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The Apple Configurator Application

Prior to March 2012 configuring iOS devices required either a Lion (OS X 10.7) Server with Profile Manager Services enabled and configured or the iPCU (iPhone Configuration Utility) from a Snow Leopard DVD or the Apple Developer website. While the Profile Manager Services in Lion are sufficient to configure and manage iOS and Apple Desktop devices, it is still a dot zero release and it does require that you have a Lion server. For some small businesses, workgroups of Apple users in a larger Microsoft dominated organization this may not be an option. There are several third party MDM (Mobile Device Management) applications available for sale but again that is a cost that many organizations cannot budget for in these trying economic times. In March 2012 Apple released the Apple Configurator Application available for free from the App store which replaces the iPCU utility available free in Snow Leopard and provides a plethora of new features.


Benefits

The Apple Configurator provides a three part workflow for managing your devices.

Preparing, Supervising, and Assigning devices each with its own specific tasks and capabilities. 

Apple Configurator's welcome screen


Preparing

Preparing allows configuration of up to thirty devices at a time, provides an interface for updating devices to the latest iOS version.  Additionally, it provides for backup and restoration of settings and application data from a configured “gold image” device (a device that is set up exactly the way you want other devices configured.) It also allows you to import iOS apps into the configurator for deployment to devices, has a built in editor for creating and modifying configuration profiles, and allows you to enroll these devices with a third party MDM solution or Lion Profile Manager service.


Prepare settings


Supervising 

Once you have prepared your configuration and either prior to or post delivery of your configuration to your devices you can group your devices logically. This allows you to keep devices with different profile options separate but easily identified in a graphical interface. Supervision provides mechanisms to quickly restore a device to a preset configuration in case a user goofs up your configuration. It also provides for deployment of apps you import into the configurator, applying naming conventions to your devices and restricting supervised devices from syncing with other computers in an attempt to override your configurations. 

Supervise settings


Assigning

The final area is called Assign, which provides you with tools to add users and groups manually or populate them from Open or Active Directory. 

Assign settings


Administrators can check out the configured device to a user and restore that user’s settings to the new or replacement device. Check in and/or backup a user’s device. Last but not least, there are options for applying custom text, lock pictures, background pictures, wallpapers, importation of documents (i.e. if you want to pre-load an iOS device with manuals, sales materials, etc.) 


One last thing... In the preferences of the application you can set the default lock screen text and picture for devices being managed.

Preferences


What you can configure and How you deliver your Profiles

From the prepare section you can create configuration profiles which are a collection of up to 15 sections of configuration information you can set up and or restrict your device(s) to use. 


Prepare > Genreral


These include: 

  • APN - Provides for telecom settings.
  • SCEP - Provides for SCEP (PKI based auto enrollment) settings.
  • Credentials - Allows admin’s to preinstall self-signed or internal PKI certificates used for internal/external websites, email signing or other encryption or access tasks.
  • Web Clips - Admin’s can preload web shortcuts as app icons called webclips on the iOS devices so users can click and launch intranets, and other web applications.
  • Subscribed Calendars - Used for providing access to centralized corporate, holiday or other non-user specific calendars.
  • CardDAV - Configures Contact application access to Exchange Global Address List or any CardDav compliant server (like Lion’s Address Book Service).
  • CalDAV - Configures Contact application access to Exchange Calendars or any CalDav compliant server (like Lion’s iCal Server Service).
  • LDAP - Provides for integrating LDAP lookups into the contact application.
  • Exchange ActiveSync - Allows administrators to configure devices to leverage Exchange’s ActiveSync technology for additional synchronization and management.
  • Email - Preconfigure user’s email settings and accounts.
  • VPN - Preconfigure user’s VPN settings and connections.
  • WiFi - Preconfigure device’s default WiFi settings and restrictions on changing these settings if desired.
  • Restrictions - Provides administrators a complex set of controls over what device functions and or applications can or can not be accessed (i.e. App Purchases, Camera, Location Services).
  • Passcode - For organizations with password enforcement policies or for general device security admin’s can configure the passcode requirements and options here.
  • General - This one is mandatory and requires a profile name, optionally you can enter organization and description details. More importantly you can set the security on the profile, which determines the who and how the profile can or can not be removed.


Prepare > Email


Once your profiles are created, supervised and assigned you can send out your profiles via email, post them on your intranet or use the USB cable to sync the profile onto new devices prior to deployment.


If you need more complex functionality

While this is a great tool (and even better it’s free), if you need additional functionality there are several other options like Lion Server’s Profile Manager service and independent MDM solutions from Casper and others.


Conclusion

With little fanfare Apple has released a powerful tool for small to large organizations. Empowering them to configure, manage, wipe, upgrade and decommission iOS devices in their organization.

Mike Hjörleifsson

Mike Hjörleifsson | Articles by this author

Michele (Mike) Hjörleifsson, co-author of the Apple Training Series: Security and Mobility courseware has been developing on the Apple platforms since the Apple ][+, implementing network and remote access security technologies since the early '90s, and worked with the nation's largest corporations and government institutions. Authoring white-papers, technical magazine articles and topical discussions at IETF (Internet Engineering Task Force), and other organizations on security topics and podcasting with Apple Podcast Producer. Since 1998 Michele has entered the realm of video editing and animation and currently teaches video editing, motion graphics and computer graphics courses.. Feel free to contact him at mhjorleifsson@me.com.

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