Using the Raspberry Pi to Turn an iPad into a Real Computer, part 2: The iPad

In my last post, I talked about why I wanted to do this project, which was mostly about not wanting an old iPad to sit in a box with all my other crap. It was also about a clever use of a Raspberry Pi. While 99% of the work in this project is setting up the Pi, this post is about setting up the iPad.

Growing up the iPad
My daughter got the iPad when she was 4. We bought it refurbished from Amazon. As much as I dislike Apple as a company, and as a platform, the quality of their hardware is impressive. We put the iPad in a pink foam bumper case. It was subjected to all manner of child induced terrors: spilled milk, sticky fingers, being left to die in random places. Despite being 2 years old when we got it, and her using it for probably 5 years, it’s still in pretty good shape. The screen cracked in one corner.

I cleaned it up, and I put it in a cheap folio case.

The only real modification I made to the iPad was to install a Unix shell app called Blink. Blink has some essential tools like ping and ssh, along with the ability to map hostnames to IP addresses in a manner similar to /etc/hosts.

The app is $20 per year, it’s meant to be used for home automation, and includes a lot of that. If you aren’t into that you can just shake your iPad every day or two and keep using the app for free.

The iPad’s on screen keyboard doesn’t have some essential keys, like CTRL or arrow keys. If you are going to spend time in the Unix shell, you should probably have a hardware keyboard.

My wife has a Bluetooth keyboard that she uses to live-Tweet TV episodes sometimes. It doesn’t have a touchpad, it runs off of AAA batteries instead of being rechargeable, but it does have arrow keys. The F-keys (F1-F10) behave a little strangely, which I will go into more in the next post about configuring the Pi.

The most practical solution would be a keyboard with a dedicated CTRL key, arrow keys, and a touchpad. If I end up using this gear a lot, I might splurge on a cool keyboard.

I spent a little while shopping for 60% mechanical keyboards. Buying a keyboard is definitely outside of the “shit laying around the house” constraint. A retro-gray keyboard would give the iPad some cool Unix style. A 60% keyboard doesn’t solve the touchpad problem, however, and a lot of 60% layouts don’t have dedicated arrow keys.

The Raspberry Pi doesn’t have a built-in battery, so using it portably requires a battery bank. I have a small collection of batteries thanks to amateur radio and owning a couple of smartphones with terrible battery life.

The Raspberry Pi 4b requires more amperage than the previous models. I have plugged the Pi into the battery for testing purposes, but I haven’t tested how long the battery lasts with the Pi plugged in. These batteries can completely charge two tablets from 0 to 100% simultaneously, so I am pretty sure I can get several hours of use with the Pi. Of course, in a situation where I am charging the iPad and my 4G hotspot, that duration lowers significantly.

And now, the fun begins: Setting up the Raspberry Pi

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