How the “Smart Sign” iPad Displays at Your Local Apple Store Actually Work


Photo by connorsmac •
Photo by connorsmac •

If you walk into an Apple store these days you will find tons of iPads on display. No, we aren’t talking about the iPads that are actually available for purchase, but instead the ones that sit next to each and every Apple product with descriptions, details and interactive elements.

These iPads run an internal Apple app called “Smart Sign,” and the app is meant to help connect you with Apple store employees and show you information about products. If you’ve ever wondered what these iPad “Smart Signs” are actually made of, someone has been able to see what’s going on under the hood of one of these iPad displays. Let’s just say, it isn’t your typical iPad.

Zech of iDownloadblog recently visited his local Apple store with mission, “to get an inside peek at what was behind Apple’s own Smart Sign application.”

The thing about these Apple store iPad displays is that the Smart Sign app can’t be exited like any other app. There’s actually a secret gesture that must be performed to close Apple’s own marquee-style Smart Sign app to see the iPad’s homescreen.

While Zech didn’t reveal the super-secret gesture on iDownloadblog, he was able to exit the Smart Sign app and see the differences between the iPad display units and the average, run-of-the-mill iPads you can buy for 500 bucks.

“First off, there is no App Store. I was confused for a bit, and checked the Settings app to see if it was disabled, but it was no where to be seen. Next, Apple requires 6 profiles to be installed just for the app to work, which I found interesting. Besides that, the front facing camera doesn’t work either. In the Camera app, it shows a black screen.

Additionally, the app only works in the Apple Store. It shows up in Location Services (as seen above), and if you disable it, the app will crash immediately after opening it. Furthermore, when you do the secret gesture, the iPad will restart for some odd reason. Also, a new application also appeared by the name of “Self Service.” Unfortunately, I was running out of time, so I didn’t get to see what the app does.”

The lack of an App Store is obviously to prevent any buying sprees or unauthorized downloads, but we’re curious about Self Service. Is it a diagnostic, clean wipe program, or something more interesting? Give us your ideas in the comments.

  • matthewmspaceyoutube

    If they are running iOS 4.3.3 or older, could you jailbreak it with jailbreakme? Then you could get apps through installous, make the camera/home button work, and use it as a natural iPad as well as a smart sign.

  • Techy8789

    It’s probably not a big deal.  It might just be settings for the Smart Sign app that lets you select what device it’s for.  If that were the case, then I wonder if future versions of Apple products would be aboard.  On the other hand, its logo looks like Windows, although the colors aren’t in the same pattern.

  • Thomas Verschoren

    Most like it works like this: Employees surf to an internal website and download an enrollment certificate and profile (the Apple Retail Entry) which also contains an web clip.

    This makes the device eglibale for Smart Sign Software.
    Then self service is the in house website where they can download the configuration profiles etc.

    The appstore, camera e.a. stuff is basic Configuration Profile stuff, just some checkboxes in the Profile manager.
    I suppose the Website itself either checks the location or, more preferably checks the neighbouring Wifi networks and Mac addresses to check if it’s in an Apple Store to work.

    iPads for demo use a same type of profile to prevent deletion of apps and configuring additional email accounts in our APR-shops.

    I’ll give it a look when i get to London.. no Official Apple Stores in Belgium yet, but quite intrigued  

  • enoch111

    Self Service is an app from JAMF Software. It’s part of the Casper Suite of applications. Basically, you make apps, settings, policies, etc. on the server, set them as “Self Service” and they’ll show up in the app and the user can install/reinstall them whenever they want without having to have admin privileges.

  • TylerHoj

    The thing that scares me most about the “Self Service” is the “Windows-esque” look to it. 

  • Stuart Otterson

    Here’s a crazy thought, maybe they’re broken iPads, hardware that doesn’t function to Apple’s standards such as cameras not working. Perhaps they saw it as a waste to discard and came up with a use for them.

  • dgreening

    The Self Service icon is indeed part of JAMF’s Casper MDM solution. I wonder if they have a JSS (JAMF Software Server) at each store, or if they hook up to a JSS at Apple retail central.

  • yonhimer

    We use Casper as a Managed Service for our clients in Dallas/FortWorth area, and ours manages client’s iPad settings for all kinds of stuff, and all “over the air”.  It’s such a great solution, that it does not surprise me that Apple is leveraging it in the stores.

  • RawBob

    The image that you have used for this article is licensed under the following Creative Commons license:…,

    which expressly forbids commercial use.  Has Cult of Mac secured permission for this commercial use?

  • drumsonly25

    THIS is what you spend your time doing? Policing the web? And instead of actually emailing the author, you want to “investigate” through the comments? 

  • jayoen

    I’m going to the Apple Store now to try a whole bunch of different gestures to find the secret gesture out! 

  • CharliK

    The software they use blocks the home button so that would be a slight problem. Since you have to get to Safari to get the jailbreak. 
    And it’s not as if they can’t take it and restore it and put the special software back on

  • Storm Trooper

    What a loser.

  • RawBob

    Thanks for your input “Storm Trooper”  (cool name).

    I wonder why Cult of Mac hasn’t replied.

  • Ben Madison

    I went into my local apple store and jailbroke one of the display iPads with jailbreak me and installed sbsettings, got the home button to work, and everything… it was really cool.