An Epic iPad Saga

A little over a year ago I bought an iPad as an experiment. We were planning to fly to Hong Kong and my main purpose for buying the iPad was to see if it’d work as an entertainment device for Calvin. Beyond that, I had no thoughts of what I would use it for. Since I wasn’t sure what my use case was, I didn’t want to spend a great deal of money on it. So, I bought a 16GB, Wifi-only, refurbished iPad2. That device was the best thing ever invented for keeping a child happy on an airplane.

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Just recently I saw an article whose author seemed to think the end of western civilization was nigh and it was the fault of lazy parents who didn’t want to entertain their kids the old-fashioned way on airplanes. I read this article in stunned disbelief. I do not view myself as an overly strict parent but we do have limits on screen time, types of snacks, etc. However, the moment we get on the plane I have one goal: survive the plane ride with Calvin and me both sane and, preferably, happy. If that means letting Calvin watch 10 hrs of video and eat the occasional piece of candy, I can live with that. When traveling to Hong Kong we were traveling for 23 hrs straight. Of that time, Calvin was grumpy for about 5 minutes. That, my friend, is priceless.
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Calvin is the main user of the iPad but I do use it for a couple of things. My biggest use is trying to learn Chinese characters via the TrainChinese app. Calvin uses the iPad to watch movies, play games, and also play some educational apps. I’ve also created some “movies” of some of Calvin’s favorite books. I scanned the pictures in the book and then synced the audio book to the pictures. Calvin seems to like these quite a bit and will listen to the audio book while working with legos and occasionally glancing at the pictures.

I’m fairly happy with the iPad but I do have two complaints. First, 16 GB is no longer big enough. I’m ripping more and more of Calvin’s movies for the iPad and it’s starting to fill up. This is a fairly minor complaint and it was self-inflicted. My biggest complaint with the iPad is it doesn’t have a lot of good parental controls. I understand iOS 7 has better parental controls than the prior version but it’s still not at the level I want. I want to be able to have different profiles such as the “airplane” profile which lets him use pretty much everything installed and then a “normal day” profile which doesn’t let him watch movies and use the “game” apps without a parental override while still allowing access to the “educational” apps.

Because of the two complaints above, I started considering whether or not it made sense to get Calvin his own tablet while letting me keep the iPad (16 GB is plenty for what I use it for). I waffled for quite a bit and finally decided I couldn’t really justify the money. So, I resigned myself to the inferior parental controls and started looking for solutions to the space issue. I investigated a couple of options, including a couple variations of wifi drives. One of the biggest problems I saw with dragging a separate drive along is power. I’m not so concerned about storage space for the iPad on domestic flights. I’m worried about international flights. The iPad has a great battery life and most of the wifi drives I looked out would die significantly before the iPad. Of course, I could bring even more batteries with me to keep the hard drives charged but it seemed like it could get clunky fast.

While looking for storage options, I stumbled across several posts detailing how to use the iPad Camera Connection Kit to provide extra video storage. It sounded very kludgy but also like it’d probably do what I needed. The camera connection kit/SD card wouldn’t require any extra power and it is also pretty small. This would also allow me to swap out movies during longer vacations (my iTunes is on my non-portable kitchen computer). I ordered the kit and a 16 GB SD card and hoped for the best.

The camera connection kit was scheduled to arrive today. I prepared supper early so as soon as the package arrived I could start fiddling and wouldn’t have to be distracted by minor things like food 🙂 The package arrived and I eagerly opened up and inserted the SD card into the camera connection kit. Then, I went to find the iPad. It was sitting, ever so innocently, on the kitchen table. Calvin had been using it earlier but was now occupied playing Legos with Jaeger. Before plugging the adapter into my iPad, I turned my iPad on. That is, I tried to turn my iPad on.

When I hit the power button on my iPad, a curtain of dark gray advanced about 1/3 of the way across the screen and then retreated. The rest of the screen stayed blank. I tried again, same thing. I though that perhaps Calvin had run down the battery so I plugged it in to my computer and saw that it still claimed to be at 50%. I asked Calvin if he had dropped the iPad recently. He looked a little sheepish and noted it had only been dropped a little bit from the couch, accidentally of course.

Now, I know for a fact that this poor iPad has been dropped a fair amount by Calvin. Often at distances higher than the couch. However, I had a bad feeling that this had been one drop too many. Just to be thorough, I tried a reset and then a restart. Other than the background briefly changing to a lighter gray, nothing happened. I was able to hook the iPad up to iTunes and it appeared to transfer data fine so it just seemed to be some sort of display issue. At this point, I was pretty convinced it was broken but decided to have iTunes attempt an update and restore just to see. No luck.

Jaeger suggested I should make an appointment with the Genius bar. I was a bit dubious because I was pretty sure they would just tell me it was broken. If I was lucky, I thought they might have a way to diagnose exactly what was wrong and then give me the option of having it shipped off to be fixed for some indeterminate amount of money. The problem with this is Calvin and I are flying out on Tuesday. Yes, I’m spoiled but I did not want to fly alone with Calvin without some sort of entertainment device for him.

I made the appointment with the Genius bar for a little after supper and then set to researching my tablet options. One of the first things I looked at was how much it’d cost to get another refurbished iPad. The cost was about what I expected. However, the major sticking point was there didn’t appear to be any way for me to get one of these iPads by Tuesday. If I was going to buy a new iPad, I want the 32 GB model. Those looked like they’d cost around $600. Given recent events I was very reluctant to hand over a $600 tablet to Calvin. I turned my attention to Kindle Fires as a possible stop gap option. Best buy had several 32 GB Kindle Fires available for under $300. From what I’ve heard, the Kindle Fire has some of the best parental controls of any of the tablets. I talked to Jaeger about it but he was worried about being locked in to yet another vendor’s proprietary weirdness. His argument had merit so I checked and Best Buy also had some 7″ Nexuses. That seemed a reasonable option to get us through the Thanksgiving trip and then I could order a 16 GB refurbished iPad for myself later.

After supper our whole family piled ourselves into Motoko to go visit the Genius bar. We got there, they checked us in, and settled in to wait our turn. They had a cute kids table with 4 tethered ipads on it loaded with kids games. I thought Calvin would be fascinated but instead he wanted to sit in my lap and listen to me read Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland. Eventually a tech came up, took a look at my iPad and proclaimed it dead, as expected. What was completely unexpected to me was he then offered to sell me a replacement 16 GB iPad 2 for $250. That was a better price than I’d seen online so I figured it was worth it to go ahead and order my replacement iPad now, even if it wouldn’t arrive in time. To my astonishment, he told us he’d be right back with it. I hadn’t realized he’d been talking about getting me a replacement immediately. That’s probably the best customer service I’ve ever had from an electronics manufacturer. Once the tech came back with the “new” iPad he poked a couple of buttons, we handed over our credit card, and then were on our way once again with a fully-fuctional iPad.

Given we once more had a working tablet, I decided it did not make sense to follow our original plan and buy a Nexus for Calvin at Best Buy. So, we went home and I synced it and everything appeared to be back to normal.

I was delighted that the experience turned out to be so cheap. However, I still had only a 16GB tablet. So, my purchase of the camera connection kit wasn’t going to be wasted after all. Following the Lifehacker directions, I created the DCIM folder and 100DICAM subfolder. Then I moved a test video file over and renamed it DCM_0001. It was a mp4 file which I had been led to believe should work fine. I plugged it into the iPad and was happy to see the iPad recognized the file and seemed quite happy to give me the option to import it. I imported it and then clicked on the Camera app to try to find it. Based on the instructions, I was let to believe it would appear in my camera roll. I didn’t see it. I tried several other things and tried to figure out where I went wrong. I tried different file extensions and still couldn’t find the videos. The iPad definitely thought it was transferring the files, it would ask me for confirmation when I requested it import something it thought it already had, but I couldn’t find them. Finally, I figured out my mistake (which you may have already noticed). I had been looking in the Camera app, not the Photo app. On my iPad I only use 2 of the 4 statically placed apps: Safari and Mail. As a result, I apparently have developed a blind spot in actually seeing the Photos and Music Apps. Now that I’m finally looking in the right app, everything is working perfectly.

Of course, the biggest problem with this scheme is that all the videos are going to have really bizarre names: DCM_0001, DCM_0002, etc. I need to come up with some sort of index option that is relatively easy to use. That’s probably a project for tomorrow.

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