My iPad Became Disabled On Road Trip

I took my iPad on its first road trip to attend a conference, and I was really looking forward giving it a good test. The conference organizers posted PDFs of all the materials for the conference on a web site that I stored in a Dropbox directory and loaded on my iPad in GoodReader. We arrived at the conference site the evening before the main day of the conference, dropped off our bags in the hotel room and headed straight to the evening’s reception. Later that night I returned to the hotel room, unpacked, settled down with my iPad to check e-mail, and saw the message “iPad disabled. Connect to iTunes.” I did not see the passcode logon window that normally enables me to access the iPad.

I could not believe my eyes and turned the iPad on and off several times, with no change, and I even did a full shutdown and restart that did not change the status. Unfortunately, all I could do was store my iPad until I returned home two days later to connect it to the Mac with which I originally set up the iPad. When I returned home I fired up iTunes on my Mac, connected the iPad but I still saw only the “iPad disabled” messsage. I then initiated a synchronization and finally saw the familar window for entering the passcode. The good news is that no data was lost on the iPad and the only harm was that I did not have use of my iPad until I returned home.

As frustrating as the situation was, the truth is the passcode security feature of the iPad did exactly what it was supposed to do. When you enter a wrong a passcode the iPad displays a message saying, “Wrong Passcode try again.” Enter the wrong passcode too many times and the iPad is disabled for a minute. Keep entering the wrong passcode and the iPad is disabled and you are not given an option to enter the passcode again until the iPad is connected to the computer with which it last synced, which is what happened in my case. Fortunately, I did not enable the feature that wipes the iPad after ten wrong passcodes are entered or the data on my iPad would have been lost.

The remaining mystery is how were so many wrong passcodes entered? I decided to bring the Apple Wireless keyboard on the trip and put it in the same bag in which I carried the iPad. Unfortunately, at some point the keyboard was turned on and after then the keyboard must have been getting pressed as I was carrying the bag, constantly entering the wrong passcode. Since I had the iPad in the Incase Convertible Book Jacket, I did not see the screen to know what was happening until I finally went to use it and found it disabled.

Obviously, the disabling of the iPad is exactly what should happen when it appears someone is trying to break into the device. In my opinion the experience exposed two flaws with the iPad. First, pressing the keys on a paired bluetooth keyboard resumes the iPad from suspense, and I can’t think of a good reason why that should happen. Obviously the Bluetooth connection remains persistent even while the iPad screen is off, so to prevent this from happening I can explicitly turn Bluetooth off on the iPad, but I think the iPad should not accept any input from a keyboard when the screen is off. The second flaw is the dependency on a computer that you may not have with you when the situation occurs. If I had been traveling for a longer period of time I would have been very disappointed to not be able to use the iPad, and I could not simply force a hard reset that would wipe the iPad because you need to connect it to a computer to activate it. The ideal situation would be to handle the reactivation/disabling situation via a web site where I could enter the proper credentials and have a push notification sent to the iPad that would re-enable it and allow me to enter the passcode.