May 4 2017
Recently, I needed to set up an old 3rd-generation wifi iPad for a new user. The iPad was protected by a four-digit PIN, but the previous owner could not remember what it was, so I had no choice but to force my way past its protection. This meant wiping the whole device by restoring it via the Recovery Mode.
As usual, the instructions I found online left a lot to be desired, even the official instructions from Apple. I struggled with them for hours, wasting quite a bit of time. After I finally succeeded in setting up the iPad for its new owner, I decided to document the process that worked for me, in the hopes that it may come in handy for other people.
You need to use iTunes as the tool for restoring the iPad to factory condition. If you have a Mac, iTunes already comes with it. If you have a Windows PC, you can easily download iTunes from Apple’s web site.
It’s okay if your installation of iTunes is already synchronizing with other iOS devices. We will only need the utility part of iTunes that’s normally hidden and unused.
Start iTunes, and plug the iPad into the USB port. After a moment, iTunes will pop up a message to say that you cannot sync to this iPad unless you punch in the passcode. That’s fine. You’re on the right track.
Press and hold down both the Home button (lower front, right in the center) and the Sleep / Wake button (upper right edge). You’ll keep holding them down for quite some time. After a while, the iPad will restart — the screen goes to black, and then shows the Apple logo. Keep holding down the buttons. After another moment, the iPad’s Recovery Mode kicks in. You’ll see the following image on-screen:
At this point, iTunes will be prompting you. Click on the Restore button, and iTunes will download the software image (known as IPSW firmware) it will need for the restoration. This is a big download — in my case, 1.6 GB in size — and can take an hour even on a fast connection. iTunes will show a small circling animation in its upper right corner while the download is going on, and you can check the progress by clicking on it.
The biggest problem with the official instructions is that the iPad has a 15-minute timer on the restoration process. This means the Recovery Mode will time out long before the download finishes. Don’t worry when this happens to you. Let the download continue to completion. I would even suggest doing something else with your time and check back later. Staring at the download and biting your nail will, unfortunately, not make it go any faster.
When the download is done (you can verify that it is by clicking on the small circular icon near the upper right corner of iTunes), simply go back to Step 3, hold down the buttons until the iPad restarts. Keep holding them down until the iPad goes into Recovery Mode.
This time, because the IPSW firmware file has already been downloaded, iTunes will go to the next step, and use that file to restore the iPad. Just follow the on-screen prompts; it will take you through the process step by step.
When you are done with the above, you will have an iPad that is ready to be set up from scratch. That’s really all there is to it!