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Approaching an unresponsive iPod has much to do with the particular device you own. In general, there are two types of devices with correspondingly two ways to address lockups. The iPod Touch models use passcodes which, when forgotten, lock out access. Other iPod models can freeze up, but don't truly screen lock in the way the iPod Touch can.
iPod Touch Forgotten Password
Like iPhones and iPads, iPod Touch devices use an iOS operating system and so share many operating features. If you've forgotten your passcode and tried six consecutive times to enter an incorrect code, the iPod Touch will lock as a security measure. The only way to unlock the Touch is to erase it completely. There are two recovery paths, but without a previous backup, songs, photos and other data will be lost.
Restore using iTunes
(Image: Image courtesy of Apple)
Perform a forced restart by pressing and holding the Sleep/Wake and Home buttons simultaneously. Continue to hold the buttons when the Apple logo appears, until the recovery mode message above appears in iTunes. Click Restore and your iPod Touch will be returned to its factory state, erasing your previous passcode.
Reset an iPod Touch
When you know your passcode, but your iPod Touch becomes unresponsive, a soft reset may be the answer. Simply press and hold
both the Sleep/Wake button and the Home button for about 10 seconds until the Apple logo appears, then release the buttons. This technique forces a restart of the iOS operating system and has no effect on data or settings on your device.
Other iPod Models
While some iPod models other than the iPod Touch have a passcode feature called Screen Lock that could lead to a forgotten password situation, this feature is easily bypassed when you connect to iTunes for syncing. Since the only route for music and data is through iTunes for non-Touch models, iTunes is the backup for your device. You can restore an iPod using the same Restore using iTunes method shown above for the iPod Touch.
When these iPods are unresponsive, use one of several model-specific reset methods. These procedures reboot the operating system on the device, leaving data and settings intact. No connection to a computer or iTunes is required.
iPod Nano 7th Generation
Press and hold the Sleep/Wake and Home buttons simultaneously for about six seconds, until the screen goes dark. The Apple logo will appear momentarily and the device will reboot.
iPod Nano 6th Generation
Press and hold the Sleep/Wake and Volume Down buttons simultaneously for about six seconds, until the Apple logo appears momentarily and the device reboots.
iPod Click Wheel Models
Move the Hold switch to the locked position and back.