcasts between their desktop computer and iPhone with iTunes.

First, try to restore your phone from a backup using iTunes by connecting with your computer. In iTunes, click the Restore button and follow the instructions to get your device back in the saddle. If you can’t restore it that way, try Preferences > Devices > (choose the proper device listed) and click OK. If that doesn’t work, a more drastic measure like Recovery Mode is called for.

You need to first switch off your iPhone.

  • Now, to connect with an iPhone 8 and later, connect the device to your computer while holding the Side button until you see the Recovery Mode screen.
  • To connect with an iPhone 7, hold the Volume Down button until you see the Recovery Mode screen.
  • For an iPhone 6S or earlier, connect your device to your computer while pressing the Home button until you see the Recovery Mode screen.

When the option to Restore or Update appears, choose Restore and iTunes will download software for your device. Then proceed with a new setup and enter a new passcode, and you’re back in business.

Restore from Recovery Mode

Recovery Mode is the nuclear option. If you never backed up or synced your device in the first place, there is nothing to restore, so it’s either erase your phone and start from scratch or give up on using your phone until the locked countdown is done and you can try and unlock it again. If you can’t remember that passcode, the first choice is what you should do.

Some iPhone users treat the information on their phones as inherently disposable. They do not carry around a lot of personal information, extensive phone contacts, large music collections, whole albums of photos, or unlocked apps filled with personal information. If that is the case, then there’s really no problem nuking your phone and starting all over again. Most of the information on your phone is likely stored on your computer anyway.

Restore from iCloud

You should always have Find My iPhone enabled on your device so that you can wipe it clean if it gets lost or stolen. You can also restore data to your phone via iCloud if you use it to sync. Find My iPhone is a function of iCloud and uses the phone’s GPS and internet connection to locate it on a map so you can control certain features remotely. Find My iPhone works with iOS 5 and higher on the iPhone 3GS and newer iPhones.

You can use Find My iPhone to both find and/or remotely wipe your device. This will delete all data, as well as reset your phone so you can once again use it. If you made a habit of backing up your data to iCloud or iTunes, you can restore your phone to the most recent backup and salvage all or part of its contents. But even if you have to go back to factory settings, at least you still have the use of your phone.

To re-enter your iPhone via iCloud, go to the iCloud website, sign in with your Apple ID, choose Find iPhone to search for devices logged in with your ID, and select your locked device. To remotely lock the device screen and set a new passcode select Lost Mode. This prevents someone else from using the phone and accessing your personal data.

Touch ID or Face ID

Maybe you learned your lesson by inconveniently forgetting your passcode. There is an easier way to secure your phone: You can always employ Touch ID or Face ID instead of having to punch in a passcode. Use Touch ID or Face ID, depending on which iPhone model you own. The iPhone 5S up to iPhone 8 has the Touch ID option. If you have an iPhone X, XS, or XR there’s no Touch ID option; you must use Face ID instead.

Whichever updated method is available to you, use it and you won’t need to enter an alphanumeric passcode quite so often. Just show your face or scan your finger and your device will recognize that it’s you and Open Sesame. But bear in mind that your iPhone will still prompt you for your passcode when you restart it or to change certain settings, so make sure you don’t forget that new passcode or you may find yourself locked out again.

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