Is Apple about to unveil an MDM service with Apple School Manager? A look at the updates in iOS 9.3

Back in January, Apple revealed a preview of new education features, including multi-user iPads and Apple School Manager.

Back in January, Apple revealed a preview of new education features, including multi-user iPads and Apple School Manager. Apple School Manager apparently does a few MDM-related tasks, and last week an article on Seeking Alpha said “the enterprise MDM market may never be the same.” This caused a bit of buzz. (Well, among the hardcore EMM crowd, at least.) On top of that the betas for iOS 9.3 and Apple Configurator 2.2 beta have revealed a few other new MDM features; and according to rumors Apple is about to have an event to announce a new smaller iPhone.

With everything going on, now is a good time to look into all these new features.

New features for Education

From the preview page:

Shared iPad for students This is the multi user profile management framework people have been asking for years. This will be huge for schools.

New Classroom app This allows teachers to control devices, including: screen view (i.e. session shadowing); launch and lock apps; control Airplay; and reset passwords. Appears to be built off of existing features for MDM and Supervised features. This just adds a teacher-friendly UI in front of it. JAMF and AirWatch already have similar products.

Apple School Manager According to Apple, this is “One login. One Location. Everything you need to use iPad in schools.” Features include:

  • Create Managed Apple IDs and enroll district IT administrators
  • Integration with schools’ “Student Information Systems” to create accounts and groups
  • Purchase and distribute apps and books with the VPP
  • Integration with with iTunes U
  • “Manage MDM enrollment for all your devices: Quickly find devices your district has purchased through Apple or a reseller. You can also oversee MDM server information, configure enrollment settings, and streamline device setup.” 

Managed Apple IDs Apple’s description says: “Easily create and manage student and teacher IDs [...] Like any Apple ID, they allow you to store documents in iCloud, enroll in iTunes U courses, and more. But Managed Apple IDs are designed just for schools, so you can easily reset passwords, audit accounts, create IDs in bulk, and create customized roles for everyone in the district.”

What does this mean?

Here’s some of the context: Apple has been making this march forward and having steady enterprise progress in every single version of iOS. More recently its enterprise ambitions have been more public: There’s the IBM relationship; they’ve talked about it on earnings calls; they listed the AppConfig Community program on their website; and I’ve heard a bunch of vendors referencing something called the Apple Mobility Partner Program. So enterprise progress is happening, in the Apple way.

So now one of the major questions is how partners are involved in Apple School Manager and the Classroom app. From the brief description on the preview page, it’s not clear what’s going on. As I see it, there are three options:

  1. Apple School Manager relies on a third-party MDM service, just like most of Apple’s other EMM efforts.
  2. Apple is white-labelling an existing EMM product, and reselling it through the Apple School Manager portal.
  3. Apple actually built an MDM service on their own. (Remember they also have Profile Server and Apple Configurator.)

If the answer is option 1, then it’s business as usual and all the EMM vendors get take advantage of all the new features. But this seems somewhat unlikely considering how Apple emphasized how integrated and easy everything will be.

If the answer is option 2, then congratulations to whoever the partner is. I wouldn’t be surprised if it ended up being JAMF or IBM, though Apple could also be working with AirWatch or MobileIron or all of them.

If the answer is option 2 or option 3, then what’s the effect on the rest of the EMM industry? While the Seeking Alpha article said “the enterprise MDM market may never be the same,” I don’t agree. EMM and EUC vendors do way more than just MDM for iOS. And as of right now this is just for education customers, a small segment of the EMM market.

Coming to the enterprise soon?

The next question is which of these new features and tools will come to the enterprise. I can’t think of any other Apple MDM features or tools that are limited to just education, so maybe these will roll out to the enterprise eventually; but on the other hand we could be seeing a new precedent here.

Multi-user iPads would certainly be useful to the enterprise, but I don’t actually think it would be earth shattering. Companies can already implement multi user support directly in apps, or they can just use Android—especially for kiosks and embedded devices where they might not want to pay the premium for an iPad.

(Now of course multi-user would be huge for families, allowing kids and parents to all have their own settings and apps on a shared iPad, but I’m sure Apple would rather families solve that problem by buying more iPads instead.)

Managed Apple IDs could make a lot of sense for the enterprise—Apple has already been making the Volume Purchase Program and IDs easier to work with, so this is another step. I assume that any new underlying functionality in these systems will be exposed to the enterprise and EMM vendors soon.

Now the final question: If Apple School Manager means Apple is getting into the MDM service business, and if it’s eventually extended to the enterprise side as well, what does this mean? Again, I’m not sure it means too much. EMM vendors do a lot more than just MDM. At most, this means that now there would just be one more option (among many others) for small companies that just need basic MDM and support for Volume Purchase Program, Device Enrollment Program, and Apple ID management.

Other new iOS 9.3 MDM features

There are several new features coming that only apply to Supervised devices:

  • Real blacklisting and whitelisting for apps.
  • Configure homescreen layout
  • Block iTunes Radio
  • Prevent users from changing notifications settings

Keep in mind that Supervised mode is a special set of MDM functionality that only works on devices that are purchased through the Device Enrollment Program or that are provisioned through Apple Configurator, which requires a physical presence and USB connection. It’s not like IT could apply these to a BYOD device enrolled in just regular MDM.

For regular MDM, iOS 9.3 adds:

  • Manage notifications. IT admins can do this for any app by specifying the bundle identifier. This will be good for regulated customers.
  • Control over Safari password management.

Final note

For all of the new Education features, we’ll just have to wait to see how EMM partners are involved, and then wait to see what features come over to the enterprise side.

There are still some use cases that all of these Apple MDM features can’t deal with, but Apple is doing a good job of delivering a steady stream of new enterprise features. Is there anything you want Apple to add, or anything in here that you want to use in your environment? Let us know in the comments!

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