Managing iOS Devices with Apple Configurator

My traditional interpretation of Apple’s vision on how iOS devices are used is that everyone has an AppleID. That AppleID enables them to access their apps from any iOS device they own or Mac that they own. That AppleID enables them to access mail, contacts, calendars and even files through iCloud. That AppleID also allows users to remotely wipe their device through Find iPhone and track their friends iOS devices (as in social networking via breadcrumb tracking) through Find Friends. All of this “Just Works” in a consumer sense. And it even allows for a little sharing of content across devices you own. However, larger organizations need more. They need centralized management, content distribution and most other things you find that you rely on traditional desktop computers for.

Over the years, Apple has added tools for centralized control of devices. This started with ActiveSync compatibility and early forms of Mobile Device Management and has grown into a pretty robust, albeit disconnected, set of tools. Of these, Apple Configurator is the latest. Apple Configurator was released about a week ago and since, I’ve been trying to figure where it fits into the solutions architecture that surrounds iOS integrations. There are a number of other tools already available that can aid in the deployment and management of iOS devices, and Configurator is a great addition.

To me, there are 3 classes of management tools for iOS. These were roughly broken up into Over the Air (OTA), cradled (USB) and content management. Apple Configurator ends up fitting into all of these scenarios in some way. Let’s start by looking at the traditional uses of these three and then look at how they are impacted by Apple Configurator.

Mobile Device Management

Over the Air tools, such as Profile Manager, allow for Mobile Device Management (MDM) without cradling, or syncing a devices. These tools allow you to configure policies via profiles. There is also a bit of App pushing built into most MDM solutions. Apple’s Profile Manager can push applications written in-house, but no content from the App Store. 3rd party solutions, such as JAMF’s Casper Suite, Absolute Manage MDM, AirWatch and about 15 others are able to push apps from the App Store as well, leveraging the Volume Purchasing Program (VPP) to issue apps to devices. However, when an app is pushed through one of these tools, the app becomes associated with the AppleID for the user who owns the device.

Note: While we use the term push, the user has to accept all App installations on the device.

For large environments, MDM is a must as it allows for centralized command and control. Pushing apps is one aspect of such control. Policies enforceable through MDM include disabling cameras, configuring passcode policies on devices (not pushing passcodes), disabling YouTube, silencing Siri, unstreaming photos, disabling iCloud Backup, forcing encrypted backups, disabling location services, controlling certificates, blocking pop-ups, controlling cookies, disabling access to the iTunes and App Stores,  and controlling what kind of media can be accessed on devices.

Additionally, MDM can be used to push SSIDs for wireless networks (and their passwords/802.1x configuration information), setup mail, setup Exchange ActiveSync, configure VPN connections, configure access shared calendars (iCal shared files, CalDAV and Exchange), configure access to shared contacts (LDAP, CardDAV, Exchange and Exchange Global Address Lists), deploy Web Clips and manage certificates (either with cert files or via SCEP). In short, whether you’re using the practically free Profile Manager from Apple, Mobile Iron, Casper, AirWatch, FileWave or one of the many other tools, there are a lot of things that MDM can configure on devices.

Reporting can also play a major role in how MDM tools are used. iOS Apps are owned by AppleIDs, not devices. MDM does not manage AppleIDs, but you can trigger fields in MDM databases to report back unauthorized AppleIDs being used. Reporting can also identify when devices join non-approved wireless networks (which cannot be blocked through MDM), identify devices that have been jailbroken (a major security concern for many organizations) and report on device use.

Because devices can fall outside of our control, MDM also plays an important role in being able to wipe and lock devices. While some of these types of features are available via Exchange, not all people use ActiveSync. Users and administrators alike can wipe, lock and de-enroll devices at will, potentially crippling what any device with an Enrollment Profile can do.

There are really 3 kinds of MDM tools: those that can push apps, those that can’t and Apple’s Profile Manager. The reason I put Profile Manager into its own class, is that it can push some kinds of apps, it’s cheap ($49.99 one time as opposed to per device per month or per device per year billing) and it’s great for some things. But Profile Manager should be used in very specific environments unless the price is the only decision making factor behind a tool. In larger environments, choosing a MDM solution is one of the most important aspects of managing mobile devices and the iOS platform is no different in that manner than other mobile platforms.

MDM has some limitations, though. A good MDM solution can manage the infrastructure side of device configuration. However, content requires a completely separate tool. Additonally, MDM is a completely opt-in experience. If a user wants, they can remove their device from the MDM solution at any time. Rather than a limitation, think about the opt-in experience this way: if a user removes themselves from MDM then all content that was given to them via MDM is then taken away, except that which they have moved to the local device. Therefore, if an administrator pushes an Exchange configuration then all content from that Exchange profile is forbidden fruit, removed alongside the de-enrollment.

MDM also works with Lion. Policies, centralized management, etc can be integrated with Lion. You can’t do app distribution per se, but you can push out a policy to change where the dock is on the screen, add a printer to a Mac and configure a login hook through a Profile Manager-based policy. Many of the MDM providers have begun adding functionality to their tools to allow for Mac management as well as iOS and I would expect that to become the standard in years to come. iOS is a single-user device and OS X is a multi-user device, which completes that paradigm, but Apple has made it no secret that policy-based management for Mac OS X is moving to the realm MDM (even if that is enforced through a traditional lens of directory services based policy-based management).

Content Management

One of the unique aspects of the iOS platform is that it doesn’t have a file system that is exposed to users. There’s no /Volumes, no C: drive and no home folders. The devices don’t log into a server, because there’s no way to interpret a server connection. The file system that is exposed to iOS devices is through the lens of each application. Sandbox is a technology that limits each application’s access in terms of memory, hard drive, etc. Each application can only communicate with resources outside of itself if there is an API to do so, APIs mostly reserved for Apple (e.g. photos, contacts, etc). Therefore, when you discuss content management from the perspective of building a large iOS solution, you’re talking about apps.

The apps used for content management come in a few flavors. There are those that allow you to edit content and then there are those that allow you to read content. One way to look at this is through Safari. Sharepoint, WebDAV and various document management portals allow users to access data through the Safari browser on an iOS device. Safari will let you view various file types. But to edit the data, you would need to send it to an app, or copy it to the clipboard and access it in an app. Pages is an example of an app that can browse a file tree via WebDAV and edit content. However, planning how each type of file is accessed and what type of editing can be done on each file type or what type of resources need to be accessible can be difficult (e.g. there are a number of transitions in Keynote presentations that do not work in iOS).

Cradling Devices

Then there’s iTunes. iTunes allows you to backup and restore devices, update devices, etc. iTunes allows you to drop content into each application. If you look into the ~/Library/Mobile Documents, you can drop content, edit default documents and other tasks that can be done through a command line, then perform a cradled sync to an app. If networking is built into an app then you don’t have to plug a device into a computer. If an app can leverage iCloud, SMB or AFP then you can access data over the air. If you are trying to replace computers with iOS devices (a la post-PC) then you would need to plan each business task that needs to be performed and make sure not only that there is an app for that (or an app you build for that) but also make sure that you can round trip data from a shared repository and back to the network storage that the data resides on.

You can also access many of the benefits of MDM without having an OTA element. This can be done with iPhone Configuration Utility. iPhone Configuration Utility can configure the same policies available through Profile Manager but relies on either a cradled or email/web server/manual way of getting policies onto devices and updating. MDM automates this, but iPhone Configuration Utility is free and can be used as well. Additionally, profiles can be exported from Profile Manager and installed in the email/web server/manual way that iPhone Configuration Utility profiles are installed.

This is all probably starting to seem terribly complicated. Let’s simplify it:

  • OTA policies and custom app deployment: MDM
  • OTA content distribution: Apps
  • Cradled policies and custom app deployment: iPhone Configuration Utility (free)
  • Cradled content and app distribution: iTunes (free)
  • OTA App distribution: AppleID/iCloud
  • Backup and restore: iCloud or iTunes

Basically, there’s a few holes here. First, AppleIDs cannot be centrally managed. Second, you need to use gift cards or the Volume Purchasing Program (VPP) to distribute apps, and Third, even when you push an app to an AppleID, the app follows the AppleID to their next organization (which causes many organizations to treat apps like consumables). Fourth, synchronizing content is done primarily through iTunes, which only syncs a device at a time, making preparation of large numbers of systems terribly complicated.

Apple Configurator

Enter Apple Configurator, a free tool on the Mac App Store. This tool basically fixes all of the problems that we reference, but does so over USB. This means that Apple Configurator is not necessarily a replacement for MDM. In fact, you can deploy Trust and Entrollment profiles for MDM and automate the MDM enrollment for a device through Configurator. Instead, Apple Configurator is a tool that can either Prepare or Supervise an iOS deployment and do so in a manner that is easy enough that you don’t need a firm background in IT to manage devices on a day-to-day basis.

Here is what Apple Configurator can do:

  • Update iOS devices to the latest version of iOS.
  • Rename devices using a numbered scheme (e.g. iPad 1, iPad 2, etc).
  • Erase (wipe) iOS devices.
  • Backup and Restore iOS devices.
  • Deploy profiles/policies (e.g. no Siri for you, disable cameras, setup wireless, etc) to iOS devices.
  • Export profiles.
  • Activate devices (after all a restore of a freshly activated device is an activation).
  • Push any kind of app to devices.
  • Track Volume Purchase Program (VPP) codes used on devices.
  • Revoke VPP codes used on “Supervised” devices (more on supervision later).
  • Assign users from directory services to devices.
  • Load non-DRM’d content to apps on devices.
  • Can work with up to 30 devices simultaneously (think big USB hubs or carts on wheels here).

Apple Configurator has some caveats:

  • Paid apps need to use VPP codes to DRM apps. These VPP codes are purchased through a centralized program for an entire organization. To enter the VPP, you need to be a business with a DUNS number or an educational institution. You also basically need to be in the United States.
  • Free apps can be deployed but the AppleID is in the IPA, meaning that to do an OTA update through App Store requires entering the password for the Apple ID the app was purchased with.
  • In order to push apps through Apple Configurator, the system running Configurator needs access to Apple’s servers and Apple Configurator needs an AppleID associated with it that is not the VPP facilitator if you are leveraging any paid apps.
  • You can use Apple Configurator “off-line” or without an AppleID to Prepare devices with Profiles, just not to
  • If you push Trust and Enrollment profiles to automatically join Profile Manager (or another MDM vendor) the device isn’t associated with a user unless the MDM has been prepped to designate each UDID or Serial Number to a given user.
  • Apple Configurator doesn’t work with Video or Music due to different DRM limitations.
  • If you accidentally plug in your iPhone to a machine you’re using Apple Configurator on it and you’ve chosen to Erase in the application, then it will wipe your phone along with the 30 iPads you’re wiping. It’s awesome and scary like that (yes, I’ve accidentally wiped my phone).

I see a number of uses for Apple Configurator. Some of these use cases include:

  • Company and education labs: manage devices end-to-end (no MDM, iTunes iPhone Configuration Utility or other tools needed), managed by the lab manager.
  • One-to-One environments (schools): Manage the distribution of infrastructure settings (mail, wireless networks, etc) for devices as well as Trust Profiles to make it faster to enroll in MDM environments and Web Clips to manage the links for enrollment.
  • Device distribution: Pre-load applications (that can’t be updated unless they’re cradled again), renaming, profiles, activation, iOS software updates, etc.
  • Backup and Restore only stations where you don’t interfere with later iTunes use.

These can enhance practically every environment I’ve worked with. But unless it’s a small environment (e.g. the labs), Apple Configurator isn’t a replacement for the tools already in use in most cases. Instead, it just makes things better. Overall, Apple Configurator is a welcome addition to the bat belt that we all have for iOS management and deployment. Now that we’ve looked at the when/where of using it, let’s look at the how.

There are two ways to use Apple Configurator. The first is to Prepare Devices. You would use this mode when you’re going to perform the initial setup and configuration of devices but not when the devices won’t be checking back into the computer running Apple Configurator routinely. Preparation settings do not persist. And while applications can be pushed through Preparation, updates for those applications will be tied to the AppleID that purchased the app.

The second is Supervise.  Supervising devices is an option when preparing and allows you to have persistent changes to devices, to layer new settings the next time devices are plugged in, to add applications and the most intriguing aspect of iOS management here is reallocating VPP codes to new devices when a user or device is retired. Supervising devices also allows for assigning a given user to a device and thus pushing data into an application.

Setting Up Apple Configurator

Apple Configurator is installed through the Mac App Store. When installed, you are presented with three options. The first (going from left to right) is to Prepare Devices.

Apple Configurator

Apple Configurator

Before we get started, we’re going to add our AppleID. The computer running Apple Configurator needs to be able to connect to the App Store and it needs to have an AppleID associated with it if you’re going to use VPP codes. So let’s set that up before moving on. To do so, from Apple Configurator, click on the Apple Configurator menu and click on Preferences… From the Preferences menu, click on Set for the Apple ID and provide an AppleID (not the VPP Program Facilitator).

Configuring AppleIDs with Apple Configurator

Configuring AppleIDs with Apple Configurator

Then, when prompted, provide the credentials for your AppleID. If you have any problems with this, try Authorizing the computer in iTunes, if you can’t do one it stands to reason you can’t do the other and it’s either an invalid AppleID or that the computer cannot communicate with Apple’s servers (ports, DNS, Internet connectivity, etc might be the issue).

Configuring AppleIDs with Apple Configurator

Configuring AppleIDs with Apple Configurator

Also, let’s configure the Lock Screen settings, which is what’s displayed to users when you’re supervising devices. If you have user pictures in Open Directory, this will show each user’s photo at the lock screen (we will discuss device supervision later).

Configuring Lock Screen Settings In Apple Configurator

Configuring Lock Screen Settings In Apple Configurator

Using Apple Configurator to Prepare Devices

In this example, we’re going to prepare some devices for deployment. Before we do anything, we’re going to do a backup of the iOS device to use for testing. To do so, simply click Prepare Devices to bring up the main Apple Configurator screen and then click in the Restore field.

Apple Configurator's Prepare Devices Screen

At the Restore menu, click Back Up…

Then choose the device to backup and click on Create Backup… to bring up the screen to select where to save your backup to (by default it should be your Documents but you can save them anywhere, like /iOSBackups). Click Save to make the first backup.

Saving Backups in Apple Configurator

Saving Backups in Apple Configurator

Notice how fast that went (assuming you didn’t load it up with 10 Gigs of crap)? The reason is that we’re not backing up iOS, just the data. This will become a little more obvious the first time we go to restore a device. In the meantime, if you look at your target directory, you’ll see a file with the name you provided followed by .iosdevicebackup. If you aren’t supervising you would need to delete these from the filesystem to remove them from the menu of available backups. If you are supervising then you’ll have a menu to manage the backups. You can also use the Other option in the selection menu to browse to another location and select another backup (e.g. you’re pulling them from other machines, etc.

Now that we have a backup, let’s do some stuff to the device. Let’s join the wireless network, change the wallpaper, create some contacts, make some notes and in general do some of those things that you might do on a base image of a computer, aside from of course configuring local admin (it’s not a multi-user device), installing anti-virus (to date, AV companies for iOS are snake oil salesmen) and other things you might not do. But as with imaging, if you can do something in Profile Manager or Apple Configurator, let’s reserve doing it there. In fact, I would probably try to set everything in Profile Manager or your MDM provider that you can (if you have one) and use Apple Configurator for as little as possible. That goes with imaging as well, do as much in directory services/managed preferences/profiles as you can and keep the image as simple as possible…

Anyway, once you have the device as you want it, make another backup. This is akin to baking an image with DeployStudio or System Image Utility. We can’t asr them out yet, but we’re in a much better place than we were.

Once you have a good backup, let’s leverage Apple Configurator to tell the device erase, update to the latest version of iOS, restore our image, join the SSID of our enrollment network (let’s consider this similar to a supplicant network in 802.1x). Then, let’s add a profile that will throw a Web Clip to our MDM solution and even add a Trust Profile to cut down on the number of taps to enroll (and the confusion of tap here, tap there, etc). From the Prepare screen in Apple Configurator, click on Settings and type the naming convention for your devices (in this case we’re going to call them krypted 1 and up) in the Name field. Then check the box for Number sequentially starting at 1 so it’s going to name them from 1 to 1,000,000 (which is how many iPads my krypted company is going to end up writing off at the testing rate I’m on now). Leave Supervision set to OFF (we’ll look at that later) and set the iOS field to Latest. Then, check the box for Erase all contents and settings and choose your image from the Restore menu.

Preparing Devices in Apple Configurator

Preparing Devices in Apple Configurator

Now for something that users of iPhone Configuration Utility, Profile Manager and Casper MDM will find familiar, click on the plus sign in the Profiles field and select Create New Profile. Here, we see what is the standard policy sheet (apologies to HIG if that’s not what those are officially called but I’ve not been able to find the right term) and give it a name in the Name field. This is how it will appear in the Profiles section of Apple Configurator. Because you can deploy multiple profiles, I’m just going to configure the SSID and Web Clip and call it MDM Enrollment. Optionally, give it some notes, organization name, etc.

Naming Your Profile in Apple Configurator

Naming Your Profile in Apple Configurator

Click on Wi-Fi and then click on the Configure button. Here, enter the SSID of the deployment network (MDMEnroll in this example). We’ll use the Hidden Network field to indicate the SSID is suppressed and we’ll use the network type of WEP and throw the password into the Password field as well. Now, before we move on, notice that there’s a plus and minus sign in the top right of the screen? You can deploy multiple of each, so if you have 10 wireless networks, 4 Email accounts, 9 VPN connections, 29 SSL Certs etc, you could deploy them all easily with multiple entries of each.

Adding Wireless Networks with Apple Configurator

Adding Wireless Networks with Apple Configurator

Scroll down in the sidebar a little and then click on Web Clips. Click on the Configure button. The Label is how the web clip’s name will appear on the device. We’re going to enter Enroll Here. In the URL field, provide the URL for your MDM server (e.g. When using a Profile Manager server called mdm.krypted.com the URL would be https://mdm.krypted.com/MyDevices). Not to get off topic, but did anyone else notice that Profile Manager in 10.7.3 now requires SSL certs? Anyway, you’ll also choose whether the web clip should be Removable (I think it should if it’s to enroll) and optionally choose an Icon. We’ll skip that (if we were using a 3rd party tool, I’d throw their logo in here; otherwise I usually like to use the company logo. I also like enrollment links to be Full Screen.

Go ahead and click Save and you’ll see MDM Enrollment listed in the Settings. If you notice, you can also click on the profile and then click on the export menu to export the profile or under the plus sign (“+”) you can Import Profile…, which is how we’ll bring in our Trust Profile from Profile Manager. From Profile Manager we already downloaded the Trust Profile. Now we’re going to click on Import Profile… and browse to it on the desktop, clicking on Trust profile.mobileconfig (or whatever name yours may have). Click Open.

Importing a Trust Profile Into Apple Configurator

Importing a Trust Profile Into Apple Configurator

We could go a step further and actually enroll the device by exporting the enrollment profile as well, but again, I want each user to provide their username and password so I as an administrator don’t have to go through and attach each device to a user in this scenario. I’ve been looking at importing devices and associating them with users via postgres, but that’s going to be another 3am article, on another night…

Next, check the box for each profile and click on Apps. This is where things start getting kinda’ cool. For this you’re going to need some app ipas. Each app in iTunes is stored as an .ipa file. We’re going to look at two different kinds of apps. The first is a free one and the second is a paid for app, both we’ll pull from iTunes. To do so, open iTunes and click on an app (iBooks in our example) and click on Show in Finder.

Show Apps in iTunes

Show Apps in iTunes

Note: Not all app .ipas are called the same thing as the filename. If you Show in Finder from the contextual menu of an app in iTunes it will automatically highlight the correct app in the Finder when it opens a Finder screen.

From the Finder you can either copy the app to the machine running Apple Configurator or if you’re using iTunes on that machine, you can go ahead and drag it to the Apple Configurator apps list. We’re also going to add an App that we used a purchase code from the VPP store to buy. You’ll get an error when you drag the paid app in (or browse to it if you so choose) that indicates the app is paid and in order to deploy it you’ll need to use VPP codes. Once added, you’ll notice it has an error indicator and the number 0 beside it.

Install Apps in Apple Configurator

Install Apps in Apple Configurator

Click on the numerical indicator beside the app name and you’ll be able to import redemption codes. These are emailed to you when you buy apps through the Volume Purchasing Program. BTW, no drag and drop in this screen, use the Important Redemption Codes button to browse to the XLS files.

Adding VPP Codes in Apple Configurator

Adding VPP Codes in Apple Configurator

Once the codes are imported, you’re ready to configure a device.
App Indicator Counts

App Indicator Counts In Apple Configurator

When you import an application, you are creating a file with a GUID in /Users/admin/Library/Application Support/com.apple.configurator/Resources. These files represent applications that have been prepared for distribution. When importing, it will take as long as it takes to copy from the source to that directory. The entry in that directory is roughly the same size as the app. Therefore, you likely don’t want to copy every app you have in there, just the ones you plan to distribute.
Now for the dangerous part. Make sure you don’t have any devices plugged into the computer. I love to start with a device at the activation screen. That thing requires so many taps I jump at any 0 touch deploy type of options I can get my hands on to skip it (not that you’re going to get 0 touch if you have profiles). The reason we want to make sure there aren’t any devices plugged in is that they’ll be wiped if they are… Provided there aren’t any, click on the Prepare button and any devices plugged in wills tart configuring immediately. The application count will go down for VPP apps as each device is configured. It can do 30 in parallel.
Imaging Devices in Apple Configurator

Imaging Devices in Apple Configurator

You’ll see a green checkmark when each device is done. When you’re ready to stop configuring devices, click on Stop. The only other way to do any in parallel is through Xcode Organizer’s restore feature, but that was never very stable for this type of purpose and this is a much more object oriented approach to device imaging. The caveat for these apps is that the password for the AppleID is needed to update them, so this is not a means to deploy paid apps to BYOD or self-managed types of devices (IMHO). Also, the iOS version for devices is downloaded at this point from Apple. If you notice that the first time each type of device is imaged that it takes awhile, this is why. The second time this step is skipped (another reason we need Internet access on our Apple Configurator computer). These are located in /Users/admin/Library/Application Support/com.apple.configurator/IPSWs and if you need to run a beta version of iOS you can do so by dropping their ipsw versions in here manually, but I haven’t gotten device supervision to work when doing so.

Using Apple Configurator to Supervise Devices

Now, supervising devices may seem more complicated, but it isn’t. Back at the Prepare screen, we set Supervision to OFF. Change the iOS field to No Change. Now, let’s turn it ON. When you do so, the iOS field automatically switches to Latest. This means that supervision is going to require updates (which is fine in my book as updates have yet to break a single app for me). Get all the same settings the same as they were previously.

Supervising Devices in Apple Configurator

Supervising Devices in Apple Configurator

Once you enable Supervision, click on Prepare in Apple Configurator and connect a device again. The device will then be imaged as with the same settings that you’ve given it from before. However, once it’s done, you’ll be able to click on the Supervise tab and see devices (Note: You supervise devices rather than users).

Device Supervision in Apple Configurator

Device Supervision in Apple Configurator

The subsequent Starts and Stops will now allow you to enable and disable profiles and apps on the fly, as well as restore backups, update devices and as you can see in this screen, reclaim those valuable VPP codes!

Do a Get Info on a device and you’ll also see a bevy of information about that device.

Get Info on Devices in Apple Configurator

Get Info on Devices in Apple Configurator

You can also click on Assign, once you’ve enabled Supervision. Assigning devices requires directory services. When you click on Assign, click on the plus sign (“+”) to add the first user. Type the first few letters of the users name and they should appear in the list. Click on them and they’ll be added. You can then use the right panel to assign content to the apps that you assign to that user’s devices.

Pushing Content in Apple Configuration Utility

Pushing Content in Apple Configuration Utility

Once added, the user will by default have no device. To assign a device to a user, use the Check Out box at the bottom of the screen and then match the users with the devices you want them to have.

Checking Devices Out To Users

Checking Devices Out To Users

The final piece of this application is to assign content to users. As I mentioned earlier in this article, the file system of an iOS device is through the lens of the applications that the device has installed. Therefore, we’ll be associating files to applications. DRMd content is not distributed through Apple Configurator. So iBooks, etc, aren’t applicable. The various third party applications can open and therefore host file types that they support, as with iTunes. From the Assign pane of Apple Configurator, click on a user and then click on the plus sign (“+”) to add documents. At the Choose A Target Application screen, choose the application you’ll be loading content into.

Choosing An App For Content

Choosing An App For Content

When you click Choose, you’ll then be able to select files to use with that application.

Selecting Content

Selecting Content

Then just dock the iOS device, sync and viola you’ve got content distribution over USB all handled. You can also add groups of devices and groups of users and distribute content to groups of users rather than to one at a time.

Conclusion

Apple Configurator is really a great tool when used in the right scenarios. In learning how it works and interacts I actually learned a lot about both iOS and Mac OS X that I didn’t know before. I hope I did the tool justice with how easy it is to use. This is a fairly long article and it’s probably more complicated than it needs to be in parts, but that’s more my method of trying to figure out what it’s doing than the tool being complicated. It’s not hard to figure out at all. I am sure I could teach any non-technical iOS admin to use it in less than an hour.

My wish list includes logs and OTA. You can’t use iPhone Configuration Utility while you’re using Apple Configurator and therefore, you can’s see up-to-the second logs about things like key bags to figure out why this isn’t working or that. This makes it kinda’ difficult to figure out why a profile doesn’t get installed with an image if you’re not using an AppleID with the tool or other weird little things like that. I’d love to see a little more logging. Obviously, if you could run this thing Over the Air then it would be nerd nirvana. I guess the OTA isn’t as much as wish list for this tool, but features that could be imported into Profile Manager and other tools.

One of the more important aspects is the impact on AppleID use and app ownership. I started this off by saying “My traditional interpretation of Apple’s vision on how iOS devices are used is that everyone has an AppleID.” Well, when using this tool an AppleID is no longer necessary for app deployment.

Overall, we have a new, powerful tool in our arsenal that makes up the iOS administration ecosystem. I hope that I’ve managed to dispel a few rumors with this article and look at some great uses for where this tool should and should not be used. I also hope that no matter what, if you manage iOS devices, that you’ll take a look at it. I expect you’ll find it useful in some part of your management toolkit!

35 Comments

  • Pingback: [iPad] Apple Configurator

  • March 22, 2012 - 1:30 pm | Permalink

    Hi Charles,

    excellent article. I would like to publish a german translation on our blog http://www.apfelwerk.de/blog/. Would you agree if I mention and link to you as the author of the original text?

    Kind regards
    Thomas

  • Benjamin LeRoy
    March 29, 2012 - 8:28 pm | Permalink

    Hello Charles,
    I am trying to gauge if I am way off base with this as Apple considers it an edge case. One feature I find missing in Configurator is the ability to restore secure items to multiple iPads since this requires an encrypted backup to restore to all but the original UDID. Our use case is a setup for 30 iPads that we would like to set restrictions on that Apple has deemed “non-OTA” restrictions such as preventing App Deletion and disallowing changes to Mail, Contacts, and Calendars. We can not set these through a profile, they must be set manually on each iPad. Prior to configurator, we would set the restrictions, on a iPad and make a backup in iTunes but specify an encrypted backup, this would allow the restrictions passcode to restore to all 30 devices in the cart. This is of course what configurator does for you in the prepare step with the exception of the encrypted backup. While the restrictions themselves get restored, the passcode does not as unencrypted backups strip secure items. While I consider this a core feature for a good golden master of an iPad I have gotten significant push back from Apple stating that this is not a standard use, or as I stated before a edge case.

    My question for you and any blog readers is, do you agree? Would this be useful? Can you think of any other way to do this?

    • March 29, 2012 - 9:10 pm | Permalink

      I do think it sounds like a great feature. I think that your method is about the only way to get what it is you are after. I think you could likely do the same thing in Xcode Organizer as well, but I don’t know that it would be any more time efficient and would be a bit more complex, though.

    • Dana L
      August 10, 2012 - 7:56 am | Permalink

      Hi,
      This is a great article, thank you Charles
      I use this exact scenario as Benjamin and have the same issues. However, on my testing of Configurator, when I configured a “master”, of a supervised device, backed it up and restored it to my cart of superved devices all of the restircitons and wifi passwords restored just as if I had done an encrypted back up in itunes. I don’t understand why it doesn’t work that way in non supervised.

      I don’t like the fact that a supervised device can not even be recognized on another computer to get video and pictures off of the camera roll and I am concerend that if Configurator is mangaging my vpp codes and a supervised device becomes damaged tothe point that it can not be unsurpervised, what happens to my vpp allotments on that device

      • August 10, 2012 - 8:03 am | Permalink

        Dana,

        I’ve been trying to figure out how to get the SQL database to take vpp codes back when a device goes missing; however, there seems to be some DRM tie-in there that makes it difficult to re-activate the codes. I think that getting such a feature will require something from Apple. Editing the database for DRM’d objects directly seems to create a problem with that object being managed any further until it is deleted and re-added, so I would recommend steering clear from doing so. I’ve put a feature request in for this and I’d suggest others do the same if it seems like something they’d like to see… Having said this, if such a feature is created, there’s nothing to stop people from just marking devices as lost and re-using codes, so I an see there’s more back-end architecture required than it might seem at first glance…

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  • jonathan
    April 6, 2012 - 1:44 pm | Permalink

    When I switch on Supervision, my Restore backup changes to Don’t Restore Backup and doesnt have my recently created backup listed. If i click on Edit Stored Backups… theres nothing in this list and no way to import one.
    Whats the deal here?

    • April 11, 2012 - 8:33 am | Permalink

      You prepare and then supervise. I should have made that clear in the article. I’ll do another on workflows, soon. You can choose a restore from the Supervise screen, though.

  • J. Edwards
    April 11, 2012 - 8:15 am | Permalink

    This is the best thing of its kind I have seen about the Configurator. Thank you.

    Does anyone know if the 30-iPad limit is real or if it was just the number Apple tested? We have a cart that syncs 32 iPads and are looking at a USB hub that handles 49 at a time. This would make the Configurator an even better option if the 30-device limit can be broken.

    • April 11, 2012 - 8:30 am | Permalink

      I am pretty sure I’ve gone over 30, but it’s hard to say because the last is often done by the time the first starts. Can definitely go over 30 in the database though.

  • Bill
    April 26, 2012 - 3:22 pm | Permalink

    Thanks for the article. I’ll soon be receiving 32 iPad 2s for education and I’ll be using this article to setup different configurations for different department areas.

    Thanks!

    • June 21, 2012 - 8:02 pm | Permalink

      Thanks for the kind words. Glad the article was useful. :) Good luck, Bill!

  • Paul
    May 3, 2012 - 8:14 am | Permalink

    Great article, thanks! I’ve setup Configurator to Supervise 16 iPad 2’s. It’s almost working perfectly. However, I’m trying to set up a generic Gmail account to show up on all of them since they’re being used in a school lab. However, with the exception of the iPad I used to make the image, each iPad is asking for the password every time I restore the devices and load the profile. I should inlcude that a) I’m using Exchange to setup the Gmail account, b) I’m trying to establish the email account on the devices since I couldn’t get Exhange to work for me when making the Profile in Configurator, and c) I do not have a MDM server to utilize, so it’s all being handled by Configurator. I’d rather our students not know the email password. Thoughts?

    • June 21, 2012 - 8:01 pm | Permalink

      I wouldn’t rely on the restore to take the password unless you’re doing encrypted backup restores from within iTunes. The profile can definitely work, so I’d focus the efforts on getting the profile to work properly, automating everything. If everyone is using the same settings, it’s probably just a matter of getting the settings just right in Apple Configurator. I’ve had a few cases where I was asked for passwords when restoring through Configurator or even when deploying through Profile Manager. Either way I’ve always been able to find a fix and it’s always been in the profile/payload settings I used.

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  • Matthias Looss
    May 21, 2012 - 8:49 pm | Permalink

    Great article and it helped me setup 8 new iPhones for a client, but today I came across a major flaw or maybe it is something I am doing wrong? My supervised profile includes the Microsoft Exchange configuration for our CommuniGate Pro Messaging Server with AirSync and the e-mail account is working on the iPhone but when I attempt to e-mail a photo, I get the window in iOS to add and configure e-mail? This is not what I expected, after all I already have a fully functioning e-mail account, any help with this issue is greatly appreciated.

    • June 21, 2012 - 7:56 pm | Permalink

      I haven’t used CommuniGate in awhile. But from what I understand AirSync is just an ActiveSync conduit. When I setup an Exchange or Google Apps profile, I don’t get prompted to setup a new email address when I try to send someone a photo. Makes me wonder if it’s not fully running the configuration profile when you set it up. Does it access contacts from the GAL and calendar items or do those prompt as well?

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  • J. Choate
    June 21, 2012 - 9:08 am | Permalink

    Great article!

    RE: Configurator with carts/big USB hubs – we’re using an Ergotron cart with 48 “slots”. The 30-unit limit is “at one time”. With a full cart, the remaining 18 units are done once the first 30 have completed.

    I noticed that for IOS updating, only 10 devices will update at one time.

    We offer imaging services to clients for PCs and noteooks and Macs – getting them to understand the differences with iOS devices has been a challenge.

    The other is the fact that, while I could, for example, set up a number of iPads with profiles and no Apple IDs, there’s nothing stopping the end user from hooking it up to their PC with iTunes and then the default auto-syncing starts. The user clicks ‘OK’ not knowing any better and watches as iTunes wipes all the profiles we just put on the device.

    Ideally, in this scenario, there needs to be an option for the apps to be tied to a device and not an Apple ID.

    • June 21, 2012 - 7:54 pm | Permalink

      Great point about those limitations, I can confirm both points that you make. As for the apps being deployed to the device, I hope that’s something we can look to iOS 6 to possibly solve… :)

  • Darryl Lee
    July 12, 2012 - 1:54 pm | Permalink

    The Console in iPhone Configuration Utility was pretty ugly. If you fire up the Console app under Utilities and type in configurator in the Search box, you’ll get a nice view of what the heck the Configurator is doing while that little stopwatch icon appears to be doing absolutely nothing.

    It’s nice to see: 13 of 22 applications installing… etc.

    It’s also nice to see why applications can’t be installed because the InstallApp permission has been restricted.

    (Although it’s still a mystery to me why pushing a policy that has InstallApp enabled didn’t get us past this and I ended up having to go to the device itself and allow installations.)

  • Jeff Wade
    August 9, 2012 - 8:51 am | Permalink

    For those of you who have are trying perform deployments without an MDM tool, there is at least one free MDM tool available to you. I’ve been using the System Manager from Meraki. Other than missing the ability to import enterprise applications and missing a few of the profile pieces (email to name one) it is a very complete MDM implementation.

    • August 10, 2012 - 8:53 am | Permalink

      I’m currently wrapping up a lot of testing on the Meraki System Manager. I’m liking it so far. Especially the fact that it’s not just for mobile devices and that it’s cross-platform. I’ll hopefully do a writeup of it shortly as well! :)

  • Frodo Larik
    August 16, 2012 - 6:14 am | Permalink

    Interesting read! Lot of useful info, but I’m missing something. I don’t know if it’s possible, but we also would like to manage ios devices with profiles and push (app store) apps to them. Since we’re based in the netherlands, we don’t have access to VPP, do you have any suggestions (apps/tips) on how to manage (free+paid) apps for 100+ devices?

    • August 27, 2012 - 8:18 pm | Permalink

      Other than buying gift codes for 100 devices and manually pasting them into a spreadsheet? I don’t know what’s taking so long to get the VPP rolled out into the EU, but I’m hearing it’s coming soon… Of course, I could just be hearing that to shut me up… ;)

  • Kara
    August 28, 2012 - 9:51 am | Permalink

    i am having difficulty with adding and deleting apps. i’ve now lost my vpp codes. when i reenter them it says it is already in use. i have activated with itunes account.
    i have ten devices but not all ten can have the same ten apps on them due to cost. any tips?

    • September 21, 2012 - 9:21 am | Permalink

      I’d create a profile on the computer for each iteration and put the right number into each. For getting those vpp codes back, I don’t really have a recommendation for that. In Configurator are they still showing up, but just as used? Were the devices supervised?

  • Nicola
    September 19, 2012 - 7:25 pm | Permalink

    Thx, you help me a lot to perpare 10 iPad for a prek and kindergarden school, but is it possible to pre-organize apps in folder

    • September 21, 2012 - 8:24 am | Permalink

      Yes, the backup/restore function of configurator will retain folders once apps have been deployed. Backup and restore through iTunes will also maintain folder structures as well.

      Good luck!

  • Alex
    September 20, 2012 - 6:00 pm | Permalink

    Does Configurator have any flaws?

    • September 21, 2012 - 8:14 am | Permalink

      I don’t think so, provided you use it for what it was designed for and not just as a one stop shop. For example, if you want to use iTunes, don’t use Supervise mode. Or if you want to deploy VPP codes be careful not to accidentally burn 1,000 of them. And make sure to back it up often…

  • Dan Jones
    October 12, 2012 - 2:37 am | Permalink

    how can i find out if a device is jailbroken using OS X Server?

    • October 12, 2012 - 6:37 am | Permalink

      As far as I’m aware, you can’t do that with Profile Manager just yet. In order to do that you’d need a 3rd party tool such as MobileIron that has such detection. Sorry.

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