Backing up an iPhone with Broken Screen

I was recently tasked with needing to backup an iPhone using iTunes where the screen had been broken. As most iPhone users know, neither iTunes nor most 3rd party iPhone software will sync data with your iPhone when it’s in a locked state. Unfortunately, neither the thumbprint scanner nor the touch screen worked, so I had no way to enter that password.

My first stop was to the Apple Store, hoping that they had some method to backup the data, or that they could fix the device, however neither was possible. The device was beyond repair and would need to be replaced. That was not the answer I was hoping for.

The steps below outline how I unlocked the iPhone so I could backup the data without access to the touchscreen.

  1. First, I had to make a few purchases from Amazon (overnight shipping for the win!). You may already have some of these lying around your house, so don’t purchase anything before looking around. I added some notes about these items to the bottom of the blog post if you want to read more.
  2. Next, I connected my fully charged iPhone to the Digital AV Adapter and then into my television. I changed the input to the HDMI I connected to, and was really pleased to see a lock screen come up almost immediately.
  3. Third, I plugged the Griffin iPhone keyboard into what I later found out was just a charging port on the display adapter. The keyboard will not work this way. My heart dropped a bit when it didn’t work, because I first assumed it meant that it wasn’t going to work at all.
  4. When I realized that I the extra port on the adapter was for charging only (by testing this setup out with a working iPhone), I disconnected my display adapter and plugged just the keyboard into the iPhone. Some tips for this step:
    • Press enter before entering your password. This will ensure that you’re not looking at your wallpaper screen and are definitely on the password input screen. There is no harm in pressing Enter on the password input screen – it will ignore it.
    • Enter your password slowly, waiting about 1 second after each key press. I thought I might have noticed a slight lag at the password screen.
    • Press enter when you’ve entered your password.
    • Lastly, I disconnected the keyboard and plugged in my display adapter again. I was pleased to find that I was at my home screen on an unlocked iPhone. I disconnected the adapter for the last time and connected a computer. Happily, iTunes now recognized it was unlocked and successfully backed it up!

After all was said and done, I realized I probably could have done this all without the display adapter, so long as I had a working iPhone to test the keyboard with. While that’s true, being able to see that my phone was working fine when I saw the lock screen was a huge help, and also knowing that my iPhone wasn’t locked out was useful.

Finally, I’m not sure if this would have worked if the iPhone had never been backed up before – it’s been too long since I’ve setup an iPhone to remember if there is anything different that I need to do on the device during first backup – but I suspect that I would have been able to use the keyboard to answer any prompts.

Hopes this helps someone who thinks they have an unrecoverable iPhone.

Some notes on the items I purchased:

  • HDMI Cable: While any cheap old cable would probably work for this, I figured I’d eventually end up reusing it for something else so I went with a half-way decent one that was pretty inexpensive ($7.99 on sale). You can do your own research here for what works for you.
  • Digital AV Adapter: There are a lot of them out there, so I went with an inexpensive one. If you’ll reuse yours for streaming to your TV later, do your own research on the best one to buy – but I didn’t need anything that would last, or where I cared about support or great display output, I just need to backup an iPhone.
  • iPhone Keyboard. There are plenty of Bluetooth options out there, but since I couldn’t use my touch screen to unlock and pair a device, I needed a wired one. I couldn’t know before purchasing if it would work at the lock screen or not, so I just crossed my fingers and hit the order button. The one I’ve linked to here does work to enter your password, I’m not sure if all do.

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