Use Configurator To Roll-Out iOS Devices To Your Users – The Right Way [How-To]


Apple Configurator's Intro Screen
Apple Configurator's Intro Screen

Apple Configurator is a new free tool that let’s you manage iOS devices in business or education settings. The app can be used simply as an initial deployment tool or as an ongoing management solution. It’s particularly well suited to environments where iPads and other iOS devices will be shared among multiple users since it can be used in “lending library” fashion with users checking out devices because Configurator backs up user data on check-in and applies to a new device on check-out.

This guide covers each part of Configurator  with step-by-step instructions.

When you first launch Configurator and accept it’s license agreement, you’ll see an introduction screen above that explains its three basic features – preparing devices for management, supervising or managing devices, and creating user accounts that Configurator will use to manage user data.

The first task in Configurator is preparing devices for management. This includes naming devices with unique identifiers. You can name devices based on where or how they’re typically going to be used (grade or classroom in a school, office or department in a business, or floor/room number in a hotel and so forth). Other options include using a device’s serial number, an asset management tag or inventory number, or the name of a specific user.

Note: Preparing a device in Configurator effectively performs a iOS restore and will wipe any data on the device.

Configurator's Prepare pane is used for initial setup and deployment

One nice feature is the checkbox to automatically number devices sequentially. This works really well if you’re naming based on a location like a classroom or department like outside sales. By default, Configurator will begin naming devices with a “1” after the name you enter and assign additional numbers to devices as they’re connected, but you can end the name with a number and Configurator will start assigning sequential numbers after that number (useful if you’re naming around asset tags).

The Supervision checkbox determines whether the iPad will be supervised (the phrase Apple is using in Configurator instead of managed) by the Mac running Configurator. If you set this switch to on, you’ll need to connect the iPad to that particular Mac to disable supervision and allow another Mac to manage it or allow a user to have full unmanaged access to all iOS features. The only other way to get the iPad back to an unmanaged state is to full restore of iOS.

You can prepare devices and choose to not supervise them. In this case, you’re pre-configuring a device and pre-installing apps for users. This can be helpful in situations where ongoing management of a device isn’t needed.

The iOS pop-up menu let’s you change the iOS version on the device. You can elect to leave the current version, update to the most recent release, or install a specific past iOS version (you’ll need to download .ipsw file for the release that you want and point Configurator to it). You can also restore the device to a factory default state (much like doing a device restore in iTunes) by clicking the Erase all contents and settings option (good for troubleshooting or reassigning a device).

The Restore pop-up menu lets you backup a device and restore that backup to the same device or another device – useful if you’re doing one-to-one rollouts where each person receive an an iOS device and you need to issue new or replacement devices.

The Profiles listbox shows the list of configuration profiles that will be installed on each device. You can click the Add button to create one or more new profiles or import and reuse existing profiles (including profiles created in Configurator or iPhone Configuration Utility). The list will show any available profiles but you’ll need to select the checkbox to install them. The iOS-style options icon below the listbox lets you save a profile outside of Configurator as backups, for use on other Macs running Configurator, or for Macs or PCs running iPhone Configuration Utility.

Although you can create a single profile with every setting that you want to apply to devices, that can get unwieldy if you’re configuring a large number of features and/or if you have devices with different profile needs (say cash register iPads in a retail store and iPads for store managers and inventory specialists). Since some of those needs may be the same (setting a Wi-Fi network and password or a VPN connection for example), using multiple profiles that meet specific needs is often a better option.

The Apps tab in Configurator

The apps tab let’s you add install apps on devices. When adding devices to this list, you’ll need to add to the Mobile Applications folder that iTunes uses to store apps (obviously, this means that the apps need to be downloaded to the Mac running Configurator). App files on a Mac (or a PC) end with .ipa and their file name is typically the app’s name. For free apps, you don’t need to do anything more than add them to the listbox and then select the checkbox next to each app that you want to install.

Choosing apps to install on iOS devices

For paid apps, you’ll need to add iTunes redemption codes purchased through Apple’s Volume Purchase Plan. When you use the plan to purchase redemption codes for an app, Apple will provide you with a spreadsheet containing the redemption codes. Importing the codes into Configurator means importing that spreadsheet rather than the codes themselves. Configurator will assign the codes to iOS devices sequentially and it will display the number of remaining codes next to the app’s name. If you click that number, Configurator will show a list of the devices that have the app installed along with the device’s serial number and the VPP redemption code that it’s using.

For internal apps developed for your company and not available in the App Store, you can add them in the same manner as any other app. You’ll need to ensure that your company’s enterprise iOS developer account certificate is installed on any devices that where you install the app, which can be done using a configuration profile.

Once you’ve put together the configuration for a device, click the Prepare button at the bottom of the Configurator window to apply that configuration.

The Supervise pane in Configurator

The Supervise pane looks almost identical to the Prepare pane. The only difference is the addition of a list of all supervised devices. This list includes groups of device as well as devices themselves. By default there are two device groups – one for all devices that Configurator is managing and one for devices connected to the Mac by USB. You can create as many additional groups as you need to help organize all of the devices that you manage – just click the add button below the list, name the new group, and drag devices into it. You can use as many or few groups as makes sense for you and you can manage devices without creating groups.

The management tasks when supervising devices is pretty much the same as when you initially prepared them in Configurator – you can rename devices, check the current iOS version and update it, backup and restore devices, and work with configuration profiles (adding, removing, and changing them). Likewise, the option to install or remove apps is the same. It’s important to note, however, the Apple doesn’t allow VPP redemption codes to be reused – meaning if you delete an app from one device, you won’t be able to use the code from that device to install the app on a different device.

When you update a device or a group of devices, the change you’ve made are applied automatically once you save the changes by clicking the Apple button at the bottom of the Configurator window. If you make changes and one or more devices aren’t connected, the changes will be applied the next time you connect them (a process Apple refers to as a device check-in).

You can also get additional information about devices by selecting one or more device and choosing either Get Info or Export Info from the Devices menu.

The Assign pane in Configurator

The Assign pane let’s you create and manage user accounts and to assign devices to specific users. There are two lists in the Assign pane, the user groups to the left and the users list to the right of it. You can create users by clicking the add button under the users list. You can organize users into groups by creating a group, naming it, and then dragging users into it.

User management in Configurator is pretty bare bones. The only pieces of information are the user’s name, an optional picture (you can drag a photo onto each user’s account and it will be assigned as the lock screen’s wallpaper on any devices assigned to them), and the devices assigned to them. You can add documents to the devices for individual users or groups, but that’s about as far as Configurator goes with user-related features.

That said, each time you connect a device that’s been assigned to a user, Configurator will backup all user data on that device (music and other media, app settings, home screen layouts, documents, and so forth) and attach it to their account. If you assign a different device to that user, Configurator will restore that data to the new device. This gives each user a consistent experience regardless of which device they’re using.

If your Mac is connected to a corporate directory system like Microsoft’s Active Directory or Apple’s Open Directory, you can create accounts in Configurator based on their existing network accounts (the ones that they use to log into various computers). In this case when you create a new user and start typing their name, you’ll see a list of user accounts matching the name as you type. This is useful for pre-populating user names (and photos if your company’s directory system stores user photos), but it doesn’t offer any additional features.

To assign or check out a device, select the user and click the Check Out button at the bottom of the Configurator window. You’ll see a check out dialog with a pop-up menu to of you device groups. Select the group containing the device to check out and drag the appropriate device to a user account. You can check out individual devices to individual users are you can simply drag groups of devices to user groups and let Configurator assign them sequentially. Once you’ve assigned devices, you connect them to the Mac via USB and Configurator will check them out.

When users return devices, you can check them back in by connecting them to the Mac running Configurator, selecting the users in the Assign Pan and clicking the Check In button. Configurator will backup the user data automatically and use it if you assign a different device to that user.

If you want to push documents to devices for users, select the user(s) or group in the Assign pane and and click the add button under the documents listbox. Configurator will ask you to select a target app for the document. Because document management iOS is app-centric, you need to specify an app and that app needs to support the iOS/iTunes file sharing model. After selecting the target app, you can select the document. It will be installed on each device you check out to that user(s) and they can access it using the selected app.

And that’s it. Configurator is really designed as an easy-to-use solution that requires minimal time to setup.




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