Getting Better at iPad Management: New Configurator and Meraki SM

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I’ve been working with and supporting iPads for almost 4 years now and the major challenge I’m always finding schools need help with is in iPad management. These awesome devices were originally designed with the individual in mind but then brought to the steps of our schools in carts and bundles. How do we manage all of the apps and content for these devices?

The original method was the beloved iTunes. I say “beloved” with a lot of sarcasm because after a week of updating/ restoring numerous carts of iOS devices that first year, I had several choice words for it followed by a lot of chocolate and Tylenol. To this day, even though I feel I may have finally acquired my iTunes “black belt”, I can easily find myself struggling with moments like “Why are those 10 iPads doing that and these 20 are fine!” I knew something had to be out there better than this. 
Then came two free tools that changed things for those of us supporting masses of these iOS Devices; Apple’s Configurator and Meraki’s Systems Manager. Now, the first version of Configurator was not the perfect “answer from the tech gods” that I was hoping for but it was definitely better than just iTunes. 
Here is what was better with the original version though:
1. No more manual tracking of license codes or of which schools actually bought licenses. Configurator does it for you
2. Have a special paid app that should only go to a specific device in a group? Or have groups of users that each need different apps, settings and restrictions?
Configurator can control that.
3. Want to prevent users from “rogue”syncing to iTunes on their own computer and changing all the settings and content? 
Yes, Configurator does that too.
4. Hate pulling 30-130 copies of the latest iOS from the wireless and depleting your bandwidth? 
Configurator allows you to pull from a locally saved copy to push onto all connected devices.
The challenges of the first version:
1. Not super intuitive, flexible or forgiving for its user.
2. Lots of steps to remember
3. Device management is tied to the one Mac and by tied, I mean physically the iPads have to be connected to that Mac to run the program. So if it dies and you don’t back it up, it’s a long sad phone wait with Apple’s VPP support and you have to collect iPads to make changes or updates.
Picture Directions on how to use Configurator found here on my site:
Meraki Systems Manager: now owned by Cisco, Meraki’s wireless systems manager is a free wireless mobile device management system for almost all types of devices. It can support iOS, Android, PC or Mac and can be used alone or together with Apple Configurator. It is run from a web dashboard so you do not have to be on a Mac or even physically near the devices you are managing because it runs over the Internet. I have run it from a PC, iPad and Android Device.
Setting it up on devices is easy and flexible. You can go to the web browser on the device, type in m.meraki.com and the school enrollment code to install. There is an app you can download from the App Store. You can also send it to users in an email with the enrollment code embedded in the install link.  It’s as non-invasive or invasive in managing/supporting the devices as you want unlike Configurator or iTunes. 
Picture directions for Meraki found here:

Recently, both of these tools have had some updates and here is what has gotten better:
Configurator-
1. now shows the status of each device and exactly what they are doing.
2. you can click on any ipad in that group during a process to see what processes are occuring (or stuck) on that specific device
3. You can choose, Never Update iOS, When Available or If in Recovery Mode.
4. You can select all apps in a list with a new icon at the bottom
5. iOS updates no longer have to be pulled down locally by iTunes. The moment you download it for 1 ipad, it goes to a folder in Configurator where it holds it for other iPads that will also require it.

Meraki-
1. If a device has been Supervised by Configurator, then you can now not only deploy paid apps wirelessly through Meraki but also pull back those licenses to apply to another supervised device.
2. If you install the Meraki app onto the iPad, it can be set to not be deleted and provides more accurate location information.
3.Additional profile restrictions to match iOS 7 have also been included.

Configurator also has a lot more profile settings options and features like “Lock to App” that are next on my list as I work towards better managing these devices in schools.

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