How To Restore Locked iPad Air 4th Gen. with Windows 10 and iTunes (2016/2020)

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I put a series of best practices to restore the iPad Air below after the long paragraph description.

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Description:

I spent about 4 hours figuring out the steps below to get my iPad Air restored shortly after purchase. I did not have the password set during the original install, so the iPad Air got in a locked state. I have a MacBook Pro that does not run the latest OSX. I cannot connect and restore my iPad Air. I decided to do the restoration with a Dell laptop running Windows 10 Home edition (Version: 2004, OS build: 19041.985, Experience: Windows Feature Experience Pack 120.2212.2020.0)

First of all, there is a major problem with the iTunes installer on Windows.

I have noticed the latest versions of iTunes (12.10.11) do NOT install the Mobile Device Support Driver files. The only way to have them installed is by installing an older version of iTunes(see below why). So basically if you have a new Windows computer with the latest iTunes 12.10.11 from Dec 7.2020 you do not get the driver files. It means that when you put the iPad in restoration mode, Windows does not detect it when you connect it to the computer over USB-C.

There is very little online about this issue and how to solve it properly. Most of the support ask to re-install iTunes, unfortunately, you have to remember that NOT ALL versions of iTunes are equal (this comment is directed to the support teams at Apple and Microsoft!).

I found one website that would provide the driver files by themselves so they can be dropped in the file system. I thought I would look for the actual version of iTunes that would install the driver files.

I tested iTunes 12.10.11 64bit version from Dec 7, 2020, as explained, followed by iTunes from Mar 25, 2019. Finally, the iTunes 12.4.3 64bit from Aug 1, 2016, is the release that installs the driver files. From that install, it is possible to upgrade to the latest iTunes, so you would install the latest version for August 15, 2021, which is version 12.10.11. It installs well over the 2016 version without compromising the driver files.

Now at that point, I thought I was good to go with the proper driver files installed on my Windows machine. I put the iPad (Air) into recovery mode and got it connected to the Windows machine. I heard the usual Windows sounds when devices are connected (USB), I also almost right away heard the Windows sound for disconnection. Looking at iTunes it would not show the iPad at all. The Windows Device Manager would not list the iPad Air under Universal Serial Bus controllers!

So my last move was to connect another Apple device to see if the issue was related to the iPad Air or iTunes. I connected my iPhone, UNLOCKED the screen and the phone showed up in iTunes. Next, I put the iPad Air in restore mode and connected to the computer, to my surprise, iTunes recognized the iPad Air this time with the option to restore it. From that point, I initiated a first restoration which failed with an error message, followed by a second restoration that succeeded.

List of lessons learned and best practices to restore the iPad (Air):

(Windows 10 user only)

  1. If you don't have the iTunes version from August 1st, 2016, installed on your computer, remove iTunes and re-install the iTunes 12.4.3 from 2016. It will guarantee you have the proper files under C:Program FilesCommon FilesAppleMobile Device Support

  2. Update the iTunes to the latest version, 12.10.11 (latest for this post on August 15th 2021).

  3. If your iPad Air is in a locked state, and you don't have a password, connect to another Apple device and unlock the screen. What it will do is help iTunes to recognize the iPad Air later on. That's a weird step, but it works.

  4. Initiate the restoration of the Apple iPad Air (twice if needed) via iTunes.

None of this is trivial and, by neglecting the iTunes installer deliverable, Apple generated a tremendous amount of support for both Microsoft and Apple on a procedure that should be trivial. The outcome of the support does not help in the condition that I faced. No posts at Microsoft or Apple addressed my needs. I do believe I am not the only one struggling with this issue and, pretty much every single user running Windows 10 with a recent computer would face the same problem(scary!). We do not expect to do a restoration every day. At the minimum, we should have the Windows installer doing the proper thing.

Author: Subham

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