Complaints about iPad Wi-Fi problems continue to climb

Apple rep advises new iPad owners to reset tablet's Network Settings

Complaints from owners of Apple's newest iPad that their device has trouble connecting to wireless networks continue to mount.

One Apple support thread on the subject has collected over 770 messages, and has been viewed more than 65,000 times, both very large numbers by the support forum's standards.

Apple started selling the third-generation iPad on March 16, and gripes about its wireless performance appeared almost immediately.

Most complaints have been filed by Wi-Fi model owners, but some have been posted by people with the more expensive 4G-enabled iPad.

According to users, some new iPads have extreme difficulty connecting to a wireless network, staying connected, and most tellingly, locking onto a strong signal. Other devices, including first- and second-generation iPads, as well as Apple-made notebooks, do not, even though they are accessing the same network and placed beside the new iPad.

Some Computerworld staffers have seen the same behavior on their Wi-Fi iPads, while others have not.

"Will not hold Wi-Fi [signal] for more than a few minutes," said a user identified as "It_caveman" in a pair of support messages on March 18. "Two MacBooks and iPhone working fine from same router. I've done some measuring on range ... iPad 2 out to about 75 feet before dropping to 2 bars and out to 100 feet and still get 1 to 2 bars. iPad 3 out to 35 feet before dropping to two bars and at 45 to 50 feet you're down to one bar. Past that you can forget it."

Scores of others chimed in with similar stories of iffy Wi-Fi.

"Very unreliable. It keeps losing signal," said "jfricks" in a message added to the same thread today. "iPods and iPad 2 have no problems in same locations. Mine does have Verizon LTE so it is not just the Wi-Fi only models."

Numerous users said that their new iPads, when they were able to acquire a Wi-Fi signal, reported significantly slower connection speeds than older models.

An Apple technical support representative contacted by Computerworld walked through some steps he said might fix the Wi-Fi problems. His first suggestion: Reset the iPad's network settings to their factory defaults.

The technical support rep claimed that the issue was not hardware-related, but in the iPad's software.

To reset an iPad's network configuration, users must choose the "Settings" app, touch "General" and then "Reset" before selecting "Reset Network Settings."

The same AppleCare technician also told Computerworld to repeat the process, but select "Reset All Settings" the second time. The tablet's data and apps were unaffected, but Wi-Fi passwords had to be re-entered.

After resetting the new iPad, it showed a slightly stronger Wi-Fi signal in locations where connectivity had previously been spotty. But speed tests showed a marked improvement in download and upload throughput. Where an iPad 2 had typically performed better than the new tablet, the tables were turned after the reset.

The Apple's representative's advice had already been circulating on the support thread and elsewhere. Two weeks ago, for example, the Cult of Mac blog posted instructions that it said "might just solve [the Wi-Fi] issue."

On the Apple support thread, some owners said that they had been told to return their iPads to the company for repair, exchanged them at an Apple retail store or had simply asked for a refund and returned to using an older iPad or iPad 2.

It's difficult to gauge the extent of the problem, although the 9to5Mac blog published a purported internal Apple document that indicated the company was actively investigating Wi-Fi issues and exchanging troubled tablets so that they could be examined by engineers.

Apple typically does not publicly comment on ongoing issues with its products.

Gregg Keizer covers Microsoft, security issues, Apple, Web browsers and general technology breaking news for Computerworld. Follow Gregg on Twitter at @gkeizer , send e-mail to gkeizer@ix.netcom.com or subscribe to Gregg's RSS feed .

Read more about mobile and wireless in Computerworld's Mobile and Wireless Topic Center.

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