A lot of people are sending iPads to elderly relatives, now that we can’t visit them anymore. They’re great devices to help people maintain some connection with friends and family during these difficult times.

This article contains some of the techniques I used when setting up an iPad 7 to send to my mother, to try and make it as easy as possible for her to use it. I hope it might be of some help to other people, while we’re all trying to get through lockdown.

For convenience, I’m going to refer to “your mom” throughout this article, just because that’s easier than typing “your relative or friend” every time. Obviously this advice applies generally, regardless of relationship or gender – it’s just a linguistic convenience.

Assumptions

I’m making the following assumptions. You’ll need to adapt this advice if your situation is different.

  • Your mom’s house already has wifi
  • Your mom is not tech savvy, so you need to prioritise ease of use over things like security
  • Your mom has some accessibility needs (e.g. eyesight isn’t so great)
  • You know your mom’s email password
  • Your mom uses Google services (gmail, docs, etc.) rather than iCloud
  • You’re setting up the iPad yourself, and then sending it to your mom (not just arranging for a brand new iPad to be delivered to her, so that she has to go through the setup herself)

Setting up

Wifi

Preset the wifi details so that the iPad connects to your mom’s wifi out of the box, and you don’t need to talk her through setting up the connection over the phone. You can do this by using your phone’s “wifi hotspot” function, and using the same network ID and password as your mom’s wifi. e.g. if your mom’s wifi details are, network: momwifi, password: homesweethome, set up your mobile phone’s hotspot with the same details and connect the iPad to that.

As soon as you connect the iPad to your wifi hotspot, it will remember the details. When the iPad arrives at your mom’s place, it will recognise the network ID and use the same password to connect. It doesn’t care that they are two different wifi networks (your mobile phone hotspot and your mom’s wifi), as long as the network ID and password are the same.

If you don’t have a phone that can create a mobile wifi hotspot, you could achieve the same result by temporarily changing your home wifi details to match your mom’s.

Accessibility Features

Use these features in “Settings > Accessibility” to make it easier for an elderly person to use the iPad:

  • Display & Text Size – to make the text easier to read. You can make text larger, bold, enable button shapes and alter contrast settings.
  • Home button: Disable Siri. I do this because my mother has an Amazon Echo, and for her, trying to remember that one digital assistant is called “Alexa” and the other is called “Siri” would be very confusing. Also, it confuses her when she presses the home button for too long, and Siri pops up while she’s trying to do something else. So, I just turn it off. YMMV.

There are lots of great features in the Accessibility section of the settings. The ones above are the ones I’ve found most useful with my mother. Your mom’s needs may be different, so I’d encourage you to explore those and use the combination of settings that you think will work best.

Bigger icons

In “Settings > Home Screen & Dock” you can make application icons bigger

Longer delay before turning off

Go into “Settings > Display & Brightness” and change the “Auto-Lock” time to a larger value. The default is 2 minutes, and that can be frustrating for someone who needs a bit more time to read the prompts on the screen.

Security

For my mother, I disabled all the security features of the iPad (PIN code and Touch ID), because I wanted it to be as easy as possible for her to pick up the device and start using it. YMMV depending on your mom’s situation, and how tech savvy she is.

Apps

These are the apps I installed. Don’t forget to go through whatever signup/sign in process is required for each of them, so that when she opens the app. she can just start using it straight away.

Video calling

  • Facetime
  • Zoom
  • Skype
  • Google Hangouts
  • Google Hangouts Meet

Google GSuite

  • Gmail
  • Google Docs
  • Google Slides
  • Google Photos (set this up so that photos she takes with the iPad automatically get uploaded)
  • Google Drive
  • Google Maps
  • Google Chrome
  • Google Calendar

TV & Movies

  • Netflix
  • Amazon Prime
  • YouTube
  • BBC iPlayer
  • All 4
  • ITV Hub

Others

  • Kindle
  • LastPass
  • Amazon Alexa

Everything else I could delete, I deleted. You want the device to be as easy to use as possible, and a wall of unfamiliar app. icons is intimidating and confusing.

Organising the apps

Most of the apps. go into folders labeled “TV & Movies”, “Call People”, and “Google Documents”.

Aside from those folders, the apps. on the home screen are:

  • Kindle
  • Contacts
  • Google Calendar
  • Clock
  • Amazon Alexa
  • Camera
  • App. Store
  • LastPass
  • Settings

Everything else goes into another folder called “Other applications” to contain all the pre-installed applications from Apple that you can’t simply remove altogether.

This keeps things down to a single screen of icons/folders, so that she doesn’t have to think about swiping left/right to get to apps. she can’t see.

Take pictures

Before you send the configured iPad to your mom, I strongly recommend taking photos of the home screen, and then opening each folder you’ve created and taking a photo of that. This will help you if you need to talk your mom through something, because you’ll know exactly where to find the right app.

You can take screenshots on the device itself (hold down the power button, and press home), and then email them to yourself. Or, you can do what I did and just take pictures of the iPad with your phone.

Conclusion

I’m going to stop here for now, although I’ll probably revisit this as I think of more to add. Please add any comments or suggestions below.

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