In this blog post I will outline some of the announcements made by Apple regarding iOS 9.3 and how I feel they could impact schools.
Apple announced in early January 2016 a preview of some the upcoming features that the iOS 9.3 update will bring; techy people like me are always very interested in ways which can make administering and managing iOS devices easier and more streamlined.
No time-frame was given regarding the release of this update and no mention of what features we will be getting over here in the UK. Because of the different model of sales Apple adopts in the USA, some features traditionally are either not available in the UK or they arrive later.
Shared iPads for Students
This is a huge change. For Apple the iPad has always been a personal 1:1 device, but they have clearly realised that not every school can afford this.
Tools for a shared iPad deployment have now been developed to make this possible.
Whilst specifics are not available it appears that students will be able to log into an iPad using an Apple ID, or selecting themselves from a class list (using a Photo ID) and entering a password. Once logged in students will be able to access their apps and documents, which will be pre-downloaded on to the device using smart caching.
Whilst this all sounds great in theory, there are no technical details available at the moment to see how this will work in practice… e.g. How can a device pre-cache many diferent students documents when most devices in education settings here in the UK are 16GB models, many of which are already lacking storage after installing educational apps.
Classroom App –
Apple have listened to feedback about classroom management when using iPads and have developed a classroom manager app.
This new iOS app will allow teachers to remotely monitor what is being displayed on their students iPad screens. It will allow teachers to remotely launch and lock students into apps and it will also enable teachers to display students work remotely on an Apple TV.
There is also going to be the facility to reset student logins.
These features are going to be so useful in the classroom, up til now there has been no really easy/automated way to lock students into an app. It has been a manual process using Guided Access or enabling Single App Mode using a MDM server, neither of which are a very simple thing to do en masse for a teacher whilst trying to teach.
The only issue I can forsee especially in the UK is whether these features will require changes to be made to a school’s network, especially for the Classroom App.
Changes like these have been a roadblock for many schools in the past as they are usually on a managed service contract with their LEA and convincing any enterprise network administrator to make changes to their network and/or their firewalls can be tricky at best.
Apple School Manager –
This appears to be a replacement for the Volume Purchase Programme portal and combines several other features.
The current VPP store has been in need of a revamp for a while and has some frustrations like only being able to buy one app at a time, if the replacement has a ‘shopping basket’ for purchasing multiple apps that would be very useful.
This new portal should also have the facility to bulk create new Managed Apple IDs (more on that later), manage users, manage MDM enrolment and appears to integrate iTunesU for course creation.
There is also mention of integration with a school’s MIS (like SIMS) for syncronisation of user information.
Managed Apple IDs
Through the school manager portal, these new Managed Apple IDs can be created which are institutionally created Apple IDs which the school has administrative control over.
Up until now there has been no official way to create Apple IDs in bulk, it was either a manual process or a scripted process which would fail everytime iTunes was updated.
Neither was officially supported by Apple, but you were able to log a support call and Apple would whitelist your schools email domain or public IP address to allow you to create multiple Apple IDs. If this new portal removes the need for this, then that is very good news indeed.
With the rise of Chromebooks in the education sector, Apple have been on the back foot in some regards, especially with management and deployment tools and with these announcements they are trying to get back in the race.
What is not clear at the moment is whether these new features will require Supervision or enrolment in the Device Enrolment Programme (DEP), I am going to assume that they will. So for existing devices the migration to these new features may require some planning and may involve a little pain.
What is also unclear is whether Apple is planning to give more that the current 5GB of free iCloud storage to these new Managed Apple IDs and education users; for contrast Google gives all education users unlimited storage.
So to sum up; these features are what admins like me have been shouting for since the iPad took off so wildly in the education sector, if they come to Britain and all work properly then the world of iOS management will change completely.
Martyn Hancock – Technical Manager