Tech Hack | How to Unlock Your iPhone with a Broken Screen or Home Button
- You probably take for granted that the touch screen and home button on your phone will always work. If you're at home or on the road and your iPhone screen cracks, it's unsightly but still usable. But, what happens when you lose basic functionality? Here's what happened to me and how you can unlock your iPhone when you can't use it.
The later models of the iPhone have since retired the home button, but many like myself have not upgraded to a newer model and I still had an iPhone 8. If you find yourself with an older model or can’t get into your new phone due to the screen not working, these tips will also be useful.
Something rather unfortunate happened to me recently. I seriously dinged up my iPhone in a way that I didn’t think was possible. I’ve used an iPhone for nearly a decade, but nothing like this has ever happened before. I’ve earned my fair share of shattered screens until I finally caved and bought a screen protector. I refuse to throw a thick OtterBox case over my phone – it feels clunky and inelegant which bothers me aesthetically.
Anyway, it was around midnight and my phone fell off my bed, dinged loudly into my space heater, and landed on the floor. I picked it up and noticed no real apparent difference in appearance, but I couldn’t unlock it.
We take for granted the functionality of the home button and that the touch screen will just work. So what happens when it doesn’t?
No matter what I did, it wouldn’t work and even the passcode to get into my phone was not registering very well.
The stress was that I needed my phone to log into the authenticator app that I use every day to work from home. Without a functional phone, I technically wouldn’t be able to use the VPN I need to actually do work. UGH.
Fortunately, I had an older iPhone laying around so I just changed my sim card and redownloaded the app, and prayed that in the morning, I could reauthenticate my connection again using a different phone. This wasn’t without stress though, since I needed to update my iOS which of course, wasn’t working. After an hour of troubleshooting a phone that wouldn’t update, I decided to update the iPhone through iTunes. I have no idea why, but it worked and so I gained useful access to my phone.
All seemed well and I was in the process of looking for a new phone and just kinda retired my broken phone for the time being and put the problem out of my mind until technology came back with a vengeance.
I sometimes do things and then forget about what I’ve done, such as me setting up 2-factor identification to my website and then relying on the passcode from the authentication app on my phone. Over a month ago I set this up for the first time, and then totally forgot about it – until 30 days later.
Fuck. Upon setting it up, I’d neglected to download the backup codes in case the authenticator fails. Why? I do not know. I never actually counted on that, nor not being able to get into my website. I might have also gotten distracted and then totally forgot. The stress was when I began to think about not being able to get into my site over the next week because I’m switching hosts. I’ve never actually been locked out of my site before but without my phone, it was pretty much impossible. So, I powered it back up and tried to figure out how to get into it.
When the home button is fucked, you will have to activate VoiceOver in Accessibility.
The problem for me was that both my home button and my home screen were totally fucked. My passcode wasn’t entering, but I finally noticed that if you double-tap on the digits, it sometimes kinda worked. After nearly 30 minutes of attempting to get into my phone, I was in successfully.
Since I couldn’t scroll without activating various apps and then being unable to close them (which frustratingly happened at least twice), forcing me to reset my phone and then go through all this crap again, I tried the first method:
1. Activating VoiceOver through iTunes
If you can successfully log into your phone even with a broken home button, just hook your phone up to iTunes and you’ll be able to gain access to your phone’s settings. I tried this, but unfortunately, it didn’t work. I really don’t know why, but it’s worth a try because it’s quite an easy thing to do. Once you are connected to iTunes, select your phone and go to the Options panel and select Configure Accessibility, then select VoiceOn, and OK.
It’s really all very straightforward, but for some reason, my phone wasn’t registering the new command.
2. Activating VoiceOver through Settings
If you still have some slight functionality in your phone, this is what worked for me. I got lucky upon one reboot and my phone opened straight to Settings. Once you’re there, you can go to the search at the top. I searched “VoiceOver” via the voice search function since I couldn’t really type very well.
This promptly brought up Settings –> Accessibility –> VoiceOver. If you can get into here, all is well, and just turn it on.
It’s almost miraculous I was able to get into my phone, but if there’s a will there’s a way I guess. I’ve never used voice to control my phone’s functionality before, but it almost felt like beating a video game when I searched “Duo app” and finally retrieved the code I needed.
For most people, if you find yourself in this situation, either of these solutions should work. Trust me. My phone was nearly impossible to get into, so all hope is not lost.
Fixing the iPhone Home Button
Apple has a reputation for charging almost $300 to fix these buttons and at this point, my phone’s not even worth that. But, there are definitely local phone repair businesses that are quite a bit more reasonable, and apparently, many of these are even mobile repair and have a fairly quick turnaround. For the most part, these older models are so much cheaper now that it doesn’t make much sense to spend much on the repair. But, if you’re in a situation where you can’t get to an easy repair shop, try these and just don’t give up. And have a good drink afterward.