Elderly woman using iPad

Recently I wrote a guide to setting up a new iPad, aimed at anyone opening a new Apple tablet on Christmas day. At the time I considered it pretty comprehensive, taking as it did the user from turning on the device for the first time, through connecting to Wi-Fi, setting up an Apple ID and eventually to the home screen.

However, as I discovered last night, this is far from the end of the process. I’d agreed to help an elderly lady set up her first iPad – an original iPad mini - so she could get rid of her Windows XP PC and jump straight into the 21st century. Knowing that she would only want to use Safari, Gmail and YouTube I figured it should take less than an hour. Totally wrong on that score.

It turned out that someone had unhelpfully attempted to set it up for her, misspelling her email address for the Apple ID and choosing US English instead of UK. Easy to fix, or at least it should have been. I tapped the option for a forgotten password and was redirected to Safari to Apple’s iForgot site.

After entering the correct email address, the system naturally reported there was no such account and gave me the option to create a new Apple ID. However, having filled out the entire form and pressing the button to create the account, Safari threw up an error saying it “couldn’t download the file”. Apparently then, you can’t use Safari on an iPad to create an Apple ID.

At this point I decided to factory reset the iPad and start from scratch, allowing me to choose the appropriate options for language, location services, diagnostic reporting etc. At last we were at the home screen – the end of my tutorial - but the work was only really just beginning.

What I’d forgotten – not having a spare iPhone or iPad to hand – was that setting up “as a new iPad” means it’s effectively a blank canvas. No backups are restored, no apps are installed, and no payment or address is set up for the App store.

Worse still, on opening the Mail app which I’d configured for Gmail during the initial setup process, a message appeared saying the password was incorrect. It had been changed, but the lady had no idea what it was – it logged her in automatically each time on the XP PC for some reason. Fortunately, it’s possible to choose which email address to which you send the password recovery instructions, so I used my own, verifying it with a code sent to my iPhone.

Email’s sorted I thought, but no. With the new password entered on the iPad, a new error flashed up. This time, Gmail wasn’t configured for IMAP which meant using the XP PC to delve into Gmail’s murky settings page to disable POP and enable IMAP.

Next up was the App store. The first time you try to purchase an app – even a free one – you have to enter your Apple ID password and then fill out the payment and address form. Fortunately Apple has updated this with a ‘None’ payment option that lets you download free apps.

Then it was a case of laboriously opening each app in turn to make sure they would work when my 94-year-old friend tapped on them. Messages, for example, asks you to confirm which methods you’d like to use for communicating, YouTube has a three-step tutorial and BBC News asks if you want to personalise the news you see or just view the Top Stories.

By now almost two hours had passed, partly due to the repeated interruptions of small talk and the more welcome break for tea and chocolate éclairs, but the job was far from finished. You realise at this point it’s necessary to explain how to use a touchscreen and – indeed – how iOS works.

Simple things we all take for granted, such as switching between letters and numbers on the iOS keyboard are completely alien to a first-time user. As is the fact a capacitive screen doesn’t respond to pressure. Watching this lady trying to launch an app was an eye-opener: she first slid her finger over the YouTube icon, then tried pressing harder – neither of which techniques worked. On the third attempt after some instruction, a quick stab did the trick.

I then realised that not all apps make it obvious how to navigate around. On the iPad mini, the magnifying glass icon is miniscule in the top right corner: easy to miss and difficult to tap. In Mail, the list of emails appears and disappears rather disconcertingly when you change focus to the email itself, and in Safari, it’s far from obvious that you have to drag down to show the search and address bar. Again, all things which I take for granted, but which have to be explained to someone coming from a desktop PC.

Before leaving, my friend asked if I could make the text larger so everything was easier to read. Another easy fix, I thought. Apple has built many accessibility options into iOS, but until you actually use some of them you don’t realise how useless they are.

It’s simple to increase the font size, but it doesn’t apply globally. Text is larger in emails, but not below app icons, nor in menus. It remains tiny and difficult to read for anyone with poor eyesight. There’s a zoom option, but this isn’t particularly easy to use. You either have a movable rectangle which enlarges the area it’s over, or the whole screen is zoomed and you use a joystick to move it around.

Accepting these limitations, I decided to make the final lesson of the evening an idiot’s guide to the keyboard so she could enter her password whenever it was requested. This is another area which really isn’t as clear as it should be.

 Apple passwords require at least one capital letter. Problem is, how do you know if your shift key is pressed? Sometimes it is in order to automatically capitalise the first letter of a word, and you can’t guarantee a password field won’t use this feature. When you tap the shift key it changes from the default of a grey key with a white arrow to white with a black arrow. But since the alphabetic keys don’t change from upper- to lower-case it’s just trial and error to work out which state is which. Compounding the problem is that you’ve only a second or so to look at the password character you just typed before it’s obscured.

And to compound it even more, the iOS 8 keyboard changes colours depending on the app. By default, the keys are white with a light grey background. But at other times (in YouTube, say) it switches to a dark mode with grey keys and a dark grey background.  

Having spent almost two and a half hours, I’d barely made it possible for this lady to send an email, watch a YouTube video and visit a website. It’ll be fascinating to see whether she adapts to the iPad or finds it impossible to make the switch from a desktop PC to a small touchscreen tablet. Given the wildly different perspective it has given me, I’ll be posting again on the subject shortly.