What does the new iPad mean to business?

Expect it to push the bring-your-own-device trend in the workplace

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Configurator has a series of features that can be useful in business environments, though many of them are also available via MDM suites that allow IT shops to automatically send configuration data over the air and monitor device use. For small businesses not interested in full-scale MDM, Apple Configurator is a good option, as it provides many of the core functions MDM is designed to address. However, it requires a more hands-on approach to managing devices, which keeps it from scaling well beyond the classroom or small office.

One area where it does beat other MDM options is in its enabling of the creation of a "lending library"-style system that allows iPads to be borrowed, used, returned and borrowed again. The backup capabilities and the inclusion of user accounts (something generally missing from iOS, which is designed for one-user-per-device) means the system always delivers a consistent experience and apps/settings/data to users, regardless of the device they use.

Overall, Apple Configurator won't replace MDM in most settings, and it certainly doesn't seem to belong in any BYOD setup. But it can be an excellent solution for classrooms and training facilities, kiosk deployments such as those in retail, and any business where iPads are provided to users on an as-needed basis. In some of these situations, the pairing of Apple Configurator with MDM software works well as part of a larger mobile management strategy.

If Apple Configurator represents anything, it shows that Apple recognizes that no two organizations will deploy, configure or manage iPads in the exact same way. Apple Configurator, along with iPhone Configuration Utility, Profile Manager in Lion Server and a boatload of mobile management suites now on the market offer a solid range of choices when it comes to implementing, supporting, and managing the iPad.

Apple Configurator specifics

The specific features that Apple Configurator brings to the table include the ability to:

  • Wipe or restore devices;
  • Install a specific iOS release or update the existing iOS version;
  • Assign unique device names or identifiers (which can be based on asset management tags);
  • Back up devices;
  • Restore data from backup;
  • Create and apply configuration profiles;
  • Install apps, including internal/private apps and third-party apps from the App Store;
  • License third-party apps using Apple's Volume Purchase Plan (not needed for free apps);
  • Install documents onto the on-device storage space of installed apps;
  • Create user-specific configurations, based on enterprise directory systems like Active Directory if available/desired;
  • Backup and restore user data and configurations independently to/from any device (similar to Windows roaming profiles in Active Directory);
  • Organize devices into groups for easier management;
  • Restrict devices from syncing to other computers;
  • Assign lock-screen images specific to an organization or user;
  • Enroll devices in a third-party MDM solution.

Apple's new approach to business

While there isn't much about the new iPad itself that is a specific selling point for business, the device will end up in a lot of workplaces anyway. So will more iPad 2s and even some Apple TVs. Thanks to the work Apple has done to integrate iOS with enterprise standards -- mobile management frameworks, Exchange support and VPN -- and thousands of business apps, the iPad will function very well in those workplaces.

This is true even though Apple hasn't made an effort to specifically market the iPad in any of its iterations as a business device. The ease-of-use in both home and work life is how Apple became the world's most valuable tech company, and it's allowed it to play a big part in the consumerization of IT. The new iPad will certainly continue that trend.

Ryan Faas is a freelance writer and technology consultant specializing in Mac and multiplatform network issues. He has been a Computerworld columnist since 2003 and is a frequent contributor to Peachpit.com. Faas is also the author of iPhone for Work (Apress, 2009). You can find out more about him at RyanFaas.com and follow him on Twitter (@ryanfaas).

Copyright © 2012 IDG Communications, Inc.

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