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iPad 1:1 — Updating to iOS 5

iOS 5 offers a ton of features that are useful to our 5th grade 1:1 research test and with its release Wednesday we wanted to move quickly to get the update installed on the student iPads. Fortunately, we're just ramping up the test and thus students aren't taking the devices home. I've been through iOS release days before so we scheduled the updates not for Wednesday but Thursday afternoon in order to avoid the download and activation snafus1.

Our iPad test is limited to the two fifth-grade classrooms at one of our seven elementary school (MacBook Airs are being tested at another school) so we only have 2 carts, a total of 50 iPads including 4 spares to update. We let the teachers know in advance that the iPads would be unavailable starting at 2:00 pm and had scheduled until 6 pm to apply the updates. In preparation we downloaded the .ipsw file on one sync station and copied to the other so that we wouldn't be limited by bandwidth issues.

Well, 4 hours was no where near enough time. The update process is as follows:
  1. Click update on the appropriate device in iTunes
    1. An automatic backup begins
    2. iPad firmware is updated
    3. iTunes prompts for backup password to restore data2
    4. Apps are restored
    5. Music & Other content is restored
  2. Start another device
  3. Complete iOS 5 start-up process on iPad3

Per iPad, this process seems to take about 20 minutes and its important to note that no other user initiated activity can take place in iTunes at the same time (automatic syncing still can happen in the background). We had 25 iPads per cart, and fortunately each cart has its own older iMac sync station, and 25 iPads time 20 minutes per iPad equals a heck of a lot more than 4 hours. At about 5:30 we decided to switch to a remote operation, launched Caffeine on the computers and went home to complete the updates through VPN.

Of course we couldn't do the iOS 5 startup process through VPN (it has be done on the device and by hand) so I arrived early in the morning to go iPad by iPad before class started.

Now the carts we have are the not-at-all-cheap Bretford iPad carts bought through Apple and so you would think they would "just work." Sadly, the dock connector cables are too short for the kids to easily attach them and the dock connector is not nearly as easy to connect as the standard Apple cable. The result was about four iPads in one cart that did not receive the updates and about six in the second.

Fortunately, the teachers were not doing anything iOS 5 dependent today so I continued updating iPads up until they were needed and left 5 not-updated for students to use today. I'll finish the rest once they're put away.

Now, we were planning to get all of these devices going on profile manager as well last night but that hit a brick wall due to certificate issues. Apple has recommended a rebuild of the server so that is one of today's projects. Post about that coming later.


1. Activation is more of an iPhone concern, but overloaded servers can cause a challenge for App updates and iOS software downloads. My standard recommendation is to wait until the day after a release to apply it.

2. We encrypt backups so that the restore includes passwords for configured accounts like email and calendar.

3. The iOS 5 start-up process asks the user to sign in with their Apple ID, accept the new iOS EULA, send diagnostic information and enable location services. We don't want the students to disable location services or sign in with their personal Apple IDs (yet). Plus, we always want to avoid any interruption of classroom time.

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