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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.