Forgotten iPhone passcode: how do I recover my phone?

Forgotten iPhone passcode: how do I recover my phone?Late last night, Mobot user sin3stro posted a couple of questions about his forgotten iPhone passcode (1, 2), and while I still don’t know the answers to those very specific questions (sorry dude!), they set me off on a bizarre - and incredibly time-consuming (that's why they pay me the, er, big bucks) - journey.

I decided to act as though I’d forgotten my iPhone passcode, and what followed was really excessively stupid.

If you’re after a quick answer, check out the official guidelines in the form of iOS: Forgotten passcode or device disabled after entering wrong passcode. What follows here is a lengthy observational rant of sorts.

It seems to me that Apple hasn’t really considered what it’s like for a user with a forgotten iPhone passcode (hey, it happens to the best of us), and is instead completely focused on the lost/stolen scenario.

Entering the wrong code six times disables the iPhone for one minute. Each subsequent incorrect guess (that’s one individual guess; not six) locks the iPhone for five minutes, 15 minutes, 30 minutes and then 60 minutes.

It’s fairly brutal, but understandably so (again, we’re juggling forgotten iPhone passcode vs. stolen iPhone).

At this stage I’m thinking it’d be nice if Apple would let users unlock their iPhones using their Apple ID and password (Android users can unlock their handsets with their Gmail credentials), and that is kinda what happened, just in a really long-winded fashion.

Step 1: back up your data

Even with a forgotten iPhone passcode, you can back up your data, both via iCloud (which happens automatically every 24 hours when your phone’s on charge and connected via Wi-Fi) and manually via iTunes.

Incidentally, I discovered that connecting your iPhone to iTunes resets the “iPhone disabled” routine, so you can guess incorrectly six times, disconnect your iPhone, then sync it again for a fresh batch of six guesses. I’m not sure if that’s an iPhone security loophole, or if syncing with iTunes acts as some kind of semi-authentication type thing.

Regardless, this is where you potentially meet stumbling block number two: it’s not possible to restore your iPhone or apply a backup while Find My iPhone is enabled. Of course, you can’t disable it if you’ve forgotten your iPhone passcode. Bah!

I even logged into, and while there’s all sorts of helpful stuff for those who’ve lost their iPhone (view your iPhone on a map, Play Sound, Lost Mode and Erase iPhone), there’s nothing of use for the forgotten iPhone passcode scenario. How about the ability to remote unlock?

2. Put your iPhone into recovery mode and restore it to factory settings

If you still can’t remember your iPhone passcode, there’s only one thing for it: restore your iPhone. Don’t worry; we can get all your data back (assuming you’ve backed it up), it’ll just take a while.

Do this:

  • remove the USB cable from your iPhone
  • turn your iPhone off
  • keeping Home pressed, plug the USB cable back into your iPhone
  • keep Home pressed until your iPhone demands iTunes

Job done. Over on iTunes, you’ll see a message saying: “iTunes has detected an iPhone in recovery mode. You must restore this iPhone before it can be used with iTunes.” Good.

From iTunes, choose to restore your iPhone to factory settings. Yes, we’re deleting everything from your iPhone, and it’s all very scary, but your stuff is backed up. I hope.

This process can take a while if iTunes has to download a software update, but ultimately your iPhone will be wiped, and you’ll be prompted – on the iPhone – to set it up from scratch as if you just unboxed it.

Step 3: restore your iPhone from backup

During the setup process, the iPhone will ask if you want to restore from a backup. Hell yes! You should have the option to restore from iCloud or the iTunes backup. I’d go for the iTunes backup as it encompasses absolutely everything.

The final step is simply entering your Apple ID credentials for authentication, and waiting for everything to sync. Phew.

All going well, you should essentially end up with your iPhone in the state it was in when it was last backed up, but – amusingly – without the passcode. Hurray!


As I mentioned before, Apple seems to be very focused on what happens if your iPhone falls into evil hands, but it seems odd to me that you can’t bypass the iPhone passcode with your Apple ID. It’s not like a thief could realistically guess your credentials, and with the 4-digit passcode, there are only (ahem) 10,000 combinations to try.

Likewise, some sort of remote unlock functionality via would be nice; again, you have to sign in there with your Apple ID and password.

Take note, Apple. Forgetting your iPhone passcode leads to unnecessary stress in abundance.

Read more about: iOS

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