5 tips to save 5 hours with an iOS 5 upgrade

Innovative teachers, IT directors and Technology Integration Specialists are gearing up for the murky process of upgrading iPad deployments to iOS 5 in the coming weeks. Apple happily sells iPads to educational environments and offers paid engineering support, but there aren’t a specific set of tools designed specifically to support the granular control that IT departments, state & federal law, and school districts require.

I decided to jump in yesterday and make every mistake possible in an effort to come up with best practices. I’ve documented 5 tips that should save anyone upgrading multiple iPads at least 5 hours on the big day. Time savings are based on a single 30-iPad cart…more devices means more time saved:


  1. Download and update all software a day or two PRIOR to beginning your upgrade process. Day-of time savings: 3-8 hours depending on connectivity. Nothing is worse than jumping in ready to go and realizing you have hours of download time before starting!
    • OSX 10.7 updates range from 50MB to a few hundred MB. Some (like the firmware updates) require a restart.
    • iTunes updates are similar to OSX in terms of size.
    • iOS 5.0.1 is 750MB. You will want a local copy stored in case of any upgrade errors. To download, plug in an iPad, open iTunes and select “Update.” Choose “Download only” when prompted…do not choose “Download and install.”
    • XCode is 4GB, unless you are upgrading to 4.2 (which is still 1.5GB). This software is free from the Mac Store and allows you to update multiple iPads at one time, instead of iTunes’ one-at-a-time process.
    • Update all of the iPad apps that will be on each device. Some, like GarageBand are over 1GB. Updating iTunes and then pushing out the latest version saves you tons of time and bandwidth, as updating on each iPad takes n times longer (n = number of devices you are touching).
  2. Disable auto-sync in iTunes. Time savings: 15-150 minutes. When an iPad (or a sync cart full of iPads) is connected to the control computer, iTunes will open, backup and then perform a sync on each device. The sync takes longer if you’ve made additions or upgrades to the apps/music/books. Best case scenario, the sync takes 30 seconds per device. Worst case, up to 5 minutes or so per device. To disable auto-sync:
    • Open iTunes without any devices connected to the computer.
    • Click on “iTunes” in the top nav and select “Preferences.”
    • In the resulting window, select the “Devices” tab.
    • Below the list of devices, select “Prevent iPods, iPhones, and iPads from syncing automatically.”
  3. Disable iPhoto’s import preparation assistance. Time savings: 15-150 minutes. If an iPad has photos on it, iPhoto will sometimes try to open and prep for an import. iPhoto will open, mount the device and then pull thumbnails in preparation to copy the files. This process can take 30 seconds for a few photos or minutes if there are a number of photos and video.
    • Open iPhoto without any devices connected to the computer.
    • Click on “iPhoto” in the top nav and select “Preferences.”
    • Find the dropdown menu next to “Connecting camera opens” and select “No application.”
  4. Have students deliver devices to the sync location, remove iPads from cases and label the cases clearly. Time savings: 15-30 minutes. Many hands make light work, and removing and documenting each 1-to-1 device can easily take 30 seconds to a minute for a single person. This tip is most valuable for larger scale deployments where students have their own cases, but is still useful for many-to-1 configurations.
  5. For anyone updating more than 5 iPads, use XCode for multiple concurrent iOS upgrades. Time savings: 1.25-4 hours. iTunes lets you update a single iPad and will then restore the device and wait for you to press a few buttons to start the next device. XCode (free software from the Mac Store) allows you to access and write to as many iPads as you like. Once a device is complete, it will appear in iTunes ready to be restored from a backup. iTunes will automatically use a unique identifier (UDID? Serial #?) to find the right backup for the particular iPad. This means you can begin the manual restoration process while other iPads are still upgrading their operating system. The entire process isn’t completely automated yet and still involves some clicking, but XCode definitely saves time. Thanks to Joseph Morelock and his team ((MacGyver Chronicles, Episode 2: Restoring Multiple iOS Devices Using Xcode Organizer)) for the thorough documentation.


Two final thoughts for making the day run smoothly:

  • Through all of this clicking at waiting, be sure to have other tasks at hand that require intermittent attention. Is your closet in need of a cleaning and reorganization? Have paperwork to file? Is it time to clean out your email inbox?
  • Having someone else to chat with and talk through the process makes the time go by much more quickly. If you have 2 sync carts, then the two of you can even compete in IT jedi upgrade races. Thanks to @anotherschwab of SmallSchoolBigTech.com who served as my Twitter therapist as I worked through the process solo.

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