Rolling Out iPad 4.2

By now, I'm sure, everyone's starting to get iPad 4.2 installed. If you think it's a bit tedious to wait for that download, spare a thought for me and my 115 iPads. Since several people have asked, here's my plan for rolling out the update to the school.

Firstly, don't panic. There's no rush. This isn't a critical bug-fix update. It's nice new features - admittedly, very nice new features that some of us have been crying out for - but another week or two on iOS 3.2 won't kill anyone.

My big problem is that the iPad is now such a critical part of everything we do that taking a big chunk of the devices out of service to update them simply isn't viable. I decided on a phased strategy.

The senior pupils will get the update first. They are more aware of the advanced features and will get the most immediate benefit from them. Indeed, some of them have been bugging me for months about when they'll get the update.

Here's my plan: I've already updated three or four of our most advanced iPad-using pupils to 4.2 and asked them to report on any critical apps that aren't working well on 4.2.

Secondly, I've scheduled three weekends before Christmas during which our S5, S4 and S3 pupils will leave their iPads in school. Each Friday, I'll take a couple of hours and update the set and all the apps to go with it.

For the younger pupils who don't take their iPad home, I'll update theirs over Christmas.

It turns out that actually updating the iPad doesn't take very long at all. Less than 10 minutes per device. The trick, though, is to download the iOS update image once and keep it around on a USB stick or portable hard drive.

iTunes saves the update image in ~/Library/iTunes/iPad Software Updates. Just drag it from there to a USB stick. When I move to another machine to update the iPads, here's the procedure:

  • Connect the iPad and let it back up.
  • Decline iTunes' offer to download the 4.2 update.
  • Hold down the Option key and click the Update button in iTunes. This presents you with a file chooser dialog box. Select the iPad updater on the USB stick.
  • Wait for the update to complete.
  • Let the iPad restart and sync
  • Install any updated applications

The slowest part of the process is downloading the updates for the apps (and there will be many of these in the coming weeks). Saving the iOS update on local storage will save a ton of time and bandwidth. You really don't want to be downloading 115 * 500MB over a school DSL connection!

This process definitely isn't as smooth as I would like it to be but it remains tractable for now. I'm not certain this scales up to big numbers. Unquestionably, we need much more powerful admin tools for large-scale iPad deployments.