Apple TV just got much better enterprise management support. Will this open new use cases?

tvOS 10.2 works with DEP and has more MDM APIs, and Jamf is the first to EMM to provide support. Now, will companies start using the Apple TV for more than just connecting to displays?

In the past, we’ve idly mused about the idea of using the Apple TV as a thin client, but Apple TV it has some more concrete enterprise opportunities, thanks to the tvOS update that came out yesterday.

For years, companies with a lot of Macs have been using Apple TVs to connect to conference room displays. (They also show up regularly in school classrooms.) The only management options have been to do everything manually through the UI, or to use the few MDM capabilities that came out in 2013. With the older MDM capabilities, you had to connect Apple TVs to a Mac via USB, then you could use Apple Configurator to reset the OS, rename the device, and choose the language, as well as install configuration profiles for MDM enrollment, WiFi, and certificates. After the initial provisioning process, you could update these settings remotely.

Apple TV got support for third-party apps with the release of tvOS 9.0 on the 4th-generation hardware in 2015, but it wasn’t until yesterday with tvOS 10.2 that it got better management options. Here’s what’s new, via Apple’s documentation:

  • Apple TVs now work with the Device Enrollment Program, and a Mac is no longer required to enroll them in management. Instead, if you buy your Apple TVs from an eligible reseller and have MDM in place, they can be configured so that they enroll automatically as part of the Setup Assistant process. And if you connect them via ethernet, you don’t even have to touch the UI at all—just plug them in, and they’ll take care of everything on their own.
  • You can install enterprise apps and then lock them down to single app mode; set restrictions around AirPlay and the Apple TV Remote app; and send commands for to restart or remote wipe.
  • There’s also a conference room mode that loads a specified screen saver and message.
  • Besides WiFi and certificate profiles, Apple TVs now also support a Global HTTP Proxy profile.

Obviously, these features are a win out of the gate because they’ll save a lot of time for anybody that has to deploy more than a handful of Apple TVs. You’re going from needing an IT admin to unbox and enroll every device using a Mac, to just sending them straight from the distributor to the end users.

However, considering the other new management features, combined with Apple TV’s existing support for third-party apps, some other new use cases are also coming along, like digital signage or kiosks.

I caught up with Dean Hager, CEO of Jamf, the first EMM to launch support, to find out what their customers had in mind. They already have a customer deploying a custom conference room management app, and in another case, a third-party app maker is working on a hotel room concierge app, with Jamf as a partner.

To me, it seems like relying on the Apple TV Siri Remote as the only form of input could be a liability for kiosks; most users won’t be accustomed to swiping the surface of a remote, plus it’s small and easy to lose. Though these days Apple TV supports Bluetooth keyboards, the iOS external accessory framework, and HomeKit, so I wouldn’t be surprised if somebody worked up alternate ways to interface with it.

Side note: Here are, we have a soft spot for alternative thin client ideas, so this got me wondering if there was any reason why Citrix couldn’t make an X1 Mouse and Receiver for Apple TV. (The X1 Mouse gets around Apple’s lack of mouse support by functioning as a custom Bluetooth accessory for specific apps.) With better MDM support, maybe this idea becomes attractive? (Again, if it’s possible. I’ll have to ask around at Synergy.)

Another thing to keep in mind is that Google is also working on management features for Android and Chrome OS to work in kiosk and digital signage use cases, and of course that brings more options for cheaper or ruggedized devices.

The bottom line is that Apple TV is way easier to deploy now, and that’s great news, even if it’s only used for AirPlaying to displays. But now the door is also open for more diverse enterprise use cases with MDM + tvOS apps, and that’s good news, too.

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