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.

16 thoughts on “New year, new challenges and successes with Apple Configurator

  1. Your blog is very helpful to me and I appreciate your insights into Apple configurator—-I have been struggling to get this to work to maintain the folder structure I have set up on my school ipads. Thanks for sharing your knowledge.

  2. Gloria and Tony, glad I can help. Took me hours to work it out last year so understand people’s struggles with it, especially if they have other responsibilities that don’t give them the opportunity to investigate in great depth. Hope it gets easier.

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  4. Thanks Mark. I am assuming that you are non-government school as zScalar and FileBrowser would not I think work inside NSW DEC. When you say you are assigning do you assign to individual students or a generic grade user so you can synch their work?

    • Hi Chris. Catholic system switched from SINA proxy to ZScaler late last year. Filebrowser worked with both. It just needed the name of the server to connect – used SMB \\xxxxxxx then network user and password. Proxy didn’t cone into it. Controlled by permissions setup on Active Dirctory. If you had permission to use the folder it connected. If you didn’t have permission you were blocked.

      Yes I just have 14 generic users for each grade level each synced to a specific iPad. GROUP -Grade 2 User 29/iPad 29. Will barely need to use the system as Filebrowser works with everything we use through open in… Or photo library bar GarageBand

  5. Great blog. I have a similar setup – 20iPads as a class set in a DEC NSW High School using Configurator in supervision mode. We have locked them to this network.
    The biggest issue I am having is how to get files off them for use elsewhere eg. Garageband, iMovie, photos. Any answers would be most appreciated.
    My frustration has been getting iBooks onto the devices, even though I have written my own, so there is no copyright issue, it cannot be done in Configurator. I eventually was able to download it to each iPad individually using Dropbox. HOWEVER, DEC blocks Dropbox so I have had to log into each iPad with my teacher ID and do it on each iPad. A bit laborious when I want to do it again.
    Due to DEC wireless, we have had to set them up with pac files and proxy settings, so students use their ID and p/w for the internet, Unfortunately this means some web-based apps are blocked.
    VPP was great for buying many licences, but be warned to get an extra 1 or 2, as we did have issues with losing one. Once working, Configurator is brilliant for flicking out free and paid apps quickly, as I have 2 Belkin syncing and charging docks, so all 20 are done at once.
    Would love to know how to get files off them iPads, and how to get music on them.

  6. Mr. G – great info, thanks for sharing. I need some help. Using Apple Configurator to manage over 100 iPads for teachers, students, special programs like medical etc. All was going well but now when I try to Prepare new iPads, they are not showing up in the Prepare stage. These are iPad2. The iPad3 did appear and had no problem getting them organized. But the iPad2 is not very cooperative. Used Bedford Cart with 30 slots and usb. Used individual iPad usb cables. The iPads still don’t appear when attempting to Prepare. Thanks for any suggestions.

    • Strange. Are the iPad 2s brand new or previously used? I haven’t had this much trouble with my iPad 2s. Having said that, I started the year with a couple of rogue 2s that wouldn’t prepare and I decided to restore them back to factory settings in iTunes before preparing them fresh in Configurator. That worked. Not sure how many you are talking about but try that on one to see if it works.

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  8. Thank you for your response, it did help. But of course I have another question. I have 30 supervised iPads that are being “loaned” to another school in our district for the summer. Before they are picked up, I was going to restore them to factory settings in iTunes but want to maintain our Apps licenses (purchased via VPP). I’ve read through Apple Configurator manual and it states that the codes can be returned to spreadsheet when removing the App from the iPad. Have you done this and does it actually work? Thanks for any assistance.

    • Ray,
      If you deselect the apps in Configurator then update that should return the codes back to the database. For confirmation, check that the number of codes available has increased in the apps list. I’ve only done it to one iPad and it did work but I would do a test run on one iPad ( deselect apps, restore to factory settings then reconfigure to see if the app codes work again ) before doing it to all 30. I just don’t absolutely trust Configurator yet. Having said that, if the code numbers increase in the app list after deselecting them, it should be ok.

  9. The Supervision profile is useless if the students are issued the device to keep outright, have an option to buy later, or will need content from that device when they move onto the next grade or buy an iPad of their own and want to move their data.

    There is no way to remove the Supervision profile from an iPad without wiping out the entire device and ALL of its content. iCloud and iTunes backups of Supervised devices take the Supervision profile with them and put them right back on the device when you restore the backup.

    This is a ridiculous issue that Apple should address. Since you need a Master computer and only that master can do anything to iPads that are supervised, it’s only logical to believe that that machine will be in a secure location. Why on earth can’t a facilitator uncheck Supervision On and get that profile off?

    We are expanding from one grade to three in the fall and now have to redraw our entire deployment plan to avoid this problem. We learned of it when a student that was leaving the school came by and asked us to remove the restrictions since he was leaving the school. Our only option after several hours of trying everything possible was to wipe the device.

    Our devices are leased from Apple and we give the families the option to purchase the device at market price at the end of a two year lease period. At least, that was the plan. Now, I don’t know.

  10. I am a novice to Mac computers and Apple Configurator. Do you have any tips for being able to:

    1. Supervise an iPad
    2. Restore from iCloud the settings for the iPad you just supervised

    I don’t understand how to supervise and THEN restore. Once I supervise it wipes out all content.

    Any help would be appreciated.

    • As far as I am aware, once supervised all your settings are locked to the Configurator settings. I don’t think you would then be able to restore from iCloud. As Supervised takes over the settings and supervision and controls the iPad.

  11. Hello! We have over 800 iPads in our school district. We are using Meraki as our MDM for the profile management, but the one thing that we can’t do is getting file structure with folders for the apps. What file are we using from Configurator for that? Is it a .MobileConfig file? If so, I can add that file to Meraki. Or do we have to “Restore” the device from Configurator for the file structure and not use the profile side of that program? Thanks for any assistance you may be able to provide!

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