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Evaluating Apple Configurator and its alternatives

IT's first step to deploy mobile devices is to configure them, so organizations will have to decide if Apple Configurator is enough or if they'll need more advanced features.

Countless Apple mobile devices serve as business endpoints in industries such as finance, healthcare, retail, pharmaceuticals and education, and IT admins need a way to configure these devices en masse quickly.

Without configuration from the IT admin, end-user devices cannot connect to an organization's resources, and many users can't get any work done without this access. Apple Configurator allows IT admins to deploy standardized settings to many devices from a single control point and tool set.

However, Apple Configurator requires a manual process that may not be suitable for all organizations. Organizations may want to find alternatives to Apple Configurator for mass device configuration. 

The downside of Apple Configurator

It is inefficient for IT administrators to configure each mobile device individually. For example, deploying hundreds of iPhones or iPads in a healthcare or retail setting requires a configuration method with minimal IT intervention. It often requires remote provisioning as well.

In this situation, Apple Configurator has several drawbacks. For one, IT administrators must download Apple Configurator from the macOS App Store onto a Mac device. But some IT organizations are exclusively Windows shops and are hesitant to deploy a Mac just to use Apple Configurator. Further, if they deploy a Mac, IT will have to maintain that device and make sure it gets proper updates and patches. In a single-use device scenario such as this, device maintenance is a manual process. This is a far cry from PCs in most organizations, which are connected to a unified endpoint management (UEM) platform.

There are other challenges with Apple Configurator. For example, with Apple Configurator, IT needs to manage devices by physically connecting them to a Mac desktop computer via a USB cable. It also lacks wireless remote configuration and batch capabilities, which presents a real challenge for organizations with many devices and different device models to configure. It would be nearly impossible for IT departments at large organizations to configure thousands of end-user devices manually.

Apple Configurator also lacks monitoring and reporting capabilities that many organizations use to track the progress and success of device deployments. IT typically uses these functionalities for any help desk and support needs. In addition, Apple Configurator lacks support for BYOD because it requires a factory reset on the device the first time IT connects it to the service. This would be a non-starter for most employees that want to use their own device and for organizations that encourage a BYOD model. For all of these reasons, Apple Configurator is not a good choice for most enterprise deployments, where IT deploys hundreds and thousands of devices.

Are there alternatives to Apple Configurator?

The Apple Configurator is not the only way to manage iOS and iPad devices. Larger organizations should look to other more comprehensive alternatives to Apple Configurator to enable mass Apple mobile device deployment. This mix of vendors and tools provides suitable replacements for enterprise IT administrators.

Hexnode

This vendor offers an MDM platform to manage iPhones, iPads, macOS devices and Windows devices from a single console. It provides IT admins the ability to process profiles and configure devices remotely over a wireless connection. Additionally, IT admins can perform these tasks with batch mode as well.

Apple Configurator is a good option for organizations that only need to deploy a limited number of Apple mobile devices such as iPhones and iPads.

Jamf

With Jamf products, IT administrators have a comprehensive MDM platform for all Apple products because Jamf is a leading vendor of Apple management tools. For example, the Jamf Now product is available for smaller organizations, and Jamf Pro targets enterprise-level management. IT admins can deploy Pro in the cloud. Jamf also integrates with Microsoft Intune and Azure Active Directory, extending both to MacOS. It's worth noting that, like Apple Configurator, Jamf only runs on the macOS platform.

Enhanced iMazing Configurator

The original iMazing platform provided tools for file transfers and backups and was essentially an enhancement to iTunes. The enhanced tool set in iMazing Configurator includes many app management and provisioning features that are available in Apple Configurator. This includes the ability to import and manage profiles as well as backup and restore. While the original iMazing platform runs on both PC and macOS, the enhanced platform only runs on macOS devices.

Other options

Many enterprise-class UEM products also support Apple device configuration, although not necessarily at the same level of management as Android or Windows PC devices. MobileIron, Citrix, VMware and even Microsoft Intune -- now Microsoft Endpoint Manager -- customers have access to a reasonable level of Apple device management with these platforms. Generally, these products are sufficient for organizations that want to maintain a single pane of glass for all device management functions. Further, many of these platforms support cloud-based and SaaS deployments, eliminating the need for installing an in-house management system.

When is Apple Configurator a good fit?

Apple Configurator is a good option for organizations that only need to deploy a limited number of Apple mobile devices such as iPhones and iPads. However, it is not a good option for organizations that need to provision and manage large numbers of devices, especially if they need to do so remotely.

There are better options for enterprise deployments that offer features and tools that are much more appropriate for IT managers. Finally, Apple Configurator does not offer the flexibility of deployment -- such as remote and SaaS options -- that many of its rivals provide. Organizations with larger deployments would do well to look for an alternative to Apple Configurator.

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