You can’t pick up a stranger’s iPhones and use it as your own: Authentication measures, like Face ID, Touch ID, and passcodes, ensure the only people who can access our iPhones are us and the people we trust. However, even if you can’t check out someone’s messages or open up their Instagram without unlocking the phone first, there’s a surprising amount of things you can do. Here’s the full list.
Some of these options will be contingent on certain security settings enabled on the iPhone in question. If someone disabled access to one of these options on the lock screen, it’s not going to work for you. However, most of these options do not have such settings available to them, meaning most of these should work on any iPhone you come across. If you’d like to make some changes after reading what your iPhone allows people to use when locked, scroll to the bottom of this piece. I’ll also make note of the options you can disable on the lock screen as we go along.
You can use the camera
You likely know there are a few ways to quickly access the camera from the lock screen, whether it be from the shortcut in the bottom-right corner, swiping left on the screen, or using the Control Centre tile. However, none of these options are blocked when an iPhone is locked, meaning anyone can access your iPhone camera at any time. They can take photos, record video, basically any of the photo mode options normally found in the Camera app.
That said, there’s not much you can do with a photo or video when shooting on a locked iPhone: you can tap the image’s thumbnail after snapping it to see all the photos and videos you took during this sessions, but only those images. You can also swipe up to view additional information about the photo or video, such as camera information and location, and you can favourite and delete images, but other options like Visual Look Up, sharing, and editing are locked away.
You can use the flashlight
This one’s another obvious tip, but one that needs to be mentioned: You can use the flashlight on an iPhone without unlocking it first. You can use the flashlight shortcut in the bottom-left corner of the lock screen, or use the Control Centre tile (long-press to choose the brightness). Next time you have to light up a room, grab an iPhone, any iPhone.
You can access Today View
Today View (the assortment of widgets accessible via a right swipe on the lock screen) might not get as much use as Apple would like, but it’s chock-full of information, even by default. You can access it without unlocking an iPhone, meaning you can check out innocuous things like news headlines, weather reports, and stock information, in addition to more private information, such as a person’s recent music activity, photos, and calendar data.
Not all widgets will be accessible without unlocking the iPhone, however. For example, the Screen Time widget is totally blank until you authenticate yourself first. You can disable this option on the lock screen.
You can use search
You can swipe down on the lock screen to search for just about anything, whether or not the iPhone is unlocked. While iOS will shut you down if you try to open web links or apps, you can still access Siri Knowledge pages from Wikipedia or the dictionary. You can also access phone numbers for stores and other establishments, which we’ll circle back to soon. To give Apple some privacy props, contacts will not show up here, so you won’t be able to use search to learn more about an iPhone owner’s friends and family.
You can disable this option on the lock screen.
You can access Wallet
If Wallet is enabled on the lock screen, anyone can access it via a double click of the Side or home button, or from the Control Centre tile. However, your credit cards will still require authentication, so traditional Apple Pay won’t work. What will work is NFC payments, such as swiping into a subway terminal, as well as any gift cards and rewards cards you have in Wallet that use a QR code. Wallet can be disabled on the lock screen.
You can access Home controls
If the iPhone in question is connected to smart devices via the Home app, you can control those devices if the iPhone is locked. The setting can be disabled, though.
You can use Siri
By default, Siri is available while your iPhone is locked. That’s pretty convenient, since there are times you can’t look at your iPhone when you want to ask the digital assistant a question. However, that means anyone can hold down your Side or home button to ask Siri to do something. Note: You can disable Siri on the lock screen.
While many tasks are unavailable without a passcode, Face ID, or Touch ID, there are actions Siri can make on your behalf. Many of these are the simple uses you’d expect from Siri, like answering questions or setting timers. But others are a bit surprising. Here are a couple:
You can make a phone call
Using Siri, you can make a phone call to anybody, so long as you know the phone number. You can also ask to call contacts saved on the iPhone, if you know their name, as well as place calls from numbers you found using search. You can also return calls by default from their notification on the lock screen, but this setting can be disabled as well.
Yes, that means you can also make FaceTime calls using a locked iPhone.
You can text anyone
This one’s a bit concerning. In addition to phone calls, Siri can text people on your behalf, while the iPhone is locked. If you know the name of the contact, great: If not, you can choose a phone number you have in your head. Think twice before leaving your iPhone behind at the table while out to dinner with “friends.”
You can pull up directions via Apple Maps
Ask Siri for directions on a locked iPhone, and the assistant will pull up those directions in Apple Maps for you, no matter who you are. That’s a good tip if you’re ever lost and come across an abandoned iPhone, I guess!
You can create reminders, notes, and calendar entries
Again, Siri is very “helpful” when an iPhone is locked. You can ask her to create reminders for any time you’d like, as well as add calendar entries for any event you can think of. Siri can also dictate notes, allowing you to clutter up the Notes app of whoever’s iPhone you happen to have.
You can access Control Centre
Access to Control Centre from the lock screen is an essential part of iPhone efficiency. However, it’s also accessible whether your iPhone is locked or not, meaning anyone can take a look at your Control Centre (unless you disable the option in Settings).
While there are some controls here that require authentication before use, many do not. Some of these things are pretty minor, like the ability to toggle portrait orientation lock, as well as change brightness and volume. However, others are a bit more concerning. Let’s review those below:
You can play music from the Now Playing window
The Now Playing window in the top-right corner of Control Centre can be accessed at all times. If you have a song or podcasts in your queue, anyone can tap the play button to start the music again. That goes for audio output as well: you can tap the AirPlay button to send that music to whatever source is available. You can also take control of one of the AirPlay sources to change what’s playing on that speaker.
You can control networks and communications
The window in the top-left corner of Control Centre contains all the communications options, like Aeroplane Mode, cellular data, wifi, Bluetooth, AirDrop, and personal hotspot. All of these settings can be messed with at any time.
You can turn on Do Not Disturb (or another Focus)
All of your Focus modes, including Do Not Disturb, are always available from Control Centre. Anyone could activate a Focus, meaning you could miss out on important notifications without realising it.
You can activate screen mirroring
This one’s a bit of an odd security miss. The screen mirroring option is available at all times, meaning anyone can project your iPhone’s display to an AirPlay compatible source. While that projection is quite limited without the ability to unlock, there are obviously still things you can do on that iPhone to project to whoever’s watching.
You can access most Control Centre tiles
The rest of Control Centre’s features are found via “tile” controls. These are entirely customisable, so they’ll differ from iPhone to iPhone. However, there are 19 options that are available to use whether someone has authenticated themselves or not, opening up a ton of utility for a locked iPhone. Here’s the full list of Control Centre control tiles you can access at any time:
- Accessibility Shortcuts
- Announce Notifications (when available)
- Apple TV Remote
- Code scanner
- Dark Mode
- Low Power Mode
- Sound Recognition
- Speaker (background sounds, Live Listen, headphone accommodations)
- Text Size
The only Control Centre tiles not available are Screen Recording, Guided Access, and Voice Memos, which are three options that definitely shouldn’t be available to just about anybody. However, the same could be said for other options, such as Alarms. I don’t want people having access to my alarms without my permission: A malicious friend could turn off an important alarm without me knowing, or, worse yet, set an alarm for something terrible like 3 a.m.
You can power off the iPhone
If you can’t access a locked iPhone, you can sure turn it off. On most iPhone models these days, hold the volume up button and Side button together until the “slide to power off” option appears.
You can access Medical ID
Using this same button gesture, you can access a person’s Medical ID, and thank goodness, too. This option lets you see important medical information for the owner of the iPhone in the event that person cannot tell you themselves.
You can access Emergency SOS
In the event of an emergency, you can use this same button gesture to access the Emergency SOS feature, which will allow you to contact the authorities from an iPhone. However, you should also be able to ask Siri to dial 000 (for obvious reasons, I cannot test this one out).
You can access USB accessories
This setting is actually disabled by default, so it likely won’t work. However, if not, you can use USB accessories on a locked iPhone. These days, that most likely translates to plugging an iPhone into a computer, or using CarPlay via USB.
Everything you can disable on your iPhone’s lock screen
So, you’re thinking to yourself “you know, I don’t like that people can use Siri to text my friends” or “I’m not comfortable with someone having access to my Starbucks rewards card at all times.” There are settings to solve those problems. While you can’t lock up your lock screen like Fort Knox, you can plug up some of the most major security holes.
Go to Settings > Face ID & Passcode (or Touch ID & Passcode), then scroll down to ALLOW ACCESS WHEN LOCKED. All of the items here can be disabled, so they won’t be accessible until you unlock your iPhone. They include:
- Today View and Search
- Notification Centre
- Control Centre
- Reply with Message
- Home Control
- Return Missed Calls
- USB Accessories