How to Lock Apps on Any iPhone

The best ways to ensure privacy for your apps

iPhone apps

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Whether you want to protect your app settings or stop the kids from seeing something they shouldn't, this guide explains how to lock apps on any iPhone.

Don't use iPhone? You can lock apps on Android, too.

How to Lock First-Party Apps on iOS

iOS doesn't have a system-level feature that allows the locking of apps individually, so at the moment, the number of apps you can individually lock remains limited.

However, there are a number of workarounds and fixes you can use, and while some of these don't directly lock individual apps, they produce much the same effect.

A first-party app is an app that Apple creates (as opposed to an app from another software maker).

This first set of directions is only for iPhones running iOS 12 or newer.

  1. Open Settings.

  2. Go to Screen Time > Content & Privacy Restrictions.

  3. Tap Allowed Apps.

  4. Toggle off all the green switches (tap them to make them white) for apps you don't want to use.

    Content & Privacy Restrictions, Allowed Apps, toggle button to OFF in iOS Settings > Screen Time
  5. Tap the Back button or swipe up to go to the Home screen.

Instructions for Older Devices

Use these instructions if your iPhone is running iOS 11 or below.

One simple app lock method that works for all iPhones — but only for first-party Apple apps – involves the use of Restrictions.

Go to Settings > General, and then scroll down and navigate to Restrictions > Enable Restrictions. Once prompted, enter a new passcode (twice to confirm). Write it down if you need to.

Having enabled restrictions and entered a new passcode, you're presented with a variety of options. Firstly, under the ALLOW subheading, you have the option of disallowing a range of first-party apps, such as Safari, Siri, and FaceTime. This doesn't include apps you've downloaded (see below), but by swiping the green toggle icon to the off position, you'll be able to stop any disallowed apps from appearing on your Home screen. In other words, this isn't an app lock method so much as a temporary app removal method, since apps you "lock" in this way won't be accessible even to you until you re-allow them.

By scrolling to the ALLOWED CONTENT subheading, you can also set parental controls on the type of content/media someone can view on your phone. In addition, you can use the PRIVACY subheading to prevent changes from being made to your various privacy settings, and use the ALLOW CHANGES subheading to freeze a range of miscellaneous options, such as the volume limit.

Set Time Limits for Apps

You can also set time limits for your apps, which is kind of like locking apps away from your own use.

Screen Time was introduced in iOS 12, so it only works with iPhones running iOS 12 or newer.

Go to Settings > Screen Time > App Limits > Add Limit.

Screen Time, App Limits, Add Limit buttons in iOS Settings

Once you see the list of apps, make a decision on which to restrict access. Tap the checkbox button to the left of the app category (like Social Networking) you want to restrict.

Choose a time limit for use of that app category (e.g., 1 hour). You can also customize the days you want this restriction in place. Tap the Add button to save the settings.

Checkbox, time restrictions, and App Limits list on iOS settings

Password App Lock: How to Lock Apps on iPhone Using Guided Access

Guided Access is something of a "nuclear" app lock option, in that it effectively prevents you from leaving the app you're currently using. Still, it could come in handy if your child wants to use a particular app on your phone, but you're worried that she or he might venture elsewhere.

Guided Access requires iOS 11.

  1. From Settings, go to General > Accessibility > Guided Access.

  2. Swipe the Guided Access toggle button to the green/on position.

  3. Go to Passcode Settings > Set Guided Access Passcode.

    Accessibility, Guided Access, Passcode Settings, Set Guided Access Passcode buttons in iOS Settings
  4. Enter a new passcode and then enter it again to confirm. You can also enable Face ID on this screen.

Once you've enabled Guided Access and set your passcode, you can then use the feature by opening any app and pressing the Side button three times (iPhone X) or the Home button three times, once the app has started.

Doing this brings up the Guided Access start screen, which lets you draw a circle around the areas of the screen you wish to disable (you can set it to cover the entire screen or none of it). Alternatively, you can choose Options in the bottom-right corner of the screen, which can be used to disable everything from the volume buttons to the touchscreen, as well as set a time limit on the Guided Access session (up to 24 hours).

Finally, if you own a Touch ID-enabled iPhone, you can use Touch ID, instead of a passcode, to end a Guided Access session. To enable this, follow Steps 1–5 above, but at Step 6, after tapping Passcode Settings, toggle Touch ID into the on/green position.

App Lock Fingerprint: How to Use Touch ID to Lock Compatible Apps (on iPhone 5S to iPhone 8)

Speaking of Touch ID, it's possible to lock a limited number of compatible apps using the fingerprint-based security feature (available on the iPhone 5S through the iPhone 8 and 8 Plus).

To lock Apple Pay, iTunes, and the App Store in this way, open Settings and go to Touch ID & Passcode to enter your passcode. You can then swipe the toggles into the green/on position for the apps you wish to lock using Touch ID.

Settings, Enter Passcode, Touch ID & Passcode screens on iPhone

It's worth noting that if you haven't already set up Touch ID, you'll be prompted to do so when switching on any of the available options.

The above covers only Apple Pay, iTunes, and the App Store, however. Using Touch ID to lock apps you download from the App Store requires a different process, and in fact many popular apps (e.g., Facebook, Twitter, Snapchat, Tinder) don't enable this process, meaning that you can't lock them individually.

Still, there are a growing number apps that do offer users the option to lock them using Touch ID, while a smaller number also offer the option to lock them using an old-fashioned passcode.

Generally, doing this requires the following:

  1. Open the Touch ID-compatible app.

  2. Go into its settings.

  3. Find the option that lets you lock the app with a password or with your fingerprint. It might be in a Privacy or Preferences section, and could be called Password, Passcode, Touch ID Lock, Lock, Screen Lock, or anything similar.

    Signal, Settings, Privacy screens on iPhone
  4. If needed, follow any on-screen steps to complete the app lock procedure.

How to Lock Apps on iPhone Using a Third-Party App

There is one last option if you want to lock your apps directly, and it involves using a third-party app.

In one respect, this is the best option for locking apps since there are a number of apps available that, in one way or another, let you block access to every single app on your iPhone using a passcode (or biometric ID). However, from another angle, it's also the worst app lock option for iPhone, since in order to use these apps, your iPhone must be jailbroken (which may create security vulnerabilities and performance issues; we don't recommend it).

Some popular examples of third-party apps that let you lock other apps include BioProtect, Locktopus, and AppLocker. These can all be downloaded and installed using the Cydia platform, which is home to apps specifically designed for jailbroken iPhones.

In the case of BioProtect, to take one example, once the app has been downloaded, you can lock specific apps by going to Settings > Applications under the Protected Items subheading, and then toggling the apps you wish to lock into the green/on position.

Something else to consider for your app locking needs is to nix the idea completely. Depending on your needs, a third-party vault app might be all you need to hide things like images and notes, making them accessible only after the correct password has been entered.

If you don't necessarily need to lock the whole app (such as Photos), but instead just specific things like private images, documents, or videos, you might have luck with one of those apps.