7 Steps to Gifting an Old iPhone & Getting It Ready for New Ownership

Jun 28, 2014 - 11 Comments

How to get an iPhone ready for a new owner

If you have an iPhone sitting around collecting dust and out of use, you may want to sell it, or perhaps even more rewarding, give to a friend or family member. Regardless of who it’s going to, if you’re transferring an iPhone to a new owner, there are a variety of steps you’ll want to take to prepare the iPhone for new ownership.

Having been through this recently with an older iPhone that was sitting around in a drawer, I figured it was good to run through the steps again. This isn’t just for people selling an iPhone to someone else, it’s also great if you’re going to donate a device, or gift an iPhone (or iPad) to someone else and you just want to know the right steps to take in order to get it ready for the next owner. We’re going to cover getting your stuff off the device, cleaning it up, resetting it, taking out the SIM card, and more.

1: Back Up Personal Data, Get Your Pictures, etc

You may still have some personal data on the iPhone, so you’ll want to get that off first. The best thing to do is just start a quick backup to a computer with iTunes, that way you’ll a backup file of the entire device if you decide it’s necessary (you can also extract photos from the iPhone backup if you ever need to).

Next, get your photos off the iPhone by transferring them to a computer, whether to a Windows PC or Mac. Just be sure you get that stuff off the phone so that when you clear it off, you won’t miss anything.

2: Update the iPhone to the Latest iOS Version

It’s good practice to update an iPhone’s system software before handing it off to a new owner. This is particularly true if the device has been sitting in a closet or drawer for a while and is on an outdated version.

This is easy and you can do it right on the iPhone, without having to use a computer (but of course you can update through iTunes too):

  • Head to “Settings” and go to “Software Update”
  • Install any updates waiting

The iPhone 4S I just updated for new ownership was lagging behind on iOS 6.0.1 (!) and was updated to iOS 7.1.1, that’s a big jump with a lot of improvements.

3: Disable iMessage, Facetime, & iCloud

You’ll want to manually turn off the iMessage and iCloud services before whiping the phone, this is so that it will disassociate from the device.

  1. Go to “Settings’ and then to “Messages”
  2. Flip the switch for ‘iMessage’ to OFF
  3. Back in Settings, now go to “iCloud”
  4. Look for “Find My iPhone” and turn that to OFF
  5. Go to the bottom and choose “Delete Account”

Failing to do this can potentially mean lost messages and general annoyances, so though it’s not entirely necessary, it’s good practice.

4: Wipe the iPhone to Factory Settings

Next up, you’ll want to wipe all personal data, apps, photos, media, messages, voicemails, everything, off the iPhone. Apple has made this process very easy nowadays with a simple factory reset option bundled into iOS Settings:

  1. Open Settings and go to “General”
  2. Scroll down to “Reset” and choose “Erase All Content and Settings”
  3. Confirm to reset all content and settings – this basically formats the iPhone deleting everything off of it

Reset iPhone to Factory Settings

The iPhone will soon reboot and be clear of everything… almost ready for the new owner!

The video below walks through how to reset to factory settings if you’re confused:

When the iPhone is done resetting to factory settings, it’ll reboot as if it was brand new – this is how you should give it to the new owner (unless you’re planning on pre-setting it up for them with apps, an Apple ID, etc, of course).

5: Physically Clean the iPhone

Did you like to use your iPhone with greasy fingers while eating cheetos and dripping ice cream over the screen? Maybe your preferred iPhone reading spot was the bathroom? That’s great, but the new owner may not be so fond of a dirty iPhone that’s lathered in whatever residue is on there. So, do the courteous thing, and physically clean up the iPhone.

The best way to do this is with a slightly damp lint-free cloth (don’t use too much water and don’t try to bathe the iPhone, too much liquid contact can cause damage). Turn the iPhone OFF (by holding down the power button and sliding to OFF), then disconnect the iPhone from any power sources (USB included), and just gently clean it with the cloth. Don’t get moisture into any of the openings, and don’t use any solvents or chemical cleaners on the iPhone, they can damage the surfaces.

6: Disassociate the iPhone from Your Apple Account

If the new owner is someone you don’t know, you’ll probably want to disassociate it from your Apple account and Support Profile. This is easy, just log into the Apple site, find the device, and choose “Disassociate”:

If you’re giving the iPhone to a family member, you probably won’t need to do this, since there’s little harm in keeping a family phone on the same support account.

7: Remove the SIM Card

Got an iPhone that has a SIM card? Grab a paperclip, turn the iPhone onto it’s side, and pop it out, the new owner probably has no use for it.

If the SIM card is still active, you’ll want to keep it around, otherwise, well, it’s a little piece of plastic, to the recycle bin you go.

Optional: Unlock the iPhone for Other SIM Carriers

If the iPhone is locked with AT&T and the contract period is complete, you can request a free phone unlock from AT&T and it’ll often be done in under an hour.

An iPhone on Verizon or Sprint that has a SIM card slot usually requires a phone call to the respective support channel, but they’ll typically unlock the phone too per request.

The iPhone is Ready for New Ownership!

That’s it! The iPhone has been backed up, data copied off, reset to factory settings, the gunky screen has been cleaned, the device has been disassociated from the Apple account, and the SIM card removed… and maybe even unlocked, it’s good to go to the new owner!

Do you have any special tips, tricks, or additional steps you take when preparing an iPhone for new ownership? Let us know in the comments!

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Posted by: Paul Horowitz in iPhone, Tips & Tricks


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  1. AJ says:

    This is part of the reason that I enjoy the iPhone upgrade cycle; family members get the hand-me-downs! I find that’s usually a more worthwhile endeavor than selling the old model, though it will often pay for the upfront cost of a new iPhone.

    So hey iPhone 6, hurry up, this iPhone 5 has new owners already!

  2. Leafsley says:

    Giving a used phone to someone as a gift is really crummy! Would you give your used underware to someone as a gift?
    Don’t be a cheapskate. If you are going to give someone a gift, make sure it is new.

    • Paul says:

      For many items, gifting new makes sense, but for tech like smartphones, computers, game consoles, TV’s? The prior generations are still great and very capable, so rather than collecting dust, why not let them re-use and giving away as hand-me-downs? I think it’s a good idea, and everyone I’ve gifted an old Mac or old iPhone to is always tremendously grateful, particularly if they couldn’t afford it on their own. If you have a prior gen iPhone laying around, try it out, give it to someone who could use it, you’ll feel good!

  3. Harry says:

    I have to say, my kids have enjoyed having one model back from the newest iPhone for years.
    ‘Leafy’ obviously has more money than most of us and the underwear analogy makes no sense.
    I bet his real name is Richard!

  4. Supong says:

    *** Do not forget to TURN OFF “Find My Phone” before anythingelse.

  5. Bernard says:

    turn the iPhone onto it’s side – its

  6. Leafsley says:

    All I can say is if someone gifted me a used “anything” I would immediately smash it on the nearest wall, right in front of them and tell them to take a hike.

    Stick that in your pipe and smoke it ‘Hairy’.

  7. mike says:

    Do not upgrade to the latest iOS. Let the user that receives the device choose whether they want to upgrade or not.

  8. Ben says:

    This made the process of giving the phone over to my youngest so a breeze! Wow a really big thanks it was so easy and perfectly written.

  9. jamescc says:

    What if you are buying from craiglist? Can you recommend procedures to ensure the phone transfer is good – not blacklisted, not icloud lock, etc?

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