Configurator Makes Big Improvements To Business/School iOS App Management

Configurator Makes Big Improvements To Business/School iOS App Management

Pre-loading apps using Apple Configurator

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.

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  • Connor Mulcahey

    This isn’t good enough.

    There should be 3 versions of the Apple ID. One for businesses and schools, one for individual consumers, and one for families.I’ll start with the family because that is what I’d be using. As with most families, we share an Apple ID for the household. Each of us have our own Macs and iPhones, and there is an iPad for the family and I also have my own (I’m 16 and bought it myself, as with all my other Apple Gear). iCloud, while the idea is great, is a nightmare for families. My whole family takes advantage of the iCloud account that is tied to the Apple ID, which results in unwanted content and downloads on each of our devices. For example, in the pages section of our iCloud, there is an in-navigable list of documents that all of of us have uploaded. The folders are useless if we can’t have folders within folders (It may make sense for apps, but documents?). I have my school notes, my brothers and documents and a few documents about Justin Bieber which belong to my sister. Similarly, There are hundreds of photos of Justin Bieber and pandas in the photo-stream. I also have Justin Bieber music that downloads itself, awesome! Finally, all our contacts overlap. My sister was annoyed that my contacts were on her phone and deleted ALL of them from the iCloud which removed them from all my devices! I didn’t expect her to know that would happen, so I don’t blame her. I blame the poor organization of iCloud. You might be thinking: “Just turn off the syncing in settings and you won’t have to worry about it,” but that would defeat the purpose of iCloud. I want to be able to sync stuff across my own devices, but not with everyone else’s! There is a simple solution to this: have one family ID with a sub-identity for each family member. Each identity would have its own iCloud (Apple could still limit the whole family to 5 gigs if they felt it necessary). One would then choose which identities to sync the content from in settings and only that content would appear on my device. That way, I could sync my own documents between my own devices without Justin Bieber getting in my way. At the same time you may, in some cases, want to share content between family members. I like to have my mom’s iTunes library sync with mine because we have similar taste in music, but don’t want have a bunch of Justin Bieber music synced to my library. Same thing goes for photos. So in the settings for my apple sub-identity I would tell my cloud to take all the music from my mom’s library and copy it to mine, but not allow any of my little sisters in. I could do this selective syncing with anything. Contacts, calendars, email address, bookmarks, music, videos, reminders, etc. that may be attatched to my personal iCloud and choose to copy content from other family members of my choice. The idea is to keep be able to purchase or create content under the same ID so it shares the licensing between family members, but keeps that content separated and organized to each individual’s preferences while still maintaining the ability to share content with your immediate family. That way, you could still view everyone’s content on a shared device like an Apple TV or family iMac (hey, when you login to an account on the iMac it could even show only your iCloud content!). Parents could also manage parental controls from their sib-ID accounts to keep their children from doing whatever. The individual one would be coupled to an iCloud’s account and the username would be the iCloud email address (or opt out of an iCloud email and use your preferred email). The ID and the iCloud account would be one in the same so the iCloud would sync your preferred data across all your devices without any complications, seamless and accessible like Apple is currently marketing it as, but doesn’t yet function quite like that. I am not an individual user so I don’t know that problems they are experiencing. THe best person to rethink how it should work would be the one who is experiencing the problems first hand.For the business or education account type the IT people would be able to manage the privileges of different classes of their audience. Each employee/student could have their own iCloud account and ID to sync things across their devices and to be able to differentiate content between others. The IT people could give their audience as much freedom or limitation as necessary. A principle would have more capability than a regular teacher who would still have more capability than a student. It would work the same for the hierarchy of a company. The whole enterprise would share one Apple ID for licensing apps and other content. For example Stanford would have it’s own ID to license apps to their med students’ iPads (the only way to get a device that base these licenses would be if the IT manager granted it privilege through Configurator), but each student could download their own content under their personal iCloud account which it subordinate to the Stanford account. Hell, they could eve make it so Stanford could give student discounts on specific apps when the app store noticed their iCloud ID’s were part of the Stanford mega-ID. The idea behind this is similar to that of families only with more features and a lot more sub-ID members which could be classified with different privileges. Finally, I think iWork needs a lot of work. You need to be able to save documents to iCloud right from the app on the desktop version, so that they never even touch your hard disk if you prefer. Also the iOS version is missing a lot of core features like sub-script and turning off “Object causes wrap.” There is a lot more that needs to be done with iWork but I won’t mention it here. This comment is long enough, if you took the tome to read this please leave a response. BTW I have had this typed up in Evernote for a while; didn’t spend half an hour typing a comment.

  • Beth Andrews

    Does the Configurator maintain folders for the iPads? For example, if I have all “News-related” items in a News folder, when I use Configurator to synch, will these items stay in the News folder on all iPads? 

About the author

Ryan FaasRyan Faas is a technology journalist and consultant living in upstate New York who has written extensively about Apple, business and enterprise IT, and the mobile industry. In addition to writing for Cult of Mac, he is a contributor to Computerworld, InformIT, and Peachpit Press. In a previous existence he was a healthcare IT director as well as a systems and network administrator. Follow Ryan on Twitter and Google +

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