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Practical Computer Advice
from Martin Kadansky
Volume 15 Issue 13
December 2021
iPhone/iPad/Android: Forgot Your Passcode? Reset Will Erase All of Your Data, Unless You Have a Backup
The problem on an iPhone or iPad
If you forget your password to get into an online account, most websites permit you to reset it (without losing any of your data), typically by clicking an "I forgot" link to start the process.
If you forget your computer user (administrator) password, there are various ways to reset your password and get back in to your Windows or Macintosh computer, some of which require a certain level of technical expertise, also without losing any of your data.
However, if you set a passcode (password) for your iPhone or iPad and then later forget what it is, the only way to reset it (or remove it) requires that you first reset your device back to factory settings, which will erase all of the data in your device. There is no "I forgot" option that resets (or removes) only the passcode while preserving your data.
In other words, if you forget your passcode:
  • Best-case scenario: You forget your passcode but you have a recent backup of your iPhone or iPad. So, after resetting it back to factory settings (which involves a number of steps, including erasing your data), you can then restore that backup and (if everything works properly) the apps and data on your device will be back to that point in time.
  • Worst-case scenario: You forget your passcode but you don't have a backup. Unless you can come up with your passcode (without trying too many guesses, because that will lock your device), your only option is to reset it, which will erase all of your data.
While this can be very frustrating, it's intended as a security feature to protect the (often very personal) information on your device (as well as its ability to get into your accounts) from being accessed by a malicious person who may get physical possession of it.
How to prevent this from happening
Here's what I recommend that you do in advance to avoid getting into such a bad situation:
  • Keep track of your iPhone or iPad passcode (e.g., put it on your password chart or in your password manager, and perhaps ask a trusted friend to note it for you as well), or consider removing it. See "Why set a passcode at all?" below.
  • Back up your iPhone or iPad regularly, either to your iCloud account or to a Macintosh or Windows computer. This will be a huge help if you ever have to reset your device. And, if you decide to move to another iPhone or iPad, this will probably make copying your apps and data to your new device a much easier process.
  • Note your Apple ID (the email address that you've registered with Apple) and your corresponding Apple account password, which will be required during any reset process (and for moving to another iPhone or iPad). You will also need that information to sign in to your other Apple services, including your iCloud account, iTunes Store, and Apple Music.
  • Make sure that your Apple ID is an email account to which you currently have access, which will help if you ever need to reset your Apple account password.
  • Note your Wifi network name and password, since resetting your iPhone (or moving to a new iPhone or iPad) will probably ask you to connect to your Wifi.
  • If you use iCloud to back up your device, check your iCloud account to make sure that it's got more than enough space for the backup. If not, remove things that you don't need, or pay for more iCloud storage. Apple currently gives you 5GB of iCloud storage for free.
  • If you've got more than one Apple device (or more than one Apple account), repeat the above tasks for each device (and account).
Why set a passcode at all?
Setting an iPhone or iPad passcode, or using Touch ID (fingerprint) or Face ID (facial recognition) protects unauthorized people from accessing the content of your device, which in turn may give them access to any photos, text messages, and other online accounts (like your email, social media, online banking, etc.) that you might have set up on your device, especially if it gets misplaced, lost, or stolen.
Setting a passcode does nothing to protect your device from malicious people (or software) getting into it via the internet.
If you're not worried about someone else getting physical access to your iPhone or iPad, then you may not need a passcode.
The problem on an Android device
If you have an Android smartphone or tablet and you forget your lock screen password, PIN, or pattern, you're in a very similar situation.
Unless you can come up with the correct password (or you've got an older Android, which may have additional ways to unlock which were later removed), it's likely that your only option at that moment is to do a factory reset (which erases all of the apps and data in your device), and then restore from a backup (if you have one).
Thus, my advice is the same as with an iPhone or iPad: In advance of any problem, carefully note your password, back up your device on a regular basis, know your Google account address and password, etc.
Many Androids also have a special feature (in Settings, under Security) called "Smart Lock," which lets you unlock your device in certain situations without entering your password, PIN, or pattern, but only if you have configured this in advance. For example, you can set up "Trusted places" (like your home or office) where, if your Android can tell that you're in such a location (using its GPS location), it will unlock itself.
Where to go from here
If you're not sure whether you can deal with this issue on your own, I recommend that you talk to someone that you know and trust to help with your particular situation.
To learn more about this topic:
  • google: iphone forgot passcode
  • google: iphone reset
  • google: iphone icloud itunes backup
  • google: iphone jailbreak
  • google: android forgot password OR pin OR pattern
  • google: android smart lock
How to contact me:
phone: (617) 484-6657

On a regular basis I write about real issues faced by typical computer users. To subscribe to this newsletter, please send an email to martin@kadansky.com and I'll add you to the list, or visit http://www.kadansky.com/newsletter

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I love helping people learn how to use their computers better! Like a "computer driving instructor," I work 1-on-1 with small business owners and individuals to help them find a more productive and successful relationship with their computers and other high-tech gadgets.

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