How to turn your iPad into the best digital photo frame

You can easily spend between $100 and $200 on a Wi-Fi digital photo frame, but these often have clunky interfaces for syncing photos and the displays can be quite poor. A better solution may be repurposing an old iPad or putting your current iPad in photo frame mode for special occasions.

Apple used to include a handy photo slideshow button on the iPad lock screen years ago, but this feature was abandoned with iOS 7 and later. While I’d love to see this feature return in the future, it’s possible to create a Wi-Fi digital photo frame mode for your iPad using built-in features in iOS today.

My setup uses the 2016 9.7-inch iPad Pro running the latest version of iOS 11, but this guide should work with any modern iPad running a recent version of iOS. Follow these steps and you can update your wireless digital photo frame easily from your iPhone or Mac too. You can also ensure no one can take your iPad out of photo frame mode without your permission. Here’s how:

Enable iCloud Photo Sharing (Settings → Photos →  iCloud Photo Sharing) which is a free feature that lets you create albums that sync with iCloud between devices and can be shared with other iCloud users.

Create a new Shared Album (Photos → Shared → + in top left corner) and give it a name like Photo Frame. You can optionally invite other iCloud users if you want others to add their photos to the photo frame slideshow, then tap Create and your new album is ready for adding photos.

Add photos to your new shared album (Photos → Shared → Photo Frame → +) from your iPhone, iPad, or Mac using the same iCloud account with iCloud Photo Sharing enabled from the Photos app. You can even add multiple photos at the same time (Photos → Select in top right corner → Tap photos you want → Tap Share button in bottom right corner → Tap iCloud Photo Sharing from colored icon picker →  select Photo Frame from Shared Album picker → Tap Post).

Enable single app mode using Guided Access (Settings → General → Accessibility → Guided Access) which lets you lock your iPad to the current app by triple-clicking the Home button. Set a passcode and optionally enable Touch ID to end Guided Access mode easily. For digital photo frame mode, I disable all hardware buttons and touch and do not use a time limit. This prevents anyone from closing the Photos app or turning off your iPad.

Disable Auto-Lock if you want to prevent your iPad display from turning off automatically (Settings → Display & Brightness →  Auto-Lock → Never); you can still turn off the display with the sleep wake button when Guided Access is not active.

Optionally turn off volume, enable Silent Mode, and turn off Do Not Disturb from Control Center if you want to avoid any interruptions. You can add videos to your shared album so volume control will affect audio playback (but not Siri volume which is separate).

Now it’s time to fire it up! Open your new album (Photos → Shared → Photo Frame) and tap Slideshow in the top right corner. You can customize the theme, theme music, and transition speed from the Options button at the bottom right. You will also want to toggle Repeat on here. Then tap Play (triangle icon on bottom center) and triple-click the Home button to toggle into single app mode.

Lastly, you need your iPad to remain connected to a power source to pull this off. The 12-watt or higher power adapter and Lightning cable will work just fine. For a cleaner setup, I’m using the Logitech Base stand which charges iPad Pro with the Smart Connector, but only because I already own it (it’s a bit pricey to add just for this purpose).

Turning your iPad into a Wi-Fi digital photo frame is a great way to give an old iPad new purpose, and following these steps to turn your main iPad into a photo frame temporarily can be a nice party trick too. This is also ideal for shared iPads in a living room environment. I’m also using this iPad as a Sonos controller, Home app for visiting family and friends, and Hey Siri is enabled for a makeshift smart speaker experience.

Setting this experience up manually does require a bit of work to get started, but adding to and maintaining the experience thereafter is quite easy. I would love to see the Photos app have a similar mode built-in, but for now these iOS features make it totally possible with a little upfront work.

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