Downloading Apps to the Original iPad

How to get new apps on an old iPad

Apple dropped support for the first-generation iPad with the iOS 6.0 update in September 2012, which leaves the first-generation iPad stuck on the 5.1.1 version of the operating system. This doesn't mean the original iPad is now a paperweight. There are still many good uses for a first-generation iPad, including watching Netflix and playing casual games. The trick is getting apps that only support a later version of the operating system to run on the first-generation iPad.

Information in this article applies to the first-generation iPad running iOS 5.1.1 or earlier.

Steve Jobs holding up the original iPad in 2010
Matt Buchanan / Flickr / Wikimedia Commons

What's the Problem?

Getting the app onto the iPad is only part of the problem. Most apps are built for a newer version of iOS, so the current version of the app won't work on the original iPad running iOS 5.1.1. However, assuming there is a version of the app that runs on the older operating system, you can put it on your iPad.

First, try to download the app through the App Store on the iPad. In theory, this process should work, and for apps that have an original iPad-compatible version available, the iPad should prompt you to download the older version. At this point, confirm that you want to download the old version. In practice, this process doesn't always work, but there is a neat trick that can help you get over this App Store hurdle.

The odds that these techniques will work are slim. Apple doesn't support the first-generation iPad anymore, and the more time passes, the harder it is to find compatible apps.

How to Download Apps to the First-Generation iPad

The trick here is to go around the App Store to make the purchase on a computer and only use the App Store on the iPad to download the already purchased app. You do this by using iTunes on your PC or Mac to make the purchase. In 2017, Apple removed the App Store from iTunes, so you need an older version of iTunes.

This trick won't always work, so only try this process with free apps at first so you don't waste money on an app that won't work on your iPad.

  1. Download iTunes 12.6.3, a version of iTunes with the App Store included.

    Apple no longer has iTunes 12.6.3 for Macs available on its website. If you already have it or an older iTunes version with the App Store, you can still try this method.

    Once downloaded and installed, you have access to the App Store through the iTunes app on your computer. If you use Windows, you need to remove the previously installed version of iTunes before installing the older version.

  2. Launch iTunes and verify that you are signed in to the same Apple ID as you use with your iPad. View these settings under the Store menu. The View Account choice shows the email address used with your iPad. If they aren't the same, choose Sign Out and sign in with the same account used on the iPad.

  3. Purchase an app through the App Store in iTunes on your PC or Mac. This process is similar to downloading apps on your iPad. Once in iTunes, go to the iTunes Store and change the category on the right from Music to App Store. The screen changes to resemble the App Store app on your iPad. 

  4. Click the Get button or the price button to download the app to your computer.

  5. Go to the App Store app on the iPad, choose the Previously Purchased tab and locate the app you just downloaded on your PC. Tap the cloud button next to the app to download it onto your iPad. (You don't need to connect the iPad to your computer for this step.)

  6. The iPad may prompt you with a message telling you that the app is not supported on your version of iOS. (If it doesn't, the app supports the first-generation iPad). If there is a version of the app that supports the original iPad, the iPad prompts you to download a previous version of the app. Tap Yes to download a version of the app compatible with your iPad.

If there is no 5.1.1-compatible version of the app you want, there's nothing you can do about it. However, you can get started with games you know are compatible with 5.1.1 .