Almost unnoticed in announcing the new iPad, Apple also released on March 7 a new Mac app designed to streamline setting up and configuring iOS devices. It's a powerful tool for small organizations or small iPhone and iPad deployments, according to one network manager who's worked extensively with the new software.
The app, from the Mac App Store, is Apple Configurator 1.0. It's just under 16MB, and currently enjoys a 4+ rating. IT groups can use Configurator instead of a full-blown third-party mobile device management app or Apple's Profile Manager, which requires OS X Lion Server. Configurator can be loaded on any Mac running Lion client, and requires iTunes 10.6.
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One limitation is that Configurator is not an over-the-air manager: The iOS device has to be plugged into a USB port on the Mac. But Randy Saeks, network manager for Northbrook/Glenview School District 30 in Northbrook, Ill., points out that USB port could be filled with a USB hub, used with something like the Bretford PowerSync products which let multiple iOS devices be powered and synched with one Mac. He thinks an obvious future upgrade for Configurator would be wireless support to eliminate the USB connection.
"This was a surprise," says Saeks. "A lot of us had been thinking, 'There's gotta be a better way to do this, without relying on iTunes or a big MDM solution.'"
The other alternative, Profile Manager, from Apple, can be used to enroll new iOS devices, push settings out to them via files called "configuration profiles" and remotely wipe a lost or stolen device.
But Apple Configurator provides the tools for doing the initial setup for iPhones and iPads, before they're released to the network. It can set the profiles, note the iOS version running on the device, and install paid apps that are bought through Apple's Volume Purchase Program (VPP), designed for organizations. It's ideal for organizations that lack an infrastructure to support full-blown mobile device management.