Monday, April 11, 2011

How Can I Have My Parents Or Grandparents Use The Internet And Manage Photos Without A Computer?

Background: A technology-ambivalent Baby-Boomer parent wants internet and photo printing, but hates computers (updated for AirPrint):

Recently someone asked me about how to enable a technology-ambivalent parent to access email and web from home and manage their photos without a computer. They live in a suburban area and don't want expensive internet service. They want to do email/web and store/print photos of their grandchildren, but not much more.

One solution to help them get online:

I think the following solution may work for this situation. The critical piece is the Apple AirPrint service. This service allows simple user-friendly wireless printing from iPads. Internet and photo management comes through the iPad itself, which maximizes ease of use and minimizes security issues, in my opinion.
  • An 3G/4G iPad with Apple Care - You can get inexpensive internet access from AT&T or Verizon. No contracts.
  • iPad Camera Connection kit
  • "Grandparent-friendly" camera with SD Card media
  • AirPrint compatible wireless photo printer
  • Secured wireless access point (Use Cisco LinkSys or Netgear with WPA2/AES Shared Key) - only for the printer, no internet, one-time setup and connection to iPad


  • Buy the latest 3G/4G iPad with Apple Care and the Camera Connection kit. The Apple Care is important, since it will allow you to completely outsource tech support to the Genius Bar.
  • Buy the camera and a large memory card for the camera.
  • Buy an 802.11G or 802.11N basic wireless router.
  • Buy an AirPrint capable photo printer from those listed on Apple's support page.
  • Buy a decent initial supply of photo paper for the printer.
  • Buy replacement cartridges for all of the ink colors. The initial cartridges are usually only half full.
  • Schedule a time slot at an Apple Store Genius Bar.
  • Bring your parent with the iPad, camera, and Camera Connection kit to the Apple Store.
  • Have them work with the Genius Bar to:
    • configure the camera and the Camera Connection kit
    • create an Apple ID
    • buy and set up a wireless data plan.
  • At their home, configure the wireless router without an internet connection.
    • Configure WPA2-PSK security.
    • Create a strong private shared key (many different characters).
    • Write the key down and write the wireless router admin login down and keep them with you. Your parent won't need it.
  • Configure the iPad to use the wireless network with the private shared key.
  • Set up the AirPrint photo printer. Store the extra paper and ink cartridges.
  • Configure the AirPrint photo printer to use the wireless network with the private shared key.
  • Configure the iPad to print to the AirPrint photo printer.
  • Test your parent's workflow:
    • Take pictures with their camera
    • Connect the camera to the iPad
    • Download the pictures into the iPad
    • Print the pictures to the AirPrint photo printer.
Note: You pay up front for simplicity and ease of use. This solution is not cheap, but for those who don't want to be "family tech support," I think it will minimize support costs more than any other solution. Regarding Android, you need a printing application from a printer vendor. If HP or another vendor provides an Android printing application for their photo-capable printers, they will enable a similar stack on Android.  That being said, I do not know of a support system for Android that's equivalent to Apple Care plus the Genius Bar.  You will almost certainly have to do more of the support yourself.

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