Does a disabled iOS device mean your data is lost for good?

Written By: Ontrack

Date Published: September 06, 2022

Does a disabled iOS device mean your data is lost for good?

We’ve all done it: completely forgotten what the passcode is for our iOS device. You try and remember it but in the process enter an incorrect passcode a handful of times. And, before you know it, you’ve tried six times and a message pops up saying, "iPhone is disabled". Disaster! Who would have thought that entering your passcode a couple of times could cause such an issue!

So what do you do? This article aims to answer that question and help you decide the best possible course of action when your iOS device becomes disabled. It will focus on:

  • What is the disabled function for?
  • What methods are there to re-enable your iOS device?
  • Can you recover data from a disabled iOS device?

What is the disabled function for?

It’s pretty obvious really; the passcode is a security function to prevent any old person accessing your personal device. The more times you put an incorrect passcode in, the longer you have to wait to try again. This is very off-putting to someone who shouldn’t be accessing the iOS device, so it can be quite a good theft prevention.

So, the disabled function is good for security reasons, but does it have any negatives? Yes, but only if you neglect to back up any data you store on your iOS device. As once your IOS device is disabled, the only ways of enabling it again involve wiping your device entirely.

What methods are there to enable your iOS device?

According to the official support page on the Apple site, the first step to enable your device is to pick a way to erase your device. In Apple’s words, “unless you made a backup before you forgot your passcode, there isn’t a way to save your device’s data.”

So, to remove the passcode on your iOS device, you have to erase it.

According to Apple, this can be done in two ways:

  • If you’ve synced your phone to iTunes, then you can use iTunes
  • If you haven’t synced to iTunes, then you can use recovery mode

Enable your phone using iTunes

  1. Connect your iOS device to the computer that your iTunes account is on.
  2. Open iTunes. If you are asked for your passcode, you will have to use the recovery mode method.
  3. If it doesn’t ask for your passcode, wait for iTunes to sync your device.
  4. After it has finished syncing, click ‘Restore your device’.
  5. You should then see a setup screen and have the choice to ‘Restore from iTunes backup’.
  6. Select your device on iTunes and pick the most relevant backup (note that if you haven’t made a backup for a while you’ll be replacing your current data with an older backup and will lose anything recently that you’ve added).

Re-enable your phone using Recovery mode

  1. Connect your device to a computer and open the iTunes program.
  2. When your device is connected, you need to force restart it. If you don’t know how to do that, follow this link.
  3. A message will pop up with an option to ‘Restore’ or ‘Update’. Choose ‘Restore’.
  4. iTunes will download software for your device. If this takes more than 15 minutes, your device will exit recovery mode and steps 2 and 3 will need repeating.
  5. Once the process has finished, you can then set up and reuse your device.

Use the Find my iPhone app

According to, you can also use the ‘Find my iPhone app’ to re-enable your device, but this will result in the all your data being deleted.

  1. Download the Find My iPhone app to another iOS device.
  2. Use the app to locate your device and then perform a ‘Remote Wipe’.
  3. This will delete all your data on your device, but if you’ve been backing up your data on iCloud or iTunes you will be able to restore it.

Can you recover data from a disabled iPhone?

As discussed above, once your phone has been disabled there are a variety of ways to enable it again, but there is a high chance that unless you’ve made a back-up all your data will be lost.

The majority of people will have some form of back-up, but whether it is the most up to date is another question!

If your iOS device holds very important data, you have not made a recent backup and your phone is disabled then a recovery company like Ontrack may be able to help you recover any data that has had to be wiped. The unfortunate problem is that there are very specific requirements: if it’s a phone it must be below an iPhone 4S, the device must be below iOS 10 and you must know the passcode – which if you are still having a mind blank on what your passcode is, is not an option.

The main message from this article is how important it is to back up your data, no matter what device that data is kept on. You never know when something may go wrong, whether that’s forgetting your passcode or a hardware / software failure.


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