Decommission iOS devices

Image: Jesus Vigo

The iPhone 6S is out! Every year, millions of iOS users upgrade their current device for the latest shiny smartphone from Cupertino. If you’re one of these users, make sure that you decommission your older iPhone correctly before trading it in or selling it online.

What exactly might you be exposing yourself to? Any and every piece of data you have stored on your device, including contacts, text messages and emails—and the potentially sensitive data contained within them. You also have to think about social media account access. While everyone may be on social sites sharing and collaborating on just about everything, the last thing you want—especially as a business—is to have any unauthorized access lead to posts that could very well result in your company’s financial decline.

Finally, speaking of financial concerns, don’t forget that your mobile device may contain your personal finance information, such as bank accounts, credit cards, and loans. While these types of apps are usually better protected through the use of multi-factor authentication and Touch ID, it assumes the user has enabled extra security features and doesn’t store their account passwords in plain text.

Now that we’ve identified some concerns about just handing over your smartphone to a buyer after getting your new mobile phone, let’s look at how to properly secure it so that all data is removed and the device is ready for its new owner.

Erase settings and content

  1. Perform a full backup of your device either to a computer or through iCloud. This will ensure you retain access to your data and can restore it to your new iPhone.
  2. On the iOS device, tap Settings | iCloud. Scroll down and tap Sign Out (Figure A).
    Figure A
    Figure A
  3. You’ll be prompted to confirm, so tap Sign Out again. Remember, this will remove iCloud completely and all the data associated with that account on the current iOS device, including disabling Turn off my iPhone service, which is also known as Activation Lock (Figure B).
    Figure B
    Figure B
  4. Next, go to Settings | General, and tap Reset (Figure C).
    Figure C
    Figure C
  5. At the Reset screen, tap Erase All Content and Settings (Figure D).
    Figure D
    Figure D
  6. If a passcode is enabled, you’ll be prompted to enter your passcode (Figure E).
    Figure E
    Figure E
  7. Next, tap Erase iPhone when prompted (Figure F).
    Figure F
    Figure F
  8. At this point, the iPhone will reboot and display the Apple logo. Below it, the progress bar will indicate the level of completion while wiping the device clean. It’s very important that the device remain powered on during this entire process to ensure the process completes without any issues and to ensure that all the data is removed completely, thereby limiting any chances at data retrieval.

As with all things technology-related, this is but one method to perform a factory restore. Using iTunes to initiate a restore or kicking the device into a diagnostics mode will largely accomplish the same task. However, these other methods all require a Mac or Windows computer to complete, and neither remove the iCloud Lock service that you’ll need to remove in order for the new owner to be able to use the iPhone with their service provider.

How do you prepare your old iOS device when you trade it in for a newer model? Share your experience in the discussion thread below.

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Pro tip: How to properly decommission iOS devices