Wi-Fi issues dominate iPad user complaints

Users gripe about weak signals, dropped connections, slow speeds with Apple's new tablet

Some owners of Apple Inc.'s new iPad have complained of weak wireless signals, dropped connections and slow surfing speeds, messages on the company's support forum show.

Although users have also reported problems with recharging their iPads from Windows-based PCs or synchronizing the tablet with other computers, Wi-Fi issues have garnered the most complaints, as tallied by the message counts on multiple support forum threads.

As of late Monday, the thread titled "Weak wifi" led all others with more than 130 messages, and nearly 13,000 views.

"Signal is weak, downloading anything is painfully slow and it will drop the signal and go offline every 5-10 minutes," said a user identified as "mbell75" early Sunday, near the beginning of the thread. "Pretty annoying."

"It will work fine for a while, but show a low signal. Then, after a few minutes of use, my connection will drop completely and I will have to reset my wi-fi radio," complained "mlp8104" in a message Monday afternoon.

The biggest beef was that the iPad's Wi-Fi signal indicator would fluctuate, going from full-strength to the lowest level without warning, or with any change in the tablet's location.

"My wifi went down to 1 bar after working great for a few hours," said "syunker" Monday. "My download speeds started to crawl, I couldn't even surf the web. I rebooted my router and it didn't help."

Several users said their iPads either could not acquire a signal at all or could only receive a faint signal, while other devices, including new Apple laptops and iPhones, had no similar trouble. "In our living room where laptops get a full signal, my iPad gets a very poor signal which is so bad that it even cuts completely out sometimes," complained "Panjandrum" Monday morning. "I had to walk the iPad into the same room as my router to get a movie rental to download."

As is often the case on Apple's support threads, users hoped not only that a software update to the iPad's operating system would solve their problems, but also that one would be released soon.

Others, however, chimed in to say that they were perfectly happy with the iPad's Wi-Fi signal, saying it was strong and stable at home, work and in public hot spots at locations such as Starbucks.

Some who reported that their iPads intermittently lost a Wi-Fi connection said that they solved the problem temporarily by shutting down the iPad and then restarting it. "But should I have to do that with a device that costs this much and has so much hype about changing the way we use the Net?" asked "sandersn" on Sunday in a different thread.

On Monday, Apple posted several iPad-specific support documents to its Web site, including one that suggested users modify settings on their wireless routers. Another troubleshooting document told users to "Move closer to the Wi-Fi router or hotspot," if they were having problems.

Suggestions from users ranged from disabling the iPad's "Ask to Join Networks" feature to rebooting routers.

Connectivity issues aren't new for Apple hardware. Shortly after the company's ultra-thin MacBook Air debuted in early 2008, owners complained about weak signals when their notebooks' lids were closed. And iPhone owners have complained about poor reception and lost signals over AT&T's data network since the smartphone first appeared in 2007, to the point that several filed class-action lawsuits against both Apple and the carrier.

The version of the iPad now for sale connects to the Internet only via Wi-Fi; a more expensive model that also uses AT&T's 3G data network is not slated to ship until later this month.

Over the weekend, users voiced frustration about other problems, including an apparent inability to recharge the iPad through USB ports on many computers, keyboards and hubs. On Saturday, for example, Consumer Reports said that its initial testing indicated that the iPad would recharge via the USB ports on desktop and laptop Macs, but failed to do so on USB ports in a variety of Windows PCs, or through the ports on a keyboard directly connected to a Mac.

(Computerworld noticed the same "Not Charging" message when an iPad was connected to the USB port on a wired Mac keyboard.)

Apple clarified the recharging process in a support document published Sunday, noting that the iPad requires a high-power USB 2.0 port to charge while it is in use. The iPad will only charge via older USB ports, including those on most Windows machines, when the tablet is asleep, Apple said.

Apple began selling iPads Saturday at its own retail stores and Best Buy. On Monday, the company announced that it sold 300,000 iPads the first day.

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

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