Apple Configurator Tips and Tricks

Apple Configurator is the tool Apple supplies (for free) for managing large quantities of iPads. It relies on a wired USB connection and can sync with up to 30 iPads at one time (so long as you have the right USB hardware, like a a iPad charge and sync box).

The advantages of using it are:

  • You can update iOS on multiple iPads at the same time
  • You can use it to install VPP app (so long as the iPads are in ‘supervised’ mode), and have the facility to retrieve the app codes at a later date
  • It’s much faster than using iTunes
  • You can specify a bespoke lock screen on all your iPads, including putting the device name on it
  • It can name iPads sequentially (i.e. iPad 1, iPad 2 etc) by the order you plug them in when in ‘prepare’ mode
  • When a device is ‘supervised’, you get all sorts of extra restrictions available to you, such as the ability to turn off Game Centre and Messages
  • You can install enrolment profiles and configuration profiles easily

The disadvantages of it/things to bear in mind are:

  • It can be a bit crashy, especially when you’re plugging in a lot of devices
  • When a device is supervised, you cannot then plug it into iTunes or iPhoto on any computer.  This limits using the USB cable to move data on and off the device, except in Configurator.
  • VPP apps can only be installed with ‘supervised’ mode and have to updated via Configurator
  • It can sometimes come up with cryptic error messages if you’re not quite using it in the correct way

It’s important to understand how Configurator works before trying to use it.  Apple do a useful video, and Fraser Speirs and Bradley Chambers do a great couple of podcast episodes about Configurator.

However, here are a few of my tips and tricks:

  • Don’t try setting up 30 iPads at the same time.  When Configurator ‘supervises’ a device, it wipes iOS and reinstalls this. If you’re doing this with 30 iPads, I’ve found that Configurator crashes and quits.  About 8 seems to work fine.
  • Updating apps on multiple iPads seem to work fine.  Bradley Chambers has a great tip on easily finding those updated apps.
  • When installing enrolment profiles, make sure that you install a wifi profile first, otherwise it won’t work.  Then just check the iPad is awake and connected to wifi before installing that profile.
  • If you install a profile which restricts installing apps (thus removing the App Store off the iPads), you won’t be able install updates via Configurator.
  • Never ever have iTunes and Configurator open at the same time.  Otherwise you’ll end up with an iPad in recovery mode and will have to restore it in iTunes before using it in Configurator.
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Fixing slow SMB shares in Finder

Hmm.  That’s quite a geeky title.  Maybe I should expound a little bit…

SMB stands for Server Message Block, which is a networking protocol used for accessing files and stuff on a Windows server.  It’s proprietary to Microsoft, so the rest of the world has developed their own ways of using it, more specifically with a technology called Samba.  Apple made use of Samba in OSX until 10.7, where they replaced it with their own version.  The good thing about all this is that, basically, a Mac is able to connect to a Windows file share right out of the box.  The bad thing is that Apple’s implementation of SMB is not altogether nor entirely wonderful.  In fact, it has the tendency to be a bit slow and unreliable.

At school we are still using a Windows server for file sharing, which means that all the Macs access the shared drives using SMB.  But recently the unreliability has become increasingly annoying: taking ages just to browse the contents of files, being unable to delete or move files (because Finder kept complaining that the file in question was already in use by someone else), and not being able to edit files.  Not great.

The options were to buy another Mac server and use that for file sharing (because it could share via SMB, AFP and WebDAV)).  Or try and find a solution on the Internet.

Thankfully, the Internet (via macosx.com) has answered.

I found that if I edited the /etc/nsmb.conf file as follows:

echo notify_off=yes >> /etc/nsmb.conf

it seemed to fix it.  Yay!

AppleTV Revisited

Today I helped run some iMovie training for teachers at school, which was fun.  Part of that involved rigging up a MacBook Pro to a projector in our training room, which also has an AppleTV connected to it. I was presenting Keynote slides, but also wanted to occasionally mirror an iPad to demo how to use apps like Educreations to do basic storyboarding.  I was using Reflector to set up an AirPlay receiver, but it struck me that I should just use the AppleTV instead.  After all, Mountain Lion lets you mirror your Mac’s screen to an AppleTV.

My problem with AppleTV from before was that the aspect ratios seemed to go a bit wrong when mirroring 4:3 content vs 16:9.  I tried fiddling with the projector’s aspect ratio and putting it on some sort of widescreen zoom mode made a difference.  However, I then installed an update on the AppleTV and set the projector to good old 4:3 (rather than ‘auto’) and it all seemed to work!  Mirrored 4:3 iPads filled the screen, but also Keynote slides too!

So maybe AppleTV works better than I originally thought!