A Year with iPad Pro

I watched with much interest the product launch of the 12.9″ iPad Pro back in Autumn 2015. Here was a fast iPad with a huge display, an intriguing super-accurate stylus and a simple to attach external keyboard.  I began to wonder: perhaps an iPad Pro could serve as a single multi-purpose computer for a teacher, rather than relying on the Mac plus iPad combo. With leaner financial times cutting into school budgets ever deeper, could this be a viable option?

There was only one way to truly find out: go ‘iPad Only’ with the iPad Pro. So from May 2016, that’s what I did! I passed on my MacBook Pro to our new technician and got myself a 128gb 12.9″ iPad Pro with an Apple Pencil and a Smart Cover.

Here are my thoughts, one year on…

It’s Big!

The 12.9″ iPad is certainly big. I still get children asking me, “Mr Lings, why is your iPad so big?”, even though I’m sure they’ve seen me wander around the school with it all year. The screen size is literally twice as big as a ‘normal’ iPad, meaning you can comfortably fit two full sized apps next to each other when doing split-screen multitasking. This generous amount of screen estate is great for when you’re sitting down to do some work at a desk. Developers are beginning to take advantage of the size too, such as how iWork apps now can have an on-screen formatting panel rather than relying on a pop-over. However, it does feel a little bit too big for using the iPad when teaching lessons. It’s not impossible, but a slightly smaller iPad would be better for day-to-day classroom teaching.

Split-screen Multitasking

This has been a feature of the operating system since iOS 9 and requires a newer model of iPad (iPad Air 2, iPad mini 4, iPad Pro and iPad 5). And it’s really useful! The productivity gains of being able to have two different apps up at once is hard to understate: whether that’s Notes and Keynote when creating a presentation, Safari and Numbers when doing some data crunching or just having Documents by Readdle open on the side when moving files around. The fact the 12.9″ Pro has such a big screen means that both the apps have plenty of room each.

Speed

The A9X chip is fast. Coming from an iPad Air (and an iPad 2 before that), this makes using the iPad so much more enjoyable. Apple’s iWork and iLife apps can be quite intensive to use at times, but the Pro handles them all fine. It truly does feel like ‘desktop class’ processing power, which makes a big difference to productivity.

Apple Pencil

Ever since we had started using iPads instead of Interactive Whiteboards in my school many years ago, a decent stylus was something that the iPad was missing. With the iPad Pro and Apple Pencil, that decent stylus is here! It’s really nice to use, particularly when modelling any form of writing when teaching. It really does offer that pixel-level accuracy and has a lovely feel in your hand. Charging using the lightning socket on the iPad is really fast, although it does seem a little precarious. You can use an adaptor to charge it with a normal lightning cable, but it’s much slower that way.

I use a back cover from STM, which includes a little slot to store the Apple Pencil. The only downside to this is that the Pencil stays in Bluetooth connection to the iPad all the time and so discharges in about a day, even when it’s not being used at all. Hopefully there’s a fix to this coming in future…

There an app for that

Part of the journey this year has been discovering and making use of new and existing apps to ‘get jobs done’ on an iPad. With a bit of creativity, you can do most things!

  • Documents 6 (https://appsto.re/gb/Vw_Vv.i) – FREE: this allows you to manage documents and files on your iPad as well as easily access a range of cloud and network storage. The most useful way to use it is a bit like the desktop on a Mac: you put stuff stuff there whilst you’re working on it. Because it makes use of ‘Document Providers’ in iOS, files can accessed in other app, allowing you to easily upload files on Safari or quickly email multiple documents.
  • Word (https://appsto.re/gb/PWh9I.i), Excel (https://appsto.re/gb/pqb-I.i) & Powerpoint (https://appsto.re/gb/-ji9I.i) – Office 365 Subscription: I’m still a big fan of Apple’s iWork suite, but sometimes you just need to edit and create native Microsoft Office files. They’ve done a really good job with it and it definitely comes in handy.
  • Screens (https://appsto.re/gb/MBbgN.i) – £19.99: a VNC app that allows you to remotely connect to a desktop computer. I use this for keeping tabs on a couple of Mac servers, but it’s also useful for those pesky websites that just don’t work on an iPad (Apple School Manager and Mathletics Dashboard I’m looking at you!).

Print Preview and the Share Sheet

One really great ‘Easter Egg’ hidden in iOS 10 is the ability to generate a PDF wherever you can print. When printing something on iOS, it should bring up a print preview below. If you pinch out on it, it opens full screen and has the share button to then do what you like that PDF. This little trick opens up loads of possibilities!

To conclude, going ‘iPad Only’ isn’t for everyone, but it definitely is a viable option. Using iOS all the time makes ‘legacy’ desktop operating systems just feel so overly complicated and time consuming. In a sense, the iPhone is the ‘post-PC’ device, with over 1 billion of the hand-held super-computers sold so far. Because the iPad uses iOS too, it can benefit from that world of apps and workflows too.

Giving up on Profile Manager (Again)

Today I was busy setting up some new iPad minis for school.  Apple Configurator is getting increasingly reliable and stable, so didn’t hit too many issues with that.  However, I then hit a problem that I couldn’t get the devices to enrol on Profile Manager.

Now, I’ve spent several years trying my best to get Profile Manager to work.  On Lion, it was basically broken. By Mavericks, it had improved quite a lot.  But it was never fully reliable, with odd quirks coming up every now and again.  There were some cool features, such as the use of variables when setting up things such as email accounts.  But the downside to this was that when the Mac server decided to lose the link to our Active Directory, this resulted in all of the teachers’ email settings being removed from their iPads. Not fun.

Now, I have used Meraki before, which has a free MDM solution.  It doesn’t do everything and can be a bit confusing to use, but it is certainly reliable.  And free.  So today I decided that I would use Profile Manager to actually build all of my profiles (which it is really good at, e.g. email settings, restrictions etc.) and then use Meraki to deploy them.

And so far, this seems to be working fine!  The only downside is that I have to remove every device from Profile Manager and enrol them onto Meraki instead, but I’m having to do a bit a refresh anyway, so it shouldn’t be too much work as well.

Automatic Updates for VPP Apps on Supervised Devices

I finally got it to work – yay!

I stumbled across the solution whilst updating a set of iPad minis to the new iOS7 iLife and iWork, as one of the iPads already had the latest versions of the apps.  How did that happen?

It seems that perhaps the elusive ‘Updates’ slider under ‘Automatic Downloads’ on ‘iTunes & App Store’ in Settings does work after all.  What I think happens is that the updates are set to pending, and then when the iPad tries to install them it will ask for the password for the account you use with VPP on Configurator.  However, this isn’t much use when setting up multiple iPads as the conditions for triggering a pending App update aren’t quite clear.

Here’s what I did instead:

1. Make sure that the App Store is enabled on the iPad

2. In settings, sign into the App Store using a different Apple ID than the one used for Configurator.  I have one setup for each set of iPads so I used that.  Make sure ‘Updates’ is turned on.

3. In the App Store, tap on ‘Updates’ and then tap on ‘Update All’ in the top left of the screen.  It will ask for the password for the iPad’s App Store AppleID.  But then in a few seconds, it will ask for the password for the Configurator AppleID.  Enter this.

4. Done!  You are now in Automatic Updates heaven.

Unifi Wifi

In the summer of 2012, our excellent technician spent a happy few days installing a Unifi wifi system. We needed a decent wifi system in the school, but weren’t happy paying oodles of money for a super amazing controller managed system where each access point cost hundreds and then you had to buy a managed switch and then pay for extra licences when you want to extend the network.  Instead, the Unifi system lets you use any old computer to ‘manage’ your network and you are free to add as many access point as your heart (and budget) desires (and allows).  We found that it generally worked really well, particularly when you factor in that each access point was only about £80 +VAT.  Joy!  And they look pretty as you can stick them on ceiling tiles and  power them via PoE.

The initial wifi deployment was initially designed for a low-density spread of iPads, with access points installed in every other classroom.  Our first iPad deployment had sets of 6 iPads in some classrooms, and then just a couple of sets of 15 iPads used across the school.  It even coped fine when we gave Year 6 a class set of iPad minis.

Come the new financial year and the purchase of another two more class sets of iPad minis and we started to have wifi issues.  In my mind, the iPads minis were to be allocated so that each phase (e.g. Y1/2, Y3/4, Y5/6 etc.) had a class set to use as they wished.  As these year groups were at different ends of the building, the load would be balanced and one access point would, at the most, have to cope with those devices.  However, I had not anticipated the desire of the iPad to be used as a 1-to-1 device…  As soon as I had set up the iPads and released them into the school, teachers started booking out all three sets at the same time for one year group, meaning that all of the iPads were trying to run off one or, at the best, two access points.  This wasn’t pretty. “The Internet seems to be broken on these iPads…”

Thankfully, due to the easy expandability of the Unifi wifi system, we just had to buy some more access points so that each classroom could have its own access point.  And then our trusty technician had to spend another happy summer installing them!

Hopefully, this should result in a much happier wifi time for everyone.  And the moral of the story is you can never quite predict how iPads are going to be used by teachers.

Teacher iPads

With great rejoicing, our class teachers all received an iPad 2 last week for use in the classroom for teaching and learning. As we’ve now got some class sets of iPad minis for children (which work really well! The sweet spot between affordability, size and therefore quantity you can put in a classroom. Maybe I’ll post about that sometime…), we had some older iPads that needed to find a new home.

I decided I would completely set up the iPads for the teachers rather than leaving some stuff for them to do. This took rather along time, but I reckon it was worth it in terms of saving precious time for teachers and making sure that everything was set up how I wanted it to be for teachers, rather than hoping they follow my instructions!

The steps were as follows:

  • Follow the setup assistant, entering in the wifi code and agreeing to various stuff.
  • Set up the Apple ID for each teacher using the school email address.
  • Enroll the iPad to our MDM server (the glamorous Mountain Lion Server Profile Manager). This then automatically sets up the email settings (as described in a previous blog). I then could verify the email address for the Apple ID straight from the iPad
  • Begin redeeming VPP codes on each Apple ID. This was a bit time consuming, but was sped up by emailing the URLs found on the VPP spreadsheets
  • Hand to teachers, after pushing out a profile that requires a passcode on teacher iPads

It was a lot of tapping and then waiting, so I tended to try and do several iPads at the same time, swapping between the two whenever I had to wait before tapping the next button.

The results so far have been teachers making use of iPads in lots of unexpected but very sensible ways. Such as taking photos of children’s work, modelling how to use an app whilst reflecting to the big screen, prepping for an iPad lesson, using the iPad to differentiate for SEND children, keeping up to date with emails etc etc. I’m hoping it will help teachers think of more and more creative ways of using iPads as a tool for learning in the classroom.

The demise of Flash

I was talking to someone today about their job and they told me that they were a web developer. Nothing remarkable about that. Only that they used to be a Flash web developer but now they’ve had to retrain to build stuff in HTML 5.0 because there are something like a tenth of the Flash jobs out there than there were a year or so ago.

The iPad really has killed Flash.

If only education content providers would realise this!

Photos won’t sync

Just been updating some photos on my home iPad and discovered that a lot of them weren’t syncing.  Very annoying!  After much Googling and poking around in preference files, I decided to try syncing a small iPhoto event across and seeing which ones didn’t sync.  It turned out that some of my photos didn’t have a title (‘untitled’) and it was these photos which weren’t syncing.  After a quick Photos>Batch Change and then changing the title to the filename, this seemed to fix the problem.  Phew!

Aside

The Year 5 teachers have been making exciting iBooks about the Greeks using iBooks Author, and as part of that they’ve been making some movies on iPads with iMovie.  However, we just hit a snag where the movies would fail to export to the camera roll.  Arrgh!

Thankfully, Apple Discussion Forums came to the rescue, with the suggestion to check the privacy settings for photos.  The fix worked – yay!

iMovie Export Fix

Why not to do 1:1 iPads

I had an interesting discussion last night with a friend about 1:1 iPad deployment in a primary school. She was horrified at the thought of every child getting an iPad which they could use all day long. She has an iPad at home that she lets her kids use, but she is always concerned to limit the amount of screen time her children are having, even if they are playing educational games. Life is bigger and wider than staring at and tapping on a glass screen all day. Maybe she has a point?

Updating to iOS6

One of the horror stories I’ve heard about iPads in schools is when it comes to iOS updates. Our apple reseller warned it was a laborious process of plugging iPads into iTunes one by one and then waiting an hour per device. Not fun. So I was intrigued to know if iOS 6 would be able to update on the device or if it needed a wired connection to iTunes. The good news is that wireless updates work fine!

Our iPads are set up to work completely independently from iTunes; after an initial setup with Apple Configurator. Updating them just involved tapping ‘install update’ in Settings and then waiting a short while for it to install. The iPads even helpfully pre-downloaded the update when sitting charging on wifi.

The only slight annoyance is that the iPads seem to forget their Apple ID for the App Store after the update, but that’s not too much of an inconvenience to fix. It does mean that I can’t so easily just ask a teacher to do the updates on their iPads as the Apple IDs are all slightly obtuse iCloud accounts I have set up…