Apple Profile Manager has limited features, manages only iOS 5 devices and requires an OS X Lion Server back end. If you can get past all that, it seems like a pretty decent option to control the iPad and iPhone in the enterprise.
A standing-room only crowd of IT pros learned more about Apple Profile Manager during a session yesterday at the Macworld | iWorld conference here in San Francisco. Derick Okihara, Mac specialist technician at the Mid-Pacific Institute in Honolulu, explained its pros and cons and described how iOS management has improved over the years.
"In the beginning, it was really difficult to manage iOS devices," he said.
Apple Profile Manager, which is included in Lion Server, lets admins deploy in-house apps (and some App Store apps), set user policies, create VPN profiles and perform remote locks and wipes. It also gives IT the ability to restrict usage of apps, the device camera, iCloud and certain kinds of content. And these features are all available via a Web app, which means admins can use their own iPads to manage their users' iPads.
Despite these benefits, Okihara cautioned, "It doesn't do everything we might be looking for."
For example, IT can't use Apple Profile Manager to access and control users' devices to troubleshoot and fix problems. There's no way to block firmware and operating system updates. And it doesn't do backup, either.
"The only Apple way of doing backup now is through iTunes," Okihara said.
I suspect the bigger problem for most IT people will be the limited scope of Apple Profile Manager. For starters, Lion Server is a rare species in enterprise data centers. Sure, you may decide that the price of one Lion Server license is more attractive than the annual per-device cost of some other mobile device management products, as Okihara pointed out. But even then, you're buying something that doesn't manage Android or BlackBerry or Windows Phone or any other device your users may have.
If your company has an iPhone or iPad enterprise deployment, that's not a problem. But if you're a BYOD shop, Apple Profile Manager can't be a total solution.
For more Macworld coverage, check out my story on Apple enterprise support.