New year, new challenges and successes with Apple Configurator

A new year begins and the order for more iPads arrives on our doorstep. All the preparation last year setting up profiles, selecting and purchasing apps, backing up optimal setups to use as base models to set up batches of iPads are now to be put to the test. 100 iPads and 14 USB ports – how will it pan out?

Plugged first 14 in, everything fine except one iPad wouldn’t start up.

It appears that Configurator doesn’t deal with recovery mode so I had to shut down Configurator once the other iPads had finished syncing ( about 45 minutes – included iOS update, installing new apps, installing from a shared back up configuration and installing the student profiles discussed in my previous post on Configurator. You can’t have iTunes and Configurator open and operating at the same time.

The rogue iPad had to be connected to iTunes to restore. That took about 30 minutes then I reconnected to Configurator to run the update again. Interestingly, even though I assumed the restore added the latest iOS to the iPad, Configurator went through the updating of iOS 6 again. What I noticed later was that I had started straight in Supervise mode rather than Prepare.

The most annoying thing this week was that in every set of our older iPads from last year ( which incidentally I had configured last year without a hitch) there was one iPad that needed restoring. Whether that was an issue with the iPad, Configurator or a dodgy USB hub, I don’t know, but it wasted a good three hours, all because Configurator doesn’t restore iPads in Recovery mode.

Having said that, the 65 NEW iPads I set up this week were prepared, supervised and assigned by Configurator with very few hiccups. Most of the issues were self inflicted, with just a couple of annoying glitches that I defeated in the end.

Last year I created a junior Grade backup and a Middle/Senior Grade backup. This backup saved settings for the FileBrowser app, Safari bookmarks and the folder structures containing the apps. I also set up a profile ( in the Settings tab of the Prepare section of Configurator)  that included settings for the wifi, mail, restrictions and  zScaler proxy settings.

 

In Prepare or Supervise mode ( for new iPads, you have to Prepare first), under Settings you select the restore to Backup option and select the specific back up you want to use ( you can also select don’t restore if you don’t want to make any changes). There is also the option to update to the latest version of iOS ( or the option not to update). Make sure you have selected the desired Profiles if you have more than one.

Then switch to Apps and select the apps you want installed on the set of iPads you are preparing. Make sure you have enough copies of Paid apps added to Configurator to cover the full set of iPads you have connected or preparing or you will get errors. Also, if you have paid apps selected that haven’t been paid for that will cause errors as well. You need to be around when Configurator is adding Paid apps because it will want to log in to your VPP account and you need to insert the password to complete the action. Because I was adding different sets of apps to each Grade level’s iPads, I had to keep checking which apps were checked. If you make a mistake, you can always uncheck paid apps and reapply the preparation, returning the VPP codes to Configurator to be used later.

Once I had the settings and apps in place, I just had to hit Prepare and leave Configurator to set up the 14 iPads I had connected at once. ( I could have got a bigger hub but since I was setting up 14 iPads per Grade Level, the two 7 USB hubs I had were sufficient.) With about 50 apps added to the iPads, it took about 45-50 minutes to update to iOS 6.1, install free and paid apps, restore to the backup and configure profiles on the 14 iPads at once. This save A LOT of time compared to last year’s setup using iTunes.

Once the Prepare sequence was completed, I just switched to Supervise, checked the settings and Apps were still intact, hit Apply and the supervising phase started and finished in just a few minutes. You could stop here if you like but I chose to Assign the iPads to specific users in specific grade groups. As I explained in my previous post, because Configurator tethered the iPads to my Mac, resulting in the inability to download photos and movies to other computers  (which we overcome using wifi based FileBrowser solution) I assign the iPads to users so they can sync to Configurator and save files from apps that have a send   to iTunes option.

This should be simple. Once you have created groups and users, you select the group/users and click Check Out. You get a list of Users aligned to a set of iPads. You can select all iPads or USB connected Ipads to just see the ones you have connected. Click on Check out and it links user to iPad.

It was here I discovered a glitch that was partly caused by my workflow and partly by a flaw in the program.

I had already labelled my iPads and recorded the serial numbers in my spreadsheet before preparing in Configurator. As you can see in the annotated image above, there is an option to number the iPads sequentially. This saves a lot of time naming the iPads if preparing a lot for classrooms. What I didn’t realise is that the order I plugged them in didn’t match the sequencing of the iPad numbering so I ended up with a mismatch between the labels and the names in the iPad General Settings. I had to manually rename them  as a result, defeating the purpose. They also didn’t match up in the Assign mode and I had to drag and drop them to match USER/IPAD numbers. I eventually worked out that if I plugged the iPads into the USB hub in REVERSE order, the sequential numbering worked.

Example image – not from my setup

One final little set up I did was making a generic Lock Screen that identified the iPad to the school and the user. Annoyingly difficult to find since it is not part of the Prepare/Supervise/Assign screens, you have to go to Preferences in the File menu, drag and drop an image and select the option to include user/iPad number. If you don’t assign iPads to users, the Device Number appears on the screen. If you Assign Users, the User name appears instead.

While there were a couple of little issues this time around, each time I use Configurator, I improve my understanding of the workflow I need to use. It is infinitely better than iTunes as an option and I was happy with the speed of the setup of the iPad sets. I probably took almost as much time unpacking, cleaning up, labelling, setting up in trays and plugging in as it took to prepare each set. For a free app, I’m happy to keep using it. Future changes and updates won’t take long at all and I think I have finally got it under control.