4 ways Apple may soon solve the iPad deployment headache

It’s no secret iPad deployments are a slog for schools. But all that may be changing

ipad-deploymentThe ultimate goal of technology deployment is for device use to become “invisible,” where students create and communicate with their devices as easily as they might pick up a pen.

That goal unfortunately remains a distant vision for most schools regardless of the technology students are using. Device deployment has been a particular challenge for schools with iPads. In fact it’s been such a headache that iPad sales into schools have started to lose momentum over the last year. Apple has taken steps recently to make device management somewhat simpler and rumors are circulating that significant changes might be on the way in the next year.

The iPad is built upon the same building blocks that made the iPhone so successful. It’s a personal device that requires an Apple ID for access to iTunes, apps, and eBooks. I’m not sure that anyone anticipated the enormous success iPads would have in schools. Educators viewed them as devices that were mobile, could deliver eBooks, manage online course content, and had powerful built-in media tools for creative inspiration. However, from a management perspective, they were designed for individual use and didn’t come with a simple, effective strategy for institutional deployment.

Apple has been slow to react to the management needs of schools. The recommended model for iPad use in schools is what Apple calls the “institution owned one-to-one” deployment. Each student and staff member is assigned a device that’s purchased, configured, and managed by their institution. A mobile device management (MDM) solution simplifies the setup and management of devices. Apple’s Device Enrollment Program registers devices with the institution’s MDM so that devices can then be configured and rolled out efficiently. In our ideal scenario, each student has an Apple ID. Each iPad is handed to a student or staff member and the MDM configures the iPad wirelessly with accounts, settings, restrictions, and content. Content is backed up to a personal iCloud account where it can be accessed offsite at any time. It’s a lengthy process but manageable when everything goes smoothly… except for the fact that “ideal scenarios” are very rarely ideal.

Here’s a rundown of four areas where many deployments fall short and where policies need to change.

Next page: Simplifying device management

Consolidate Solutions across Deployment Models

Apple recommends one-to-one deployment as the model most likely to yield maximum learning benefits. It’s no surprise to hear that schools have limited budgets and many can’t afford an iPad for every student. As a result, most schools either share iPads or a use a hybrid model where some grades have one-to-one while others share devices. In contrast to iPads, other devices such as laptops and Chromebooks are designed to accommodate multiple users. Once a user is logged in, the device is personalized with their preferences and content. However, when I pick up an iPad there’s an expectation that I’m the same person that last used it—which is clearly not always the case when devices are shared. Personalization, access to private content, and data backup all become major headaches. Apple’s management policies need to accommodate the vast number of schools that share iPads between students.

Simplify Apple ID Requirements

Users need to have an Apple ID in order to gain access to the App Store, iTunes, the iBooks Store, and iCloud. If devices are being shared, they are usually assigned multiple school-owned Apple ID accounts, making setup a very long and labor intensive process. In one-to-one environments each student needs an Apple ID. It’s a problematic situation in elementary schools given that Apple’s interpretation of the Children’s Online Privacy Protection Act (COPPA) requires parental consent for any accounts that belong to students under the age of 13. Apple responded with the Apple ID for Students program. In short, schools upload a list of students and parent contact email addresses. Apple then automatically sends out an email request to each parent and issues the Apple ID when approval is received. However, what many schools have discovered is that email isn’t as ubiquitous and reliable as we may have thought. Many parents don’t have access to computers, don’t check email, or speak a different language.

The Apple ID requirement derives from the design of iOS devices for personal use. Given school realities of shared iPads and students under age 13, the need for an Apple ID becomes a significant obstacle. Instead of applying patches, Apple could allow administrators the option of distributing content directly to devices without an Apple ID. This would not only would it make it easier to distribute apps and eBooks, but it would also simplify the entire setup process. Stay tuned…

Provide Enterprise Storage and Sharing

Apple’s iCloud service is the recommended storage solution for users of iOS devices. It backs up and synchronizes designated content automatically from Apple devices. iCloud works very effectively as a personal backup solution but it wasn’t designed to meet the needs of enterprises. Accounts are linked to personal Apple IDs. There isn’t any enterprise administrative control over individual iCloud accounts. Apple needs to draw a lesson from the success of Google Apps for Education and provide schools with an enterprise-wide version of iCloud with centralized administration and simple backup, transfer and sharing of content within domain accounts.


Yes, that clichéd acronym (“keep it simple, stupid”) definitely applies to technology deployment. There are too many layers and too many alternative approaches to iPad deployment at the moment. There’s one policy if you have a one-to-one program and a different deployment method if you share iPads. There are different policies for configuration profiles, device enrollment, creation of Apple IDs, volume app purchasing, app distribution, applying updates, and more. It’s terrific job security for IT managers that have conquered that mountain but a long climb for others that are desperately trying to learn the steps. Schools will embrace iPads more enthusiastically once the deployment process becomes shorter and simpler.

iPads have tremendous educational potential. If you believe the rumors that are circulating, Apple will be addressing some of the deployment problems in the coming year. Once device management becomes easier, schools can focus their efforts on realizing the promise of mobile devices for learning.

Sam Gliksman is an educational technology consultant and speaker. He is the author of the “iPad in Education for Dummies” series of books. Sam can be contacted at samgliksman@gmail.com or via Twitter at @SamGliksman.

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