What is a Passcode?

A senior using a tablet
Getty Images / Alistair Berg

If you want to protect your iPad from prying eyes, you'll need to set a passcode on it. A passcode is simply a password that is used to grant access. On the iPad and iPhone, a passcode is usually a 4- to 6-digit password similar to the passcode you might use for an ATM bank card or a debit card. The iPad and iPhone ask for a passcode during the setup process, but this step can easily be skipped. The most recent iPads now default to a 6-digit passcode, but you can enter a 4-digit, 6-digit or fully alphanumeric password to protect your iPad. 

How to Set a Passcode

If you didn't set a passcode during the initialization process, you can turn on the feature at any time. The passcode also works alongside the Touch ID fingerprint sensor. If you have a passcode for your iPad, you can use the Touch ID to bypass the passcode and unlock the iPad. This saves you the time of typing in your passcode while still protecting it from anyone else unlocking it. 

  1. First, open the iPad's Settings by launching the Settings app.

  2. Next, scroll down the left-side menu and tap Touch ID & Passcode. (If your iPad doesn't support Touch ID, this menu item will simply be labeled Passcode.)

  3. Tap the Turn Passcode On link. This should be just under the Touch ID Settings, or if you don't have Touch ID, it should be at the top of the screen. 

  4. You will be prompted to enter a passcode. This passcode may default to six digits, but you can tap Passcode Options to choose the type of passcode. Most people use a 4-digit code, but your choice should depend on how secure you want your iPad. The alphanumeric code is the most secure. 

If someone tries to gain access to your iPad by guessing your code, the iPad will disable for a period of time after a certain number of failed guesses. So as long as someone doesn't know or can't easily guess your four-digit code, that should be enough to keep people out. 

Should You Turn Siri and Notifications Off on the Lock Screen?

One important option most people overlook is the ability to turn Siri and Notifications off while on the lock screen. By default, the iPad will allow access to these features even when the iPad is locked. This means anyone can use Siri without typing in the passcode. And between Siri, Notifications and Today screen, a person can view your day's schedule, set meetings, set reminders and even find out exactly who you are by asking Siri "Who am I?"

On the other hand, the ability to use Siri without unlocking your iPad can be very nice as can seeing text messages and other notifications pop up on the screen without the need unlock the iPad.  

The decision on whether or not to turn these features off will depend on why you want a passcode on your iPad. If it is to keep your toddler from getting into the device, leaving these features on won't do you any harm. On the other hand, if you have a lot of sensitive text messages sent to you or want to make sure no one uses the iPad to find out any information on you, these features should be disabled.

Can I Have Different Passcodes and Restrictions for My Child's iPad? 

The passcode used for unlocking the device and the passcode used for the parental restriction settings for the iPad are separate, so you can have different passcodes for each of these features. This is a very important distinction. Restrictions are used to childproof an iPad and can be used to limit (or disable) access to the App Store, limit the types of music and movies that can be downloaded and even lock out the Safari web browser. 

When you set up restrictions, you will be asked for a passcode. This passcode can be different than the passcode for the device itself, so your child can lock the device as normal. Unfortunately, the passcode used for restrictions will not unlock the device unless the two passcodes are the same. So you cannot use the restrictions passcode as an override to get into the device.