If you (or your darling daughter or son) enter the wrong passcode too many times, you'll end up with a locked iPhone - but this problem needn't be terminal. In this article we explain how to fix a disabled iPhone using iTunes or the Finder (or even iCloud).
iPhone is Disabled error messages
Here's a common - but worrying - notification that you may have seen on your iPhone:
iPhone is disabled. Try again in 1 minute
That's not too bad. But it might be worse:
iPhone is disabled. Try again in 60 minutes
Annoying! It could also be 5 or 15 minutes. The warnings that include a waiting period are less worrying but can ramp up to the worst error message of all if you're not careful:
iPhone is disabled. Connect to iTunes
If you have seen the above message, or the ominous screen below on your iPhone or iPad, you have a bigger problem. But we're here to help you fix it!
These error messages range from mildly inconvenient to totally incapacitating, but whichever one you get you absolutely shouldn't ignore them.
Why is my iPhone Disabled?
These error messages nearly always mean you've got the passcode wrong too many times (or someone else has - did you let the kids play with your smartphone?) and the iPhone has locked down to protect itself from a possible hacking attempt.
The iPhone has powerful built-in security measures, and one of these is designed to prevent brute-force attempts to bypass the passcode.
If a phone thief could just keep guessing passcodes - and particularly if they could hook it up to a piece of software that rattles through guesses far quicker than a human - then eventually they would break in. If you use a four-digit code, remember, there are 'only' 10,000 combinations, which Fortune's tool estimates could be cracked by a human in 4 hours and 6 minutes, and by a computer in 6 minutes and 34 seconds.
To stop this approach, iOS deliberately makes it harder for someone to input lots of incorrect passcodes. Get it wrong a few times (up to five) and you can carry on as normal; make six or seven incorrect attempts and it'll just slow you down a bit, but the more times you get it wrong, the harder things get. Once you get to 10, that's it - no more guesses for you.
Here's how the error messages (and time delays) tie into the number of wrong guesses:
- 6 incorrect guesses: iPhone is disabled. Try again in 1 minute
- 7 incorrect guesses: iPhone is disabled. Try again in 5 minutes
- 8 incorrect guesses: iPhone is disabled. Try again in 15 minutes
- 9 incorrect guesses: iPhone is disabled. Try again in 60 minutes
- 10 incorrect guesses: iPhone is disabled. Connect to iTunes
For more general related advice, see How to bypass a forgotten passcode.
How can I stop my phone being disabled?
The way to avoid seeing these messages in future is to either be more careful about inputting your passcode, choose a complex passcode with more characters (because this is less likely to be entered accidentally), or stop using a passcode at all (for security reasons we very much advise against this last option).
You might find your iPhone has attempted to unlock itself from inside your pocket - in that case you would be wise to opt for the screen to turn off automatically after 30 seconds to minimise the likelihood that the screen will spring to life again.
What you can't do is turn off this safety measure. You can't even turn off or change the time delays as these are automatically activated on your iPhone.
Allow us to note in passing, however, that there is a related and more drastic security measure that is optional: one that will wipe the device completely if someone gets the passcode wrong 10 times in a row. This is useful if your iPhone contains data you cannot allow to fall into the wrong hands.
Go into Settings, then Touch ID & Passcode (or Face ID & Passcode), then enter your passcode. If you scroll down to the bottom you'll see a toggle labelled 'Erase Data'. Don't use this option lightly; it could prove highly inconvenient if you're forgetful.
How to fix a disabled iPhone
If you are lucky your iPhone or iPad will only have been exposed to nine incorrect guesses. In that case all you need to do is wait. (You'll notice that the 'try again in X minutes' counts down so you can see how long there is left to wait.) You can't do much while you're waiting, but you can still make emergency calls - tap the button at the bottom labelled Emergency.
Once the waiting period is up, the screen of your iPhone will change back to the usual background and you'll be able to try again. But it's very important that you input your passcode carefully when you next get a chance. If you get it wrong again you'll be escalated to the next waiting period.
As soon as you get to the 60-minute wait, you're on your last life. Get it wrong one more time and you'll be locked out until you plug the iPhone into iTunes, and the data on the device will realistically be unrecoverable.
If you're getting anywhere near the 10-guess limit, tread very carefully. Is the correct passcode written down anywhere, or is there anyone else who knows it?
It may be worth writing down every guess you make from now on (and any that you're sure you've made previously), but this is only to help jog the memory - rather cleverly, iOS counts multiple entries of the same wrong passcode as one wrong guess, so you don't need to worry about wasting any guesses repeating yourself.
If you do reach the 10th incorrect guess, you'll have to move on to the next section of this tutorial.
How to recover a disabled iPhone
If you see the 'Connect to iTunes' message - or in iOS 14 the 'Connect to a Mac/PC' image - things are bad: you are locked out of the iPhone or iPad and the only way to get back in is to wipe it. This means you will lose all the data on the phone as part of the necessary recovery process. You'll be able to restore the data from your last backup, if that's any consolation. You did back up, right?
What you need
A computer: Before you start you need to locate a computer (Mac or PC). If you don’t have access to a computer you may need to visit an Apple Retail Store or any Mac reseller to use one of their Macs.
A lightning to USB cable: You will also need a Lightning to USB cable. This could be a problem if your Mac only has USB-C and your iPhone cable uses the older USB-A... In that case you'll need an adaptor or a USB-C to lightning cable such as this one. If you own an iPhone 11 it will have shipped with a USB-C to lightning cable, which could be an issue if your Mac doesn't have USB-C...
Step 1: Enter Recovery Mode
The first step is to connect your iPhone to your computer and enter recovery mode. The method used will depends on the model of iPhone you have.
iPhone 8, 8, Plus, X or newer
- Press and hold the Side button and one of the volume buttons and wait for the power off slider to appear.
- Drag the slide to turn off your iPhone.
- Hold the side button on your iPhone as you plug your iPhone into the Mac using your cable. Keep holding the side button until the recovery screen appears.
iPhone 7, iPhone 7 Plus, and iPod touch (7th gen)
- Press and hold the Side (or Top) button and wait for the power off slider to appear.
- Turn off your iPhone.
- Connect your iPhone to the computer while pressing the Volume down button until you seen the recovery mode screen.
iPhone 6s or earlier
- Follow the steps above: Press and hold the Side (or Top) button until the power off slider appears.
- Drag the slider to turn off your iPhone.
- This time connect your device to your computer while pressing the Home button.
- Keep pressing the Home button until you see the recovery mode screen.
iPad (Face ID)
- If your iPad has Face ID you need to press and hold the Top button and either volume button until the power off slider appears.
- Turn off your iPad.
- Now connect your iPad to your Mac while pressing the Top button.
- Keep pressing this button until you see the recovery mode screen.
iPad with Home button
- This time you can press and hold the Top button until the power off slider appears.
- Turn off the iPad by dragging the slider across.
- Now connect your iPad to your Mac while pressing the Home button.
- Keep pressing Home until you see the recovery screen.
Step 2: Locate your iPhone/iPad via your Mac/PC
Depending on the software running on your Mac or PC the next step will either involve the Finder on a Mac or iTunes on Windows (or on a Mac running an older version of macOS).
- If you are running Catalina open a Finder window
- You will see your iPhone or iPad on the left side of the finder window under locations
- Click on it
macOS Mojave or older
If you are running Mojave or older on your Mac you will need to open iTunes.
There are multiple versions of iTunes you could be running and the method is different for each:
Click on the iPhone's icon in the upper-left corner of the iTunes window.
Click on the iPhone tab on the right side of the window.
The iPhone will be in the sidebar on the left
On a PC running iTunes for Windows
The process will match one of the versions of iTunes listed above (depending on the version you are running).
Step 3: Choose the option to Restore
Now that you have selected your iPhone or iPad on the computer you need to click on Restore.
Once you do this the necessary software will download. This can take a few minutes. If it takes longer than 15 minutes you might need to reconnect your device following the steps above.
Once the download has finished you will see onscreen prompts to follow. First you will have to wait while the data on your device is erased.
Step 4: Set up your iPhone
You can now set up your iPhone as if it was new.
You'll get the option while following these steps to Restore from backup - which we hope you have.
For much more detail on erasing an iPhone, see How to reset or wipe an iPhone or iPad.
My iPhone is disabled and won’t connect to iTunes!
Fixing the disabled iPhone isn't always as simple as outlined above. Some iPhone owners find that connecting the disabled iPhone to iTunes doesn't do much of anything.
If you've tried both the standard iTunes wipe and Recovery Mode, you may be able to wipe it using iCloud, which we explain in the next section.
Restore your iPhone with iCloud
An alternative method of wiping the disabled iPhone and starting again is to use iCloud - this is only possible, however, if you've set up Find My iPhone, and if the disabled iPhone has a data connection.
On your Mac (or another iPhone or iPad), go to icloud.com and click on Find iPhone. You'll have to enter the password for your Apple account.
After a brief wait, a map will appear showing the location of your devices. Click All Devices at the top, then select the iPhone you want to erase. Click Erase iPhone.