Troubleshoot your Apple iPad

Anyone who has spent any amount of time with an iPad will know that -- like all computers -- it sometimes doesn't do what it's supposed to do. It could be a frozen screen, a system that overheats or a refusal to recharge. The result is the same: You have to figure out what's wrong with it and how to get it back on the straight and narrow.

A major problem is that the iPad doesn't come with a detailed manual or any diagnostic software to figure out what's going on under the skin. The downloadable user guide (available as a PDF) and Apple's support site are good starting points, but even those resources are sometimes not enough when you have a possessed iPad.

What follows are some useful troubleshooting routines for the things that most often go wrong with an iPad, along with several tips and shortcuts for how to get the system to act the way you want it to. These can help when the screen is unresponsive or when you have trouble synchronizing your iPad to a computer.

In many cases, the fix resides in the iPad's Settings page, which is where all the systemwide configuration choices are made. There are limits, however, to what you can do. For example, forget about changing the battery, adding memory chips or recalibrating the touchscreen. You need to send your iPad back to Apple for such repairs.

With the tips, tricks and solutions that follow, your iPad will run a lot smoother, and you'll get your work done a lot quicker.

Troubleshooting tricks

Wi-Fi connection problems

A Wi-Fi network is the only free way to connect an iPad with the rest of the world. Unfortunately, there are many potential connection snags. The iPad's Wi-Fi range is more limited than that of most notebooks -- the iPad has a maximum range of about 65 feet, while most notebooks manage over 100 feet -- so if you're having problems, getting closer to the router will help.

If your connection gets dropped repeatedly, try renewing the Dynamic Host Configuration Protocol (DHCP) lease. Go to the Network section of the Settings page, click on Wi-Fi and then tap the little blue arrow on the right side of the row for the network you want to use; click on the Renew Lease button to refresh the connection with the router.

If that doesn't help, use static IP addressing instead of DHCP. Create an IP address that isn't being used by the router -- it will have the prefix 192.168.1.xxx. (I generally pick a number at the top of the router's range to avoid conflicts with DHCP IP addresses.) In the Settings page, click on Static and enter the address in the IP Address field.

Power problems

Most iPads get between seven and eight hours of on-and-off use per charge. Not getting close to that? Here are a few things you can do to keep it going and going and going:

* Dim the screen. Go to the Brightness & Wallpaper section of the Settings page to turn off auto-brightness and then set screen brightness to between half and three quarters.

* Deactivate Bluetooth. If you're not using a wireless keyboard or speakers, turn off Bluetooth by going to the General section of the Settings page, clicking on Bluetooth and tapping the switch to Off.

* Turn off the modem. If you're not using the 3G modem, you can turn it off by tapping the Cellular row on the Settings page and then tapping the switch to Off.

Back to Square One

Every so often, for no particular reason, an iPad will lock up and stop responding to touch. Most of the time, that's caused by a software problem, and there are three things you can do to help fix it:

* Close the active application by pressing the Home button so that the system returns to the Home page.

* If that doesn't help, try a soft reset by pressing the Sleep/Wake button for about five seconds until the Power Off slider appears. Run your finger across it to shut the iPad down. When it's off, press the Sleep/Wake button to start it up again, without the offending app running.

* Still having problems? It's time to restart the system and start fresh. This time, press the Sleep/Wake button along with the Home button. The screen will go dark, and then the Apple logo will appear. The iPad should start up and -- hopefully -- run fine.

No charge

The most common complaint that I've heard about the iPad is that, after plugging the USB connection cable into a computer, the battery doesn't charge.

The problem is that the ports on many USB hubs, smaller notebooks and even some desktops aren't powerful enough to charge the iPad while its screen is on. The battery icon in the upper right corner of the screen shows Not Charging rather than the "+" symbol inside the battery.

This is an easy problem to fix. If you don't want to use the AC power adapter that came with your iPad, you can plug it into a powered USB hub, which should work.

The heat is on

The iPad's lithium polymer battery is very sensitive to temperature swings -- it doesn't like environments colder than 32 degrees or hotter than 95 degrees Fahrenheit. As a result, if you're out in the sun for too long, the system runs the risk of overheating and automatically shutting down.

About the only thing you can do in that case is let the device cool down and then restart the system. On warmer days, use your iPad in the shade and never put it in a hot place, like the back shelf of a car.

And if you've just come in from the cold, you may want to let your iPad warm up a bit.

Sync or swim

No iPad is an island. It needs to periodically connect to a computer to update its software, load new apps and get fresh data. But there are potholes on the road to synchronization.

To begin with, if the iPad has a nearly dead battery, it won't connect with a computer, so make sure it's charged.

If the host computer doesn't recognize the iPad, the result will be a major snag in the syncing process. The cause is often the AMDS (Apple Mobile Device Support) software that connects the two computers. Often all it needs is a restart.

If you're syncing your iPad with a Windows PC, go to your Control Panel and open Administrative Tools/Services/Apple Mobile Device. Click to stop and then to restart the service.

If that doesn't solve the problem, you may need to do something that's more involved: Uninstall and reinstall AMDS and iTunes from the host computer. Simply go into Control Panel and do a normal uninstall; when you download and install the current version of iTunes, a fresh version of AMDS will be included.

For Mac owners, Apple suggests skipping the restart and simply replacing AMDS. The process is a little more involved on a Mac, but it follows the same idea: Get rid of AMDS and iTunes and then reinstall.

Use the Mac's Finder to locate iTunes and put it in the trash to uninstall it. In the Extensions Library, find the AppleMobileDevice.kext file and trash that as well. In the Library Receipts section, find AppleMobileDeviceSupport.pkg and put it in the trash. Empty the trash and restart the system; then download and reinstall the latest version of iTunes. (If these directions don't work for you, then there are support documents on the Apple Web site that can help.)

Unresponsive screen

The iPad's touchscreen is its main interface, and it gets a lot of use. Chances are that sooner or later it'll get dirty enough to be nearly unusable. Time to clean.

Stay away from abrasive or ammonia-based window cleaners. Your best bet is to gently wipe the display with a damp paper towel. I also keep a soft microfiber cloth handy to clean the screen every few days.

Backtrack

One of the most useful things about the iPad software is that whenever it syncs with its host computer, the entire system is backed up. If the system is acting weird, try returning to the last synchronized data.

Plug the iPad's USB cable into the host computer, and the iTunes software should automatically start. Click on the iPad on the left side of the computer's screen and then select the Summary tab.

After clicking on the Restore icon, you're ready to reload your iPad with data. Use "Restore from the last backup" so that all your music, videos and apps will return during your next synchronization.

If that doesn't work, click on "Set up as new iPad" to start from scratch -- although you will lose anything you've done or bought since your iPad came from the store.

The whole process will take anywhere from a few minutes to half an hour, but you'll notice that the app icons are now arranged alphabetically (rather than in the order they were installed).

Black screen

If your iPad's screen goes black after about five minutes of inactivity and no amount of screen tapping gets it back, it's probably not broken -- just sleeping to save power so that the battery lasts longer. Some users find this annoying, but it's easy to change.

You can adjust the length of time the screen stays on before the system goes to sleep.

Go to the Settings page's Auto-Lock screen and adjust how long you want the screen to stay on before it goes blank -- the choices are 2, 5, 10 or 15 minutes. If you like, you can turn this feature off altogether for an always-on system (although this will, of course, decrease your battery life).

Useful tips

Lock down

Are you afraid that the contents of your iPad might fall into the wrong hands if it's stolen or lost? You're not alone.

As a simple security measure, you can set a passcode that must be entered in order to unlock the machine.

Go to the Settings page, open the Passcode Lock section, and tap Turn Passcode On at the top of the page. Type in the four-digit code you want to use, type it in again, and you're set. The downside is that you'll need to enter the passcode every time you wake up your iPad -- but at least your data will be more secure.

To be doubly safe, you can turn on the Erase Data switch (located on the same page) so that the system will erase its entire contents after 10 unsuccessful attempts to enter the passcode. Just make sure you have a good backup on your host computer to rebuild your iPad if its contents do get erased.

Multiple mailboxes

The iPad can accommodate multiple Web-based and server-based e-mail accounts.

Let's say you want to keep your business e-mail account and add a Gmail account. Open the Settings page, tap on Mail, Contacts and Calendars and then tap Add Account. There'll be a list of six choices, from Microsoft Exchange to AOL. After typing in the account particulars, tap Save and it should now be in the e-mail accounts section below the first one you set up. If you have another account to add, do the same to get the iPad to start working with it.

Shortcuts

The iPad's on-screen keyboard is adequate for most short typing needs, like e-mail or Web addresses, but it can't compare to a good old mechanical keyboard for lengthier pieces. Still, it has a few shortcuts that can make on-screen typing a little easier, including these:

* Hit the space bar twice at the end of a sentence to add a period and a space before starting on the next sentence.

* Hold down a letter key to get any special characters that are available for that letter. You could use this feature to, for example, add an accent mark to a letter.

* Need the euro (€) symbol? Press the dollar-sign key for a few seconds, and the iPad will give you a choice of five international currency symbols.

* You can hold down the iPad's .com button to get .edu, .net or .org instead.

The app remover

With so many apps available at the iTunes App Store, it's easy to overwhelm yourself and your iPad with software. You can get rid of an app that you aren't using by holding a finger on the app's icon. It'll wiggle and a small X will appear in the icon's corner. Tap on the X and click Delete to get rid of it. Be sure to delete the app from iTunes on the host system as well, or it will be reinstalled the next time you synchronize your iPad.

New signature

Out of the box, the iPad's default e-mail signature is "Sent from my iPad." That obnoxious declaration will appear at the bottom of every message that you send from the device. Once you've gotten over your new-iPad-owner's enthusiasm, I suggest that you might want to think about changing that.

Go to the Settings page and click on Mail, Contacts and Calendars and then go to Signature at the bottom of the page. You can type in whatever you want to use as your signature, or you can leave it blank if you want to remain anonymous.

Quiet!

If you get as annoyed as I do with a computer that beeps when new e-mail arrives or clicks when you use the keyboard, you deserve silence to preserve your sanity.

Go to the Settings page, click on General and then Sounds. There you can turn off the sounds that play when you send or receive e-mail, get a calendar alert or lock your iPad. You can even turn off the especially annoying keyboard clicks. If you don't want to turn off the sounds completely, you can at least turn down the volume.

Brian Nadel is a freelance writer based near New York and is the former editor in chief of Mobile Computing & Communications magazine.

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