Remotely boot your iPad and launch an app

I’m one step further along on the quest for the Holy Grail of kiosk displays. We use a lot of iPads here at the museum, most of them are either in Lab Shield brackets or built into cabinets. The whole idea behind building a kiosk is to make it hard for people to break into your device, so naturally the power and home buttons are behind lock and key.

The trouble is, there are a few quirks in the iPads. One is that after running for a few days, the display seems to lose its sensitivity to touch. The only way so far to deal with that seems to be to open the bracket, hit the power button to make it sleep, then hit it again to make it wake up. Then launch the app again and lock the whole thing back up. Not something the visitor services people want to do a lot. Nor I.

Sometimes visitors also break out of the kiosk app (we’re using iCab Mobile, an absolutely fantastic app, by the way). I have no idea how, but sometimes the iPad will be doing something completely different. One of ours now has a spiffy new home screen background thanks to someone who got in.

I’m very hopeful that my newly found method of remote booting/app launching will help at least take some of the pain out of the reset process. ¬†Here’s how:

  1. Jailbreak the iPad (only works on iPad 1’s for now)
  2. Install OpenSSH (I installed the whole BigBoss Recommended Tools suite)
  3. Install Activator
  4. Determine the IP address of the iPad
  5. ssh in as root, change the password right away!
  6. Set up Activator to launch whatever app (e.g. iCabMobile) you want to have start up at boot time. Hook the app to the “Anywhere -> Power -> Connected” event.
  7. If you’re still ssh’ed in from step 5, type ‘reboot<return>

Voil√°. Your iPad will reboot, and if you’re crossing your fingers just right, the app will launch after it boots. It seems to do this pretty reliably unless you do it too many times in too short a time.

I’ve set up ssh keys for the iPad so that I can run a command like this from my desktop machine:

ssh -i .ssh/id_rsa_ipadkiosk root@ reboot

Next up on my list is to build a web app that lets us reboot any iPad. Then we can carry around an iPad running the web app, and reboot troublesome exhibits with the swipe of a finger.

Update: I should note that for this to work, the iPad has to be plugged in to a power source. During the boot sequence the hardware must sense the power source and generate the same event that gets generated if you plug it in after it’s booted.

Posted in kiosk, Museum
3 comments on “Remotely boot your iPad and launch an app
  1. Yves Mailhot says:

    Hi, I wrote a Mac OS X application that might be useful to you if you need some of your kiosks to be Mac computers: There is also an iPad version.


  2. George says:

    Regarding finding your iPads stuck in other apps – you should check the crash log after syncing the iPad to a mac. It’s in user/Library/Logs/CrashReporter/MobileDevice. We found that our iPod touch multimedia guides were crashing due to low memory. Visitors would choose another app, and would of course get stuck there since the ‘home’ button is covered. We are planning a fix to our tour app to address this.

    Thanks for posting this, we’re beginning to experiment with iPads here at the MFA. Would love to talk to you about your experience sometime.

  3. Paul Cushing says:

    Did you ever get the remote reboot function to work?