The release of iOS 7 and Mavericks brings some welcomed and unexpected changes to managing ipads with Configurator, the Volume Purchasing Program and Mobile Device Management (MDM) systems like Meraki. After attending a session at the Christa McAuliffe Technology Conference (NHCMTC.org), I gained some more insight as to how the changes will work directly from the Apple team. To recap the original process, a school district setups an online account with the VPP to purchase redemption codes for paid apps. This is not an iTunes account, just a code purchasing account. (More info on VPP found at the St. Vrain Schools site.) The codes are then sent to individual iTunes accounts manually or through wireless MDMs, like Meraki. This wireless process provides your users with paid apps on their devices or it can be done manually via a spreadsheet that is later imported into Apple Configurator and then pushed locally to ipads in a set sharing the same account. Configurator is used to put the devices under something called Supervision that allows for device code licenses to be both distributed and pulled back for redistribution to different devices as well as apply policies for security, wifi and other settings. More info on working with Configurator and Meraki can be found at my site at https://sites.google.com/site/jllpdresources/ipadmanagement.
Configurator takes a bit of patience, however, as it has been a bit clunky at times in the process of supervising, iOS updating and app distributing. Especially time-consuming was the constant distribution and updating of apps as Configurator requires iPads to be physically connected to a specific Mac via USB. This means collecting iPads constantly from the users. A preferable option would be just to supervise in Configurator and then do all policy and app maintenance work wirelessly from an MDM without having to collect the ipads several times throughout the year… again and again and again. There is an issue of bandwidth, however, in wirelessly pushing apps and iOS updates from your server. Mavericks for servers features a caching server that will cache a local copy of the latest App or iOS update data ready for the next device requesting it on your network reducing the “bogdown” on your network device and app updates. Originally, when updating to iOS 7, I had to go through a ton of the white “welcome” screens on every ipad that I was just updating or restoring from a backup and in several carts of 30 devices, that is cumbersome. There is now a third tab in Configurator beyond Settings and Apps. This one lets you skip some of these welcome screens and come back to them later like password, notifications, etc. You can also lock a device to one app such as an app needed during standardized testing that you don’t want users tapping out of. This can now be done with the MDM as well making it easier to remove this setting when no longer needed.
VPP now has a new program as well. Instead of sending out codes to everyone, an invite is now sent out to individual user accounts to join what might be called your “VPP family” so you can distribute apps wirelessly from your MDM to them without codes. For carts of iPads using the same iTunes account, this won’t quite work. For cart situations, the codes will still be necessary for use through MDMs like Meraki or through Configurator to distribute the paid apps. In the VPP site, you will now see the following options related this change: