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By Dan Moren

Password-protecting Notes in iOS 9.3 and OS X 10.11.4

Password-protected items in Notes was one of the major features Apple touted for its spring software updates—but it may not be quite what you envisioned. Protecting notes isn’t about assigning a password to each individual item, but rather creating a general password for Notes, and then choosing whether to lock certain notes with that password. In other words, it’s an all-or-nothing proposition.1

The good news is that, at least in my initial experience, iCloud does a perfectly good job of syncing your password and locked note status between your devices, including iOS and OS X.

OS X

Notes on OS X

Securing notes on OS X is pretty straightforward: just select a note, click the padlock icon in the toolbar, and select Lock This Note. Done. (You may have to enter your Notes password or create one if you haven’t already done so.) By default, the note will still be visible, and will just have an open padlock icon on it. To actually lock your notes, you can choose Close All Locked Notes from the padlock menu; quitting Notes will also automatically close all your locked notes. Locked notes won’t show any content in the preview pane, or in the list of your notes.

Viewing a locked note just means typing your Notes password and hitting return.

If you want to totally remove a lock later, then you can select a note, click the same padlock icon, and choose Remove Lock; you’ll be prompted to enter your Notes password to do so.

iOS

ios-notes-password

The process on iOS is a little trickier, if only because it’s not as obvious. To lock a note on your iPhone or iPad, you need to tap the Action button and then find the Lock Note option. (You’ll need to enter your password if you haven’t done so.) A padlock icon will show up at the top of a secure note, letting you unlock or lock it at will. As on OS X, viewing a locked note requires you to enter the password.

iOS devices also let you use Touch ID to view your secure notes (which you have to enable by going to Settings > Notes), but I noticed an oddity with it during my tests.

When I initially created a Notes password, Touch ID worked fine, but when I used my workaround to create a second notes password, I could only use my fingerprint to open some of my secured notes. It seemed to be the notes associated with whichever password I had most recently used to lock a note—i.e. if I clicked the lock button on a note secured with ‘password2’ I could use Touch ID to open any note secured with ‘password2’ but would have to type in the password for any note secured with ‘password1’. And vice versa. Once again, it’s clear why Apple adopted a one password approach.

You can also remove a lock for a note on iOS by tapping on the Action button and choosing Remove Lock.


  1. Well, sort of. There is a workaround: You can reset your Notes password, which doesn’t affect notes that are already locked. The tricky part is then you have different notes with different passwords, which you have to remember…which is probably why Apple went with the One Password to Rule Them All approach in the first place.  ↩

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[Dan Moren is a tech writer, novelist, podcaster, and the Official Dan of Six Colors. You can email him at dan@sixcolors.com or find him on Twitter at @dmoren.]