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.