Locking down iPad for slide show and Facetime

I want to configure an iPad for use by an elderly family member with dementia who is isolated in a retirement home. I am posting here hoping to solicit ideas and suggestions from the ever-innovative TidBITS brain trust.

The primary use case for the iPad is to accept incoming Facetime calls, so family members can keep in touch with her. I’ve already found that iOS can be configured to auto-answer incoming calls, which is ideal since this user can no longer manage the complexity of the iOS UI. (the Auto-Answer option is hidden away in Settings/Accessibility/Call Audio Routing).

Since the iPad will be sitting on a table always plugged in, it seems logical to also use it as a photoframe, endlessly playing a slideshow of family photos.

My wish list for features/functionality:

  • simple, basic, zero-to-minimal user interaction required.
  • slideshow auto-starts, and auto-continues after a Facetime call completes (typically, calls will be terminated by the caller). Ideally, starts up when the iPad is turned on.
  • slideshow displays photos from a shared (iCloud) Photos album. New photos can then be put in the shared album by other family members, and get synced from iCloud to the iPad.
  • a timer feature that will dim the display (or turn it off entirely) between specified times. IE, it goes dark overnight so as not to impact sleeping.
  • display of day, date, time in the corner of the slideshow would be nice to have.
  • no visibility of other iOS apps or functionality. Thus, no opportunity for the user to inadvertently mess things up or get lost in the iOS UI. I believe this can be done with Accessibility/Guided Access.

Another challenge is that I’ll need to pre-configure the iPad and then drop-ship it to the retirement home. It’s in a different city, and in any event visitors are prohibited from entry due to covid-19. So the set-up needs to be plug-and-play.

I started browsing the App Store for photoframe apps, and found there are lots. This can’t be a unique application. Perhaps a TidBITS member has already been down this path and found a recipe? I’ll be grateful for any suggestions.


I haven’t tried this myself but try searching for “iPad kiosk mode” for tips

Thanks for the suggestion to search for “kiosk mode”. Ms. Google revealed another method that I wasn’t aware of for locking down an iPad: Single Application mode. It requires use of Apple’s Configurator utility or another Mobile Device Management tool. That approach doesn’t work for me. I’m intending to use the Guided Access feature, which I already knew about.

I’m still on the hunt for a suitable ‘photoframe’ app that will meet the requirements, and co-exist with Facetime.

Thanks again for posting.

It may not be exactly what you are looking for, but Peek-a-View was made specifically to let people scroll through photos without screwing things up.

David, tried many approaches to this with my now sadly departed father in law. There might be other solutions then Apple.

I was curious about the Echo Show but my brother in law went to buy it and instead he picked up a webcam with two way communication as a service. It was certainly more limited in terms of function, especially in that he couldn’t see us but we could have a conversation and we were alerted to when he got out of bed etc. He had one fall which we caught quicker than his minders for example. Can always easily set up an iPad as a photo frame using a shared photo album as another device, ie. it might suit you to separate the functions.

Thanks for the tip about Peek-a-View. Not quite what I’m looking for (no slide show), but it may suit another requirement I have for a different user group. I’ll check it out.

Thanks also for your post. We’ve been thinking about a webcam, for remote ‘monitoring’ as you described. I have a few Wyze cameras, which have 2-way audio as well as 1-way video. One of them might work. But Facetime for 2-way video communication will fit our family environment well, since many of the family members (grandchildren, etc) have Apple devices.

Alas, I’ve hit a roadblock in my quest for a dedicated Slideshow + Facetime configuration.

It turns out the the iOS Guided Access feature is too restrictive. I had hoped that I could use it to lock the iPad to a single slideshow (photo frame) app, while still allowing incoming Facetime calls. Since Facetime is an ‘internal’ service baked into iOS, I thought that it might process an incoming call even when Guided Access was enabled. And would auto-answer the call, thanks to the AutoAnswer accessibility feature.

But it doesn’t. If Guided Access is enabled, a brief notification of an incoming FT call appears at the top of the screen, but iOS does not answer the call. Too bad - it would have been an elegant solution for this particular use case.

Perhaps I can use iOS Restrictions to create a solution.

I don’t know how much space there is, but have you considered not doing everything on one device? Have you considered 2 iPads or an iPad and an iPad mini. Throw in a charger that can handle at least 2-devices. Optimize one iPad for photos and the other for FaceTime. Or choose another device for the photo frame.

Even though you will be drop-shipping it and be providing basic instructions, could you be available via FaceTime or other video calling or conference app to coach the staff who does the installation via their phone?

It seems that this would be better served with a used Mac portable, maybe with some activation of Accessibility for simplification. It has the screen saver built in and FaceTime. Would that work for you?

Alan, Already have an old iPad mini in service, with a dedicated “Memory clock” app.
It constantly displays time, day, date, and even “morning”, “afternoon”, “evening”. Highly recommended for dementia patients. I think two more iDevices (one for photos, one for Facetime) would really complicate things (not to mention no space for them on the small table).

A MacBook of some sort would be overly complex for this user. She presently has an iMac - the standard macOS screen saver is playing a loop of family photos, and it’s configured to auto-answer incoming FT calls. But it’s much too big for the space. It’s located in another room, where she never hears incoming FT calls. Hence my motivation to ‘shrink’ the functionality down onto an iPad that will be more accessible with a simpler user experience. It sure would be nice if Apple would enhance the iOS home page wallpaper with slideshow functionality, similar to macOS screen saver. There used to be a built-in Photo Frame feature in iOS, but they dropped it a few releases back:-(

Thanks to both for your suggestions. It’s a difficult design space, but I’ll keep searching to see what I can come up with.