Apple (News - Alert) has been working on several improvements. Earlier this week Apple quietly improved its loyalty pricing for enterprises and schools. It has also been working on iOS 7.1 which, as of February, is in beta. This latest version makes some substantial changes to iOS 7, which was seen as a simple upgrade to iOS 6 instead of a completely new OS.
One of the major changes (or really what can be considered an overhaul) was made to Apple’s mobile device management (MDM) capabilities. According to people familiar with Apple’s MDM upgrades, the beta version of iOS 7.1 incorporates all the functionality of its mass deployment initiative.
Last week, Appleinsider reported that Apple had rolled out a large scale iOS 7.1 device deployment and management service for enterprises and educational institutions. It was revealed that the company made a variety of changes and additions so that IT professionals could better streamline mass deployments.
One feature clearly designed for such a large-scale rollout is the "zero-touch configuration" tool that can automate the MDM system over wireless communications. This would be a vast improvement over previous deployment options offered by Apple. In the past, physical access to each device was required to set them up properly.
Going back to my experience as an IT manager, one of the most difficult tasks was making sure that everyone not only received the necessary updates, but also that every device still functioned properly. The fact that supervision of deployed devices can be accomplished wirelessly through the MDM server takes the edge off of performing a mass deployment operation.
According to Appleinsider, the new MDM program is something that educational institutions are especially excited about. The new features and services will allow schools to have greater control over devices handed out to students. The enhanced implementation, moreover, will significantly ease the deployment process.
This is something that has been a major issue with schools in the past. It seems that there was a problem when the L.A. Unified School District attempted an upgrade. Students were able to bypass supervision profiles, which allowed them to access prohibited Web content.
This lack of control and visibility also be an issue in the corporate environment. I mentioned that upgrading, especially to a new OS, can cause problems. Imagine a situation where supervisor profiles were bypassed and everyone had access to every piece of company data. I would not want to be that IT manager.
It an effort to prevent such situations from occurring, as part of the Deployment Programs initiative, the latest OS X Server 3.1 Preview issued to developers contained Profile Manager additions that enable MDM features required for DEP functionality, like activation lock bypass code retrieval.
Clearly, Apple is trying to make mass deployment as easy as possible. Enrollment for the program has also been made easier with a new dedicated webpage called "Deployment Programs." Its function is to verify qualifying businesses and educational institutions. Other services are also featured on the website designed to make new enrollments and management easier for the end user.
When it comes to MDM, Apple is certainly playing catch-up. After iOS 7 debuted, Apple was criticized for the mobile operating system's underwhelming set of management features for businesses. ABI Research (News - Alert) senior analyst Jason McNicol said the features "were not terribly innovative when compared to the services offered by the EMM/MDM market, while other enhancements have relatively limited functionality."
In this effort, Apple is also spotlighting new over-the-air (OTA) features that are supposed to enable "hands-free" configuration and management. This should spare IT administrators from having to fire up the company's Configurator tool, which runs on OS X (Macs). An Apple spokesperson said, "For company-owned devices, IT can automate and lock MDM enrollment and wirelessly supervise devices during initial setup. And once a device is enrolled in MDM — whether initiated by the user or by IT — settings, apps and policies can be installed on the device over the air."
iOS 7.1 is slated to come out later this month. It is clear that Apple is trying to make the necessary improvements that will give enterprises and educational institutions the ability to perform mass deployments with as little hassle as possible.
Will it achieve this? Only time will tell. At the end of the month, we are sure to hear plenty about either the glowing success companies have had with Apple’s new MDM capabilities or the uproar from users that could not successfully manage their devices.
Edited by Blaise McNamee