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Apple Configurator offers easy iOS deployment from OS X

Apple's new utility for OS X allows you to configure and deploy iPads and other iOS devices for office and school environments.

Apple's iPads and other iOS devices have become some of the most popular electronics out there for consumers, and schools and businesses.

While the iPad is excellent for quick access to portable tools to use in a laboratory, office, or classroom, one problem is managing all the iPads that are available and restricting features on them to work properly with your needs.

The iPad is built to be associated with one person and then customized by that person for his or her needs; however, depending on your business setup you may wish to restrict the iPad for specific purposes. For instance, if you work with sensitive information, then while the iPad might be useful for taking notes and organizing your employee's workflow, the presence of the camera and Internet access might be a security concern. In classrooms you may wish to limit Web access and have only educational tools available on the device.

Apple Configurator profile settings
With the new tool you can impose restrictions within the profile that you assign to the devices (click for larger view). Screenshot by Topher Kessler/CNET

To tackle these needs, on Wednesday Apple released its free Apple Configurator utility for OS X, which allows you to use your Mac to create custom profiles for iOS devices and deploy them to users in your workplace. You can now address deployment frustrations by creating various profiles for the devices (such as one for office workers, and others for bosses and supervisors) that offer restrictions to hardware such as cameras and built-in services like FaceTime or the App Store, and also which allow you to specify which Apps can be used. When the profile is set up, you can then supervise the devices using it and make adjustments to the profile that are applied the next time the device is connected to the Mac (do keep in mind the device is wiped when updated in this way).

The last option the Configurator program offers is user and group assignments. You can set up lists of employees or students and assign different devices to them using check-out and check-in routines, save documents created by users on their devices, and even preview them if needed.

To an extent, Apple Configurator is similar to the OS X Server's Open Directory options for managing multiple Macs in a workgroup. If you are familiar with OS X Server or even have used the basic OS X Parental Controls and have created restricted and custom Mac accounts and system setups, then similar principles apply with the Configurator.

While the Configurator does run on OS X, it so far is fairly separate from many of the services built into the OS. For instance, it does not interface with any settings in iTunes, and requires you to create a separate list of available users instead of accessing the system's directory or your Address Book contacts for user and group information. Despite this, the program is relatively easy to use and should offer robust deployment options for employers, teachers, or other supervisors who have a Mac available through which to manage their iOS devices.

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