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How to use an iPad for Digital Signage Displays

Turn a new or old iPad into interactive office signage, a touchscreen digital menu, and more with ScreenCloud.

February  2024

ScreenCloud Post

Steve Jobs introduced the iPad in 2010 as something between a smartphone and a laptop. Turns out, it’s a bit more of something between a smartphone and a TV, as a new default way to consume content.

Not just entertainment, either. iPads are some of the easiest devices to turn into digital signage—especially for directional signs, smart meeting rooms, and digital menus. They’re clear, easy-to-read touchscreens, paired with computer hardware that’s perfect for running digital signage.

The easiest option is to add a folder of photos to an iPad, and shuffle through them automatically, something you’ve likely seen at a restaurant before. Or, you could open a website on an iPad for a quick informational display.

The better way is to pair an iPad with software built for digital signage, like ScreenCloud, that can show content on a schedule, enable touch interaction, and stay locked down enough that your customers might not even notice it’s an iPad.

Why use an iPad for Digital Signage?

An iPad is a great all-in-one device for signage

iPads are all-in-one devices that, by default, show whatever app or webpage you have open nearly full-screen. That makes them one of the easiest ways to get full-screen content on a screen without fuss.

iPads are easy to use. Rotate the screen orientation just by rotating the device. Turn off the touchscreen on your iPad by turning on Guided Access to lock your device down to a single app. Their touchscreen can make your digital signage interactive and they’re affordable, starting at $329 new and with commonly available refurbished or older models for far less.

All current iPad displays include 500 nit or higher brightness, automatically adjusted based on room brightness, and 2360x1640px or higher resolution (somewhat under 4K, but still at a high 264 pixels-per-inch thanks to their relatively small size). If you’d like your iPad to double as a digital whiteboard, you can draw with your finger, the Apple Pencil, or other 3rd-party styli. And, if you need signage in an area without reliable WiFi coverage, a cellular equipped iPad can run off a 4G or 5G network for easy-to-use signage at conferences, industry events, and other out-of-office uses.

iPads can, ideally, run for 10 hours on battery power—less at full brightness. You could temporarily use battery-powered iPads as signage, taking them down to charge each evening. Or, you could run a charging cable to the iPad to keep an iPad mounted permanently as signage.

iPad Downsides for Signage

iPads aren’t designed for signage, though, and there are a few things to note when using one in your office or store:

  • Battery: iPads’ built-in battery will degrade over time if kept continuously plugged in, as do batteries in laptops, phones, and other devices. It’s best to let the battery run down occasionally. Additionally, if the device shows signs of battery degradation or swelling, have it serviced or replaced.
  • Buttons: Older iPads include prominent bezels and a home button; all iPads include power and volume buttons. You may need to mount your iPad in a case to prevent guests from pressing buttons or lock the device in an attempt to disable Guided Access.
  • Weather Proofing: While iPads are generally durable enough for most use cases, and small amounts of water splashed directly on the screen should not hurt them, they’re neither water nor dust proof. Use care if using them in areas where they may get damp, and while wiping devices down to clean them.
  • Open Signage App on Startup: iPads always open the default iPadOS home screen on restart; there’s no way to set an iPad to open your digital signage app every time the device is restarted. Instead, if you need to restart or update a device, you’ll need to open your signage app and re-enable Guided Access to lock down the touchscreen.
  • Remote Access: iPads also do not include any remote access features. If you need to update the iPad, change settings, or install apps, you’ll need to do so directly from the iPad. However, you can remotely add and update digital signage content running on your iPad through ScreenCloud.

How to Use an iPad for Signage

Turn iPad into digital meeting room signage with ScreenCloud

You might be tempted to go the easy route of turning an iPad into signage with a photo slideshow, looping video, Keynote presentation slides, or a website open in Safari.

The best way to turn an iPad into digital signage, though, is with software like ScreenCloud that’s designed around screens that communicate. ScreenCloud is designed to get your company’s messaging on any screen, from office TVs to video walls to iPads and more.

Start out with your ScreenCloud account, where you’ll create, schedule, and manage signage content online for all of your company’s signage—including iPads.

Schedule content for digital signage on an iPad with ScreenCloud's web interface

ScreenCloud is built around content and app integrations. Add images and PDFs to ScreenCloud to play full-screen on TVs and iPads. Design custom slides in Canvas for a quick way to share announcements or build a basic menu. 

Or, you can use apps like ScreenCloud’s Meeting Room Software, which is perfect to turn an iPad into a way to book conference rooms and see when a room will next be available. Add the Weather or Stocks app for a quick heads-up display of something your team might otherwise check on their phones, Yelp and Google Reviews to show recent customer feedback, Slack to show important messages, and more.

You can build out new content for iPads, or repurpose screens from your office TVs for iPads in a click. Then, add all of your content together in a playlist and schedule when slides should show on your iPad, or build multi-app layouts in Channels for, say, an HR team update alongside the weather and news. You could use existing channels on your iPad—but they’ll appear with black letterboxes, as TVs are slightly narrower than iPad screens. The best option is to make a new ScreenCloud channel, click Change beside the resolution option, and either select the default iPad size or create a new retina-display channel (2360x1640px) for your iPads.

Turn iPad into digital signage with ScreenCloud

With the content built out, it’s time to add the ScreenCloud Player to your iPad. Download the ScreenCloud Player from the App Store on your iPad, then open the app. It’ll show a random 6-digit code by default.

Link ScreenCloud to iPad to turn it into digital signage

Switch back to the ScreenCloud site on your computer’s browser, click Screens then New Screen, and enter the code from your iPad in ScreenCloud. Now, set the content, playlist, or channel you want to play on your iPads. From the right sidebar, you can see quick details about your iPad, and set options including orientation, operating hours, and whether or not the touchscreen is enabled.

Keep iPad display always on from the iPad's Display & Brightness settings

Finally, set your iPad up to work to be an always-on signage display. First open the iPad’s Settings app, select Display & Brightness, tap Auto-Lock, then choose Never to have your iPad’s display remain on unless you press the power button. Then, set the Guided Access settings in Accessibility to lock your iPad’s screen to ScreenCloud—check our guide for more details on setting that up. Consider moving the ScreenCloud app to your iPad’s home screen to make it easy to start up, and hide or uninstall other apps.

Set ScreenCloud signage settings on iPad

You can also tweak ScreenCloud a bit on your iPad. In the ScreenCloud player app, swipe in from the right side of the screen to set orientation (locked by default in ScreenCloud) and enable the interactive touchscreen mode to let visitors swipe through signage.

Want to deploy more iPads as signage? Repeat those steps for each device. Then consider grouping all of your iPads in ScreenCloud’s Screens tab to update the content on every iPad at the same time.

Which iPad is Best for Digital Signage?

Apple iPad lineup in February 2024

Any iPad can work well for digital signage. The best, though, are newer iPads without home buttons, as they’re easier to lock down and keep clean.

The base iPad without a home button (10th generation or newer) has the best price to feature ratio for signage. From $499 new or $349 refurbished, it includes a 10.9” screen—the same size as the iPad Air—and the same buttonless design. Mount it on a wall and it looks more like a small display or digital photo frame than a tablet. The iPad Air starts at $100 more, sports a somewhat faster CPU, and supports the newer Apple Pencil, but neither are needed for signage making the base device the better value.

The cheapest iPad for signage is a classic-styled iPad with a home button (9th generation or newer), from $329 new or as little as $149 refurbished. It includes wider bezels, a familiar home button, and a somewhat smaller 10.2” screen, but otherwise would work just as well for digital signage. Consider mounting iPads with home buttons in a frame, to prevent passerby’s from pressing the buttons.

Larger screen sizes are only available with the 12.9” iPad Pro. At $1,099 new or from $659 refurbished, their price approaches that of a full-sized TV. Unless you plan to extensively use drawing features in addition to signage, the smaller iPads are a better value for digital menus, office signs, and other screens that communicate.

Repurpose an older iPad for signage

If you have an existing iPad to repurpose, that’s the best iPad to use. An old iPad can get a great second life as digital signage. As long as the screen still works, you can use it as signage while plugged in even if the battery’s capacity is diminished. You could also purchase older or used models for additional savings, if you don’t have existing iPads to use.

iPads generally receive official updates from Apple for 5 to 8 years after that model was launched. iPadOS 17, for example, supports 2017’s iPad Pro 10.5”, 2018’s 6th generation iPad, and 2019’s iPad Air. And they’re still proficient at running most apps and websites far after support has ended. The iPad 4 (launched in 2012) for example, supports iOS 10.3, the required version for ScreenCloud Player. On older iPads, you could open ScreenCloud’s web player in Safari for more basic signage.

Alternatives to iPad for Digital Signage

Want a smaller touchscreen device for signage, without using an iPad?

Android tablets can be used for signage much like an iPad, albeit without Guided Access’ full device lockdown to turn off the touch screen. Amazon’s Fire Tablets start at just under $100 for a 10” display, while Samsung’s Galaxy Tab devices start at just under $200 with 10.9” displays. Both can run the ScreenCloud Player app to turn an Android tablet into signage.

Similarly, Windows-powered tablets can also be used for signage—with remote access support for full remote management. Microsoft’s Surface Go tablets are similarly priced to iPads, with new devices just under $400. They may require more management, though, as they’re full PCs instead of the more locked-down, minimal tablet-focused operating systems on Android tablets and iPads.

Turn Your Tablet Into a Work Display

iPad as a digital whiteboard with ScreenCloud and OnlineBoard

You’ve likely already got ideas for the content to show on your iPad. Slides you want to create for a digital menu, HR messages to put on your iPad so your team will remember important company tasks, and office signs you’re ready to digitize.

You can do so much more than that, with ScreenCloud. Start out by adding a digital whiteboard to your iPad with OnlineBoard, which lets you both add a whiteboard alongside your other ScreenCloud slides, and also lets you draw on the whiteboard straight from your iPad.

Want to get your iPad signage embedded deeper into your Apple workflow? Use Siri on your phone to update your iPad signage for a voice-activated smart screen. Or, if you have another iPad laying around, you can turn an iPad into a Stream Deck with smart buttons to change up your company’s signage with a tap.

Anything you can dream up, you can put on your signage—and your iPads repurposed as office screens—with ScreenCloud.

Image Credits: iPad in hand photo by Henry Ascroft via Unsplash. iPad on wood by Kelly Sikkema via Unsplash. Header photo iPad by Angèle Kamp via Unsplash.

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