The simple secret to reviving a 'dead' iPhone? Keep pressing those buttons

When my iPhone would not start
(Image credit: Future / Lance Ulanoff)

There is nothing more bone-chilling than a dead phone screen. No, not a skeleton typing at a computer. Not Netflix without captions. They’re trifling annoyances compared to your glistening object of attention becoming devoid of life, information, activity, and content.

So, you’ll understand the chill that ran down my spine when I found my iPhone 14 Pro unmoved by a night of charging. Instead of the new always-on display greeting me, there was an oddly blank and unresponsive one.

My first thought was that the phone just hadn't charged. This sometimes happens with iPhones. It’s usually an operator error – you didn’t properly plug the Lighting cable into the phone or the wall charger. Alternatively, when enough dust and debris get jammed in the lighting port, it can prevent charging.

I had, though, properly plugged in the phone, and it's way too new a device to have a port debris issue; and, no, I hadn’t dropped it or subjected it to any other kind of trauma.

Still, as I stared at the inert glass, metal, and silicon slab, I considered all these possibilities, and I pressed and held down the power button hoping to restart the phone.

Nothing.

Oh, the eSIM

“Okay,” I thought. “The phone has no charge.” I found a different charger and plug, and set the phone aside while I got ready for work.

Fifteen minutes later, the iPhone 14 Pro remained stubbornly dead. I wondered if it was a charging port issue, and decided to try my wireless MagSafe charger.

Ten minutes later, still nothing.

The phone, by the way, was not secretly running behind a dead screen. I knew this because the iPhone 14 Pro was ice-cold. A running or recently-charged phone usually has at least a little warmth.

It shouldn't be that big of a deal – I have other phones. But what I don’t have are other phones with my phone number.

It occurred to me that I had stumbled into a key downside of eSIM technology. If this phone was truly dead, bricked, whatever, then it had taken my cell number – one I’ve had for over 20 years – with it. I'm sure that with enough work I could get Verizon to help me transfer it again (a few weeks ago, I had transferred the number from the iPhone 13 Pro to this new phone without Verizon's assistance), but without a SIM card to pull out of the recalcitrant phone, I wondered how they’d do it.

The other issue was that my digital monthly commuter ticket was also stuck in Apple Wallet on that useless phone. My problems appeared to be mounting.

Stumbling to a solution

I tried pressing the volume up and power buttons for 30 seconds. Then I just pressed the power button for about as long.

Nothing.

I searched online for guidance on turning on an unresponsive iPhone. Apple recommended pressing the volume down button once, then the volume up button once, and then holding the power button down. I tried that routine four or five times before giving up.

Unable to revive the iPhone 14 Pro, I grabbed a backup phone (a benefit of reviewing the entire iPhone 14 lineup), found a way to transfer my rail ticket, and headed to work.

Once in the office, I continued trying to wake up the phone. I also reached out to my best Apple contacts. They recommended all the things I’d been doing.

I stepped back through all my steps again, first trying to charge the phone with the USB-C-to-Lightning cable that shipped with the phone, then trying a wireless charger, and finally trying that button combination again.

I had all but given up hope as I pressed the volume up, volume down, and then then power buttons one more time. Miraculously, the Apple logo suddenly appeared on the iPhone 14 Pro's screen.

I almost screamed out loud, “It worked!”

Within a moment the phone booted up, and then was acting as if nothing at all had happened. The bright screen seemed to say, “What? Why are you looking at me like that? Are those tears?”

I did notice that the phone was fully charged, which meant it wasn’t a charging cable or port issue. Something else was getting in the way of the phone launching.

I did, at Apple's recommendation, update from iOS 16.0.1 (I think) to 16.0.3, but I don’t think that had anything to do with the iPhone 14 Pro's startup issue. It has been issue-free ever since.

Your takeaway, though, should be this: if your iPhone goes dark and stops responding, try the three buttons trick. It just might work.

If you have a misbehaving phone and are thinking of upgrading it, check out our best phones for 2022.

Lance Ulanoff
US Editor in Chief

A 35-year industry veteran and award-winning journalist, Lance has covered technology since PCs were the size of suitcases and “on line” meant “waiting.” He’s a former Lifewire Editor-in-Chief, Mashable Editor-in-Chief, and, before that, Editor in Chief of PCMag.com and Senior Vice President of Content for Ziff Davis, Inc. He also wrote a popular, weekly tech column for Medium called The Upgrade.


Lance Ulanoff makes frequent appearances on national, international, and local news programs including Live with Kelly and Ryan, Fox News, Fox Business, the Today Show, Good Morning America, CNBC, CNN, and the BBC.