Virtually everyone who’s ever used an Apple product has an Apple ID. This user account for all things Apple is most commonly used with the iTunes Store and the iOS and Mac App Stores. It’s used to both authorize purchases and to allow you to access content or run apps after they’re downloaded. Apple’s philosophy is that every person should have their own Apple ID and that each of us should use our individual Apple ID (and only that Apple ID) on each of our devices – iPads, iPhones, iPods, Macs, even PC’s running iTunes or other Apple software.
That’s a great concept, but it creates a big challenge when iOS devices are used in business or school environments. When someone configures an iOS device for an employee or student with a selection of apps and other content (like iBooks 2 textbooks), they need to use an Apple ID. But once that device is deployed, the end user may need or want to purchase additional apps or other materials.
This is often a stumbling block for business-owned devices. And it’s something that Apple has finally begun to address with Apple Configurator.
One of Configurator’s features is the ability to load apps onto a device during initial setup or when it’s returned by a user and refreshed. Configurator uses Apple’s volume purchase plan to accomplish this.
When a business or school buys volume licenses for an iOS app, they receive a set of redemption codes. Each of these codes is provided to a user that needs a copy an app. He or she uses iTunes or the App Store app to redeem that code – a process similar to redeeming an iTunes gift. Once redeemed, the person can download and install the app. The app is then tied to that person’s Apple ID in the same manner that if he or she had purchased it.
That’s great a model for personally-owned devices and it even works pretty well in some situations with business-owned devices. But it still requires activating a device with a user’s Apple ID before loading it with apps. That can be problematic for large scale roll outs where a school or company needs a specific set of apps each device.
Up till now, it’s been possible to work around this situation by using a single company/school Apple ID for pre-loading iOS devices. Users can even be allowed to authorize devices with their own Apple ID after the fact, though if they do and then sync the device to their own computer, they’re likely to lose the pre-loaded apps. Clearly, this is an option but it’s not ideal.
As noted on Tech Recess, Configurator allows organizations to setup iOS devices and pre-load volume purchased apps without an Apple ID being assigned to the device. In other words the apps are associated with the device itself rather than a given user or a given Apple ID. This is a big deal because it does sidestep a common issue in some types mass iOS deployments.
Along with Configurator’s ability to assign users and transfer user data from one iOS device to another, this shows that Apple is looking to address the problems that it’s one person/one Apple ID for each device approach has created in larger organizations. That’s good news for a lot of IT folks out there as well as for workplace and education iOS users. Hopefully, Apple will continue to expand Configurator and/or offer other tools to meet these kinds of challenges.