Avoid iPad lockouts when using Bluetooth keyboards

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As we previously covered, the iPad lets you use a Bluetooth keyboard for extended typing sessions. I’ve been taking advantage of this functionality by frequently leaving my MacBook at home and instead bringing my iPad, a cheap book stand, and Apple’s Wireless Keyboard—a combination that still weighs less than a MacBook Air.

If you’re planning on taking the same approach for some of your travels, and if you’ve enabled a passcode lock on your iPad (which you definitely should if you leave the house with it), let me save you a bit of frustration: Make sure you turn off the Bluetooth keyboard before sticking it in your bag if you want to be able to use your iPad when you reach your destination.

First, some background: The iPad’s passcode option (in Settings -> General -> Passcode Lock) doesn’t just prevent access if you don’t type the correct code; it also locks down the iPad if you make too many incorrect attempts at entering the code, and the length of that lockout increases with subsequent incorrect attempts. The passcode lock is a nice feature that prevents someone who comes across your iPad from easily accessing your private data; the lockout bonus prevents them from entering code after code until they happen upon the correct one. (There’s also a separate setting to automatically erase your iPad’s data after 10 failed attempts.)

When using an external (physical) keyboard, you can enter the passcode using that keyboard, which is usually more convenient than having to tap out the code on the screen. And if you’re using Apple’s iPad Keyboard Dock, you’ll never have the keyboard connected while in your bag, so there’s little chance of accidental typing. But if a Bluetooth keyboard is paired with your iPad, the keyboard's keys are “live” whenever the keyboard and iPad are within range of each other.

You can probably see where this is heading: If you forget to turn off your Bluetooth keyboard, or to disable the iPad’s Bluetooth, before tossing your gear in your bag, chances are you’ll arrive at your destination with an iPad in lockout mode. The keyboard’s keys will get pressed in transit, those key presses will be interpreted by the iPad as attempts to enter your passcode, and unless your luck is very good, those attempts will all be wrong.

In case you’re wondering, yes, this snafu happened to me. Last week, I took my car in for service, and I brought along the iPad and keyboard to do some work in the waiting room. (My car dealer has free Wi-Fi…and even an iPhone app.) When I pulled out my iPad, I was surprised to see a message on the screen that the iPad was locked and that I should try again in 15 minutes. I quickly realized what had happened—live and learn, right? Except that I proceeded to put the iPad right back in my bag without turning off the keyboard. (It wasn’t my finest tech hour.) When I pulled out the iPad 15 minutes later, the screen told me that now I was locked out for another 60 minutes. At which point I decided this was a sign—either that I wasn’t supposed to be doing work, or that the iPad had deemed me too dumb to use it for a while.

The moral of the story is to remember to turn off your keyboard or the iPad’s Bluetooth for transit. But Apple could also prevent such scenarios by keeping the iPad from accepting Bluetooth-keyboard input on the passcode screen—I can’t think of a situation where you’d be using an external keyboard but wouldn’t have access to the iPad’s screen. I’m hoping to see such a tweak in a future version of the iPad’s OS in order to help fellow absentminded users everywhere.

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