Hypothetically Managing iPads

Here’s the scenario: say my school, instead of buying a couple of class sets of iPads, rather wanted to spread the iPad love and goodness around the school a bit more by giving class sets of 6 to certain year group and a sprinkling of iPads in the Foundation Stage.  What would be the best way of managing them?  The areas that need managing are as follows:

  • initial setup – registering devices, giving the names etc.
  • locking down certain features (app deletion, other parental controls)
  • initial purchasing and installation of apps – making sure that they are properly licensed
  • ongoing updating of apps and iOS
  • further installation of apps, as required
  • email address for each iPad –setup and creation
  • general ease and manageability of any of the above tasks that teachers would then have to do
  • backing up of documents and data
  • access to the school’s shared drives

There seems to be two main approaches out there and two pieces of technology that are helpful.  I’ll start with the technology.

Profile Manager on Lion Server

This rather natty set of server tools seems to allow you (from what I have figured out from reading the Interweb) to do the following:

  • track the devices on your network
  • restrict and manage certain settings on iPads
  • remotely setup things like email on iPads
  • install free apps over the air (apparently – not so sure about this one)

It’s all done through pushing, via Apple’s Push Notification servers, little XML files with configuration information.  See, no wires!

We have a Snow Leopard Server and are upgrading to Lion server in the next month, so this is a no-brainer to use for ongoing management of iPads.

Apple Configurator

This is a Lion-only app that lets you setup, supervise and assign to users any iOS device.  It’s a wired solution, requiring a USB connection, but lets you connect up to 30 devices at once. This looks like it will be very useful for the initial setup of an iPad as you can restore from a backup, set certain text on the lock screen, enrol a device to Lion Server and other fun things. This will definitely be useful too.

Managing the iPads

The management of the iPads then boils down to the question of Apple IDs.  Will we have one Apple ID that is shared across all the iPads through a wired syncing solution via iTunes?  Or will each iPad have its own Apple ID unique for that device?  Apple talk about this distinction as the difference between  ‘Institutional Ownership Model’ and a ‘Personal Ownership Model’. In our school, all app licences will be owned by the school, as the devices will be shared within classes, so the issue is more of whether it’s a wired or wireless solution.  Will the iPads be tethered to an iTunes account, requiring regular syncing and backing up, or will they live free, backing up and syncing data with the iCloud?

Maybe I need a table at this point…

Aspect Tethered iCloud
Licences With no volume licensing in the UK, either multiple apps aren’t licensed or lots of time has to be spent ‘gifting’ apps to spoof email accounts. Each app is fully licensed for every device. Will require lots of iTunes gift vouchers for each Apple ID!
Setup Create one ‘golden’ iPad master, back it up and then restore to every other iPad. Simples! Requires creation of every Apple ID, manual installation of apps on each device. Faffy at the start.
Maintenance Termly/half-termly syncing of all iPads to iTunes account. As the iPads will be thinly spread around the school, this would involve buying USB hubs for each classroom to sync to the teacher’s Mac Mini, buying a MacBook Air to wander around the school syncing iPads, or gathering up all the iPads into one place. Could be tiresome! iOS updates can be done with a tap. App updates just involve entering a password.
Adding new (free) apps Download apps on master iTunes account and then syncing them to the iPads. Probably couldn’t happen very often. Get kids to find the apps on the app store and then download. Simples! Would involve a bit more tapping by a teacher on each iPad in Foundation Stage.
Backups Plugging into iTunes to backup. Backing up to iCloud for each iPad whenever it’s being charged.
Additional costs Buying expensive syncing stations. Time at initial setup. Can our bandwidth cope?

At the moment I’m erring towards the ‘iCloud’ solution, mainly because, once the device has been setup, it can lead a simpler life in the classroom without cables and iTunes and faff. But we’ll see!

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