iPad deployment: First school iPad deployment with iOS 5 step by step

Recently I have been doing a lot of research on what the workflow to deploy a number of iPads at a school would look like. I discovered there are lots of resources on the internet that focus on how they will be used in the classrooms, but there was not much that I was able to find on the best practices in the steps taken to prepare them for use. Based on some research, I put down on paper an order of steps that I thought made sense and worked on a small deployment of about 40 iPads. I learned a lot from that deployment and made some modifications to my plan. This week I worked on another deployment of 30 iPads running a beta of iOS 5 and a cart, where I was able to fine tune the steps that I was following. While there was a little back peddling and troubleshooting a few steps that did not go as well as I would have hoped, the following article describes the steps that did work well and the order in which I took them.

Step 1. Naming conventions. Through numerous discussions we decided that each device could be set up with a generic email account. These devices would be shared with different users throughout the day and the use of device based email would be an easy way for teachers to deliver materials to the devices and allow students to easily hand things back to the teacher or collaborate with other students. Also, because Canada does not have access to the App Store Volume Purchase Program from Apple yet, individual email addresses would be required to set up iTunes accounts for each device. So we registered a new domain with Google apps and set up 30 email accounts, one for each device. We then setup an email account for the site iPad admin, and a generic teacher email account.

Using these new accounts we created an iTunes account for the iPad admin using a school credit card for purchases, and 30 iTunes accounts using the 30 device based email addresses. These 30 iTunes accounts were setup with no credit card information. All purchases would be made by the ipadadmin iTunes account. Because you can only purchase an item once with an iTunes account, you could gift an app from the iPadadmin account to the 30 device accounts. This way we are not violating any license agreements and making sure that developers are getting paid for their hard work.

Later on when unpacking and setting up the devices, they will be labeled with the email address associated to that device and named the same as well.

While at this stage we also set up a mobile me account so we could use the “find my iPad” feature.

Step 2. The Bretford cart was unpacked and assembled. All of the iPads were unpacked, labeled, and placed into the cart. They were all powered on as they were placed in the cart to speed up the activation process.

Step 3. The sync station was set up. Because the school wanted to try out iOS 5, the beta of iTunes and the iOS were downloaded and installed on the laptop. In our case we are using a macbook pro as our sync station. We downloaded and installed Xcode and used it to upgrade the os on all of the device to iOS 5.

Step 4. One at a time, we plugged in each iPad to activate and register the devices. Having previously set up the ipadadmin iTunes account with the address of the school saved us a lot of time as we were able to pull this information from an existing apple id. The device was named and then the iTunes sync prefs for the device were set before moving on to the next device. Don’t be tempted to turn on wireless syncing at this time as it caused no end of headaches during other parts of this process.

Step 5. Configuration profiles. We decided that building a master iPad, backing it up and then restoring it to all the other devices did not gain us much, as many of the device settings we wanted would not actually transfer during a restore because they required a password or other authorization. We decided to focus our efforts on building configuration profiles for as many of these settings as we could and then manually setting those that we could not configure with a profile.

We created a single profile with the wireless network name and password, a single profile with a few restrictions, and then a profile for each email account; each device would receive its own profile.

Because you must interact with the device during the installation of a profile, installing them while plugged into the cart was cumbersome. I purchased a drink 7 port usb 2 hub for this purpose. I plugged 7 iPads into the hub, applied the wireless config profile to all of them, then like an assembly line, interacted with the screen on each iPad to complete the install. You must complete the install of the profile before a second profile can be added. Then the restriction profile was added to each of these 7, and finally the profile containing the email account for each device was installed. Earlier I warned you about enabling wireless syncing. I had enabled it and had duplicate devices showing up in the list of devices and had nothing but problems trying to apply profiles. It wasn’t until I turned it off that I was able to apply all the profiles without trouble.

Step 6. Because the configuration profiles were applied through usb, iTunes will force you to provide a password to encrypt each backup during the sync step. Once all of the iPads had their config profiles installed I plugged the iPads all back into the cart and synced each one, providing for each device when prompted, a password to encrypt the backup. At this point I enabled the wireless syncing option for each iPad in iTunes. After 1 more sync it would now sync wirelessly as long as it was plugged into power. The cart would now not need to be plugged into the sync station in order to sync with the iPads.

Step 7. Manual settings. There were a few settings that we had to do manually. We entered the mobile me account in the iCloud setup and enabled find my iPad. And we enabled auto downloads of purchased apps. During this process we downloaded ibooks, entered the ipadadmin account, and authorized the account with the 3 digit security code on the back of the original credit card used. Now when you purchased an app on the sync station, it would automatically download on all the iPads as long as they were connected to the internet.

Thats it. They are now ready for teachers and staff to decide what apps they will be installing on them. App placement and folders can be managed in iTunes and will be adjusted when synced.

UPDATE…We recently disabled automatic download of apps and books on all of the devices as it was too much of a strain on the network. This was discovered when a rather large app was selected for download and all thirty devices decided to download it as well at the same time.