If you're like many harried parents of small children, you know how tempting it can be, when faced with a whiny, cranky, or bored child to hand that child an electronic device to play with--your iPad, for example. Whining ceases. Peace reigns. Your little one is pacified and occupied playing his or her favorite game. Your iPad may wind up a little sticky, but it's easy enough to wipe it off later.

But, as New Yorker staff writer Evan Osnos learned this week, there can be unexpected drawbacks to that approach. Details are scarce, but Osnos apparently either gave his iPad to a three-year-old to play with, or perhaps left it unattended in the three-year-old's vicinity. Apple, which takes security very seriously, has a feature that blocks all access to a device after too many failed attempts to unlock it. The more sign-in attempts there are, the more minutes a user has to wait before being able to unlock it. Apparently, there is no upper limit on this waiting time. Osnos returned to find this message on his screen: "iPad is disabled. Try again in 25,536,442 minutes."

That's 48 years, six months, 19 days, and 12 hours. Fortunately for Osnos, who is also a Brookings Institution fellow, he has well over 85,000 Twitter followers. So he posed the problem to the Twitter-verse, hoping someone would know the solution:

Needless to say, he got many whimsical responses...

 But he also got some sound advice about how to fix the problem. In case this ever happens to you, and you don't have 85,000 Twitter followers of your own, CNBC published a helpful guide to restoring an iPad or other iOS device if it becomes disabled due to too many sign-in attempts. I should note that CNBC's instructions are good advice if you want to reset your iPad or iPhone to its factory settings with the latest version of iOS (if you've backed it up, you'll be able to restore your apps and data). If you want an older version of iOS, or you want to reset your device without automatically installing the latest version of iOS, you need Device Firmware Update mode, or DFU mode. The difference between recovery and DFU modes can be confusing. Here's an explanation of the difference, and here's an Apple tech's instructions, as well as why he considers DFU mode preferable when trying to restore a malfunctioning device.

Apparently, that's the option Osnos chose.

As of this writing, he hasn't tweeted again, which no doubt means that the restore worked and he's back on his iPad. Let's hope when he's not using it, he keeps it on a high shelf from now on.

Published on: Apr 11, 2019
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