iPads as signage

Dear Lazyweb,

As I've got a stack of otherwise-useless old iPads lying around, I'd like to use them for signage: load a web page playing an MP4, don't let the user click on anything. "Guided Access" sounds like it is made for this, but I keep coming back a day or two later and the screen is blanked. It's on wall power and battery is at 100%. Any ideas?

Also you can't hide the Safari title bar, which is slightly annoying. There are a ton of "digital signage" apps out there on the app store, but that's a spam-heavy SEO-poisoned concept to search for so I can't tell if any of them actually do anything that I care about that "Safari displaying a web page" doesn't already do.

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35 Responses:

  1. Wez Furlong says:

    I know it's not exactly what you're asking about, but this page has some info on making an ipad wall mount and has some solutions for waking the device through hardware; may be worth a look if there is no good software solution.

    multi featured ipad wall mount

  2. Seg says:

    What OS are they running OR what make/model are the iPads? Either information OK.

    I know they're hard stopped at a certain OS, but the linked post didn't say what the make/model of the iPads are. Don't want to offer a proposed solution for the wrong OS.

    • jwz says:

      Various. Somewhere between 5 and 10 years old, I think.

      • Seg says:

        Couldn't find a device support list, but technically this will work on iOS 9.3 or newer. I do this for my house management devices.

        Apple Configurator 2 is an Apple provided and no cost macOS app. This allows you to do admin functions you can't enable on-device. I'll review the basic steps which should get you in the right place. Quotes are for names of menu options.

        1. "Prepare" the device in "Supervised Mode".
        Fancy terms for the Configurator taking control of the device. You'll want "manual configuration" and "supervise devices" enabled.

        2. Enable Single App Mode.
        Pick one app (Safari or any other installed app) and the device will lock to that one app. You will also select which functions you allow/disallow, which includes disabling all "Touch" inputs and "Auto-Lock" (auto shutoff).

        3. Test the first one, repeat steps for others.
        This should work for you, fingers crossed. It's a bit weird to get used to at first. Once you figure the first device out, you can make a blueprint and replicate to other devices.

        ℹ️ About MDM
        You'll see things about MDMs. Don't know if you need remote management, but I'll point it out. This is if you want to do fancy remote control with the devices. I've used services like SimpleMDM and Jamf in the past.

        • mattl says:

          Fleetsmith.com is an MDM thing Apple bought a while back. I believe iPads are 100% free forever if enrolled right now.

  3. Dara says:

    Just a thought: you don't have either faceID or touchID turned on with these things, do you?

    I'm wondering if it's getting some kind of false hit on a face and getting it into its tiny head that it needs to turn off Guided Access and is waiting for something.

    (I'm assuming you have all the buttons secured/hidden from customer use. Because of the mp4 my next guess is "Safari memory leak" but that's not much of a help. I'd change from an mp4 to some sort of static text-only display and see if it takes longer to reproduce.)

  4. Maybe use the guided feature with a web page configured as a cheap PWA so you can hide the address bar?

    • Brian Enigma says:

      I second the idea to wrap it in a basic PWA. You basically create a manifest file, add an icon, then you can put put the web page on the springboard as if it's a native app. (I'm sure you've seen sites that plead at you to do this, via annoying popups.) This has the extra benefit of being simple to kick off again after a restart. When launching, you don't get browser chrome. Wrap that in Guided Access, and you should be done.

      Example: https://medium.com/appscope/designing-native-like-progressive-web-apps-for-ios-1b3cdda1d0e8

      • jwz says:

        Since I don't care about icons and shit, it sounds like all I really need to do is add this?
        <meta name="apple-mobile-web-app-capable" content="yes" />
        Then what? How do I get it to launch as an app?

        • Brian Enigma says:

          I'm not sure about the meta in the HTML itself; I've always done it through a manifest file. Here's a crude example I whipped up:

          - Page: https://netninja.com/fun/sign/
          - Manifest (linked to in the page's meta): https://netninja.com/fun/sign/manifest.json

          “Bookmark” the page like in the screenshot (using the “Add to Home Screen” item). That gives you a shortcut icon on springboard. When you launch through that icon (as opposed to viewing in Mobile Safari itself), then it masquerades as a native app. You don't get the Safari chrome. It appears in the app switcher as if it's a separate app. This whole thing was Apple's original solution to “you don't get cool toys like an SDK or native apps; webapps are good enough for anyone.” Surprisingly, it's still well supported.

    • jwz says:

      How is that any different than what I did with Guided Access?

      • Chris says:

        Single App Mode is the more industrial-strength version. I'm not sure what might be happening to it to cause the screen to blank but at least with Single App Mode it should automatically recover. Well, that's the claim. You can also manage them remotely if you need.

        The PWA suggestion from Joseph for getting rid of the Safari titles is a good one. I haven't used that in a long time but last time I did it was very easy and worked correctly.

  5. Big says:

    Barely related unrequested advice...

    Don't leave iPads - plugged in to power 24x7. It's really common for thew batteries to over charge and puff up, eventually distorting that case/screen.

    I added dumb power point timer switches to all the meeting room display ones we used, set to 1 hour on 5 hours off - and haven't had a single on fail like that in the last 4-5 years.

    • phuzz says:

      I like that, it's a good low-tech solution.
      One of our customers at work uses iPads in front of their tills and they've had this problem a lot.

      They use some kind of app that locks the screen to a browser. I'll find out what it's called, but it seems to break every time there's an IOS update, so I wouldn't recommend it.

  6. Issac O says:

    Takes very little code to have an IOS app which is just a full screen website.


    import UIKit
    import WebKit
    class ViewController: UIViewController, WKUIDelegate {

    var webView: WKWebView!

    override func loadView() {
    let webConfiguration = WKWebViewConfiguration()
    webView = WKWebView(frame: .zero, configuration: webConfiguration)
    webView.uiDelegate = self
    view = webView
    override func viewDidLoad() {

    let myURL = URL(string:"https://www.jwz.org/blog/2021/06/ipads-as-signage")
    let myRequest = URLRequest(url: myURL!)


    Create app as Interface : Storyboard, LifeCycle: UIKit App Delegate,

    Replace the ViewController.swift with code above.

  7. Travis Roy says:


    Fully Kiosk Browser. Works great, can hide the address bar, disable touches, and even has remote access for admining.

    • bq Mackintosh says:

      Just drop an extra space in there — "Even has remote access for ad mining" — and presto, it's the closing line of the pitch for the World Wide Web, circa 1993.

  8. thielges says:

    From: 2021
    To: 1980
    Subject: Moore betta

    Hey Eighties - you know those supercomputers that take up an entire floor? The ones your department spends a big part of their budget to schedule time on ? Well here in the future they’re about the size of a comic book. And we use them as wall signs.

    • prefetch says:

      P.S.: And wait 'til you hear about 'planned obsolescence'! Wanna know how much computing power is in landfill right now? (No. No, you don't. You will cry tears of blood.)

  9. jwz says:

    I turned the brightness on the screen way down and now it hasn't crashed in a week. So my current theory is: even when plugged into wall power, playing a 3FPS MP4 and running a backlight was just too much for this massively overpowered supercomputer's dinky battery charging circuit, and the battery was dying even though it was plugged in.

    • MetaRZA says:

      It occurs to me that you could grab and log the battery level to test this conclusion and perhaps raise your brightness to a level higher, but not so high the battery can't survive.

      It also occurs to me that this is probably more work then you wanted to put into this problem.

    • Ryan Steele says:

      Are you using generic USB power supplies? iPad draws more current than the USB standard permits when the screen is on, so you need to use a charger designed for iPad. You will see “Not Charging” in the info bar if the charger can’t supply enough power.

      • jwz says:

        Dude, I regularly see "Not charging" when an iPad is plugged directly into an iMac Pro. "Designed for iPad" my ass.

        • tfb says:

          Well, if I was being cynical I'd say that making it so the iMac would charge the iPad would require some momentary inconvenience on the part of the iMac designers (using slightly more expensive USB-related parts), and since they know people with iPads already have the chargers and they don't care at all what loom of cables their users end up having to use, they thought 'let's not bother'. Even better, if iPads didn't come with chargers (I think they still do? all mine have) then they get to sell another overpriced box.

          I think my iPad will charge from my macbook, but I think the previous one only would sometimes (both minis, older one was a mini 2 maybe?)

        • dzm says:

          From what I understand the cool kids use a USB-C power supply with a USB-C -> Lightning cable.

          In theory the USB-A (or USB-B) -> Lighting cable is a rated for USB2 spec and caps out at 1.5A at 5V (9 Watts). The USB-C spec tops out at 100 Watts (I'm not sure if the USB-C -> Lightning cable will give access to 100 Watts if your power supply provides them though), so it SHOULD be able to provide as much wattage as the iPad is hungry for within reason.

          And answering the "yeah, but have I done it?" question: Sorta. I have certainly used an Anker USB-C power brick with a USB-C -> Lightning cable to charge iPads and iPhones. They do charge notably faster. I have NOT tried putting an iPad under CPU and display strain to see if the power draw can keep up with it. I most definitely haven't hooked up the power brick to a scope or a meter of any sort to see how much AC is being pulled from the wall either.

        • margaret says:

          my experience is that my old ipad needs the 10W/2A charger that came with it. it would eventually run out of power when streaming music even if using a samsung 2A charger, that's with the screen off most of the time. the new ipad does fine with a 5W/1A – though i tend not to use it for streaming.

          this 2018 macbook pro, under "about this mac->system report->usb" shows the onboard usb ports as having either 2.5W/0.5A or 4.5W/0.9A available to the onboard usb-c ports, neither of which would keep the old ipad streaming music all day.

          i know nothing of the power-up mushrooms apple provides certain of its own devices. apple says "up to" -- they don't say what you will actually get. shuffling devices around on a macbook so that, say, your disk or webcam gets the good port while your keyboard/mouse/hub use the low power ports is still a thing.

          in sum, usb power is like a box of chocolates.

          • margaret says:

            and the system report shows what the device is currently drawing so you could use it to do the above testing. i'm not vouching for its accuracy.

          • dzm says:

            I'm on an M1 MBPro running the latest Developer Beta of macOS 12 (I evidently hate myself). I see nothing like this:

            this 2018 macbook pro, under "about this mac->system report->usb" shows the onboard usb ports as having either 2.5W/0.5A or 4.5W/0.9A available to the onboard usb-c ports, neither of which would keep the old ipad streaming music all day.

            The "Thunderbolt/USB4" section just tells me that I have a Thunderbolt dock plugged in. Nothing about power. The dock has its own power brick, so perhaps it is not asking the OS for any power (in fact, the laptop is being powered by the dock via this port. Nothing in that section indicates that this is my power source though).

            In the USB3 section the various older things that are plugged into my dock are shown. They have power info like:

            Current Available (mA): 500
            Current Required (mA): 200

            Current Available (mA): 900
            Current Required (mA): 896
            Extra Operating Current (mA): 0

            Plugging an old iPad Something-Something into the USB3.1 port on that dock (via some janky third-party Lightning cable) tells me:

            Current Available (mA): 500
            Current Required (mA): 500

            I have no USB-C -> Lightning cable to play with.

            Looks like the USB devices are allowed to advice the OS how much current they want now and how much their max draw should be.

            (I've also just noticed that my JMicron USB-C -> SATA adapter is showing up as a USB3.1 device. That's great. Thanks JMicron. Fucking awesome.)

  10. robb monn says:

    It is quite likely that they overheat. This is what I've run into in the past. When this happens they briefly show a message and then turn off.