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July 05, 2011

I Was Wrong and Sloppy to Blame Safari on the iPad for Viewing Problems

I was sloppy in my debugging and wrong to blame Safari on the iPad for problems we had viewing web pages on that device in my post The Empress' New iPad. Although iPad, as is well known, doesn't support Flash, the problems I was seeing were caused by settings on the two WiFi routers I use; these settings don't seem to affect other devices. However, the problems are well known and the fixes simple unless you own a very old router. Details for those who may have a problem with broken web pages on an iPad – other than when trying to view Flash content – are below.

Mary got a new iPad for her birthday and it came with setup by me. When I was ready for her to play with it, she was immediately disappointed to find that she couldn't follow a link in an email to a special sale at Sears. The page displayed but she couldn't click away from it. I couldn't go to Sears.com at all; Safari (the iPad default browser) just said that the website couldn't be found. I tried loading NYTimes.com; got a crippled braindead version of the first page although other pages looked OK.

As I always do with a new problem, I googled it. Wasn't suspicious enough about not finding these symptoms exactly replicated. There was lots of discussion about lack of Flash (a web authoring tool used for animation and bling) and about servers sending pages meant for small cellphone screens to iPad's nice big screen. I decided that we were suffering from some variant of this problem and blogged and tweeted accordingly and wondered out loud why more people weren't complaining about such an obvious flaw.

I was wrong. Friends, relatives, and commenters quickly let me know that their iPads had no problem with these sites. Then I did what I should've done in the beginning – started to eliminate variables.

Used my Verizon Fivespot wireless device to create a local hotspot connected to Verizon Wireless and logged the iPad onto that. Now sears.com work and nytimes.com work flawlessly, so it's either my ISP or my local routers that are the problem. Then create a local ad hoc hotspot from my PC which is on an Ethernet connection to my router. That works, too; so looks like the ISP is not at fault. Hard to believe both my routers have a problem, but I google that seriously. PC Mag wrote about a spate of WiFi problems when the iPad was first released.

Turns out that iPad2 prefers a variant of WiFi known as 802.11n. It also supports a, b, and g; but it likes n. Moreover, it wants the official release of n and not some prerelease kluge. Apple suggests that, if you are having a problem, you make sure your router has the latest firmware release from the manufacturer and that you specify, if it is a multiprotocol router, you want to use 802.11n only (could be a problem for other old devices). Most people's symptom is inability to connect to a WiFi hub, but some did report intermittent connection issues. Still haven't found anyone who had our specific problem that some websites work and some don't.

My old Dlink router didn't support 802.11n at all. It had the latest firmware but that was from early last year. My Belkin N+ router has an option for which protocols it supports. Turned off everything but n. Voila – everything works.

Should have done more debugging and less blogging. Should've realized that problems as severe as I suspected with iPad Safari browsing would've left a google-able trail.

Lessons learned.

Related post:

The Empress' New iPad


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