The term smartphone doesn’t mean the same thing it did just a few years ago. In the past, a phone that was smart could send and receive email, help you manage your appointments or tasks, and perhaps provide some basic applications, such as a calculator or games. Now, smartphones can be a complete OS platform, ready to complete any task that you program it to run. Many times, using the phone is an afterthought, as there are literally tens of thousands of applications (many of which are free) that can be installed on smartphones.

IT professionals need to start thinking about how these mini-computer platforms can help them do their jobs and better serve their customers. This “ah ha” moment came to me recently when my employer, Eastern Washington University, purchased 20 Apple iPod touch devices for my staff. An iPod touch is basically an iPhone, minus the cellular capability. For less than $230 a piece (and no recurring monthly charges), each technician received a tool that had wireless capability, could send and receive email, and had easy Internet browsing for researching problems. But that’s just the start. We added a free Cisco Systems application named Cisco Mobile 8.1 that turns iPods, iPhones, and iPads—aka “iThings”—into VoIP phones (with the proper backend support). We also added a free application that lets us access tickets from the university’s help desk tool, Web Help Desk. Finally, we added Text Now, a free texting application that the Web Help Desk uses to alert technicians when they have a high priority ticket in the queue. In a nutshell, we created a very powerful tool for very little money, thanks to one of my top technicians, Kerwin, who came with the idea. His forward thinking has saved the university thousands of dollars.

Just like deploying multiple PCs, deploying multiple iThings requires some additional planning and steps. Mass deployments can be broken down into three stages:

  1. Activation
  2. Application deployment
  3. Configuration

If you have a lot of devices (e.g., 100) to deploy, you might want to dedicate a computer (PC or Mac) for each stage. It can be helpful to place each computer on a large table. The devices can then be passed from one table to the next in an assembly-line fashion.

For 10 or 20 devices, you might want to use just one computer. You’ll have to decide which method will be the most efficient for your environment.

 

Stage 1: Activation

Before you begin activating the iThings, I recommend that you turn them on all at once. This will save you time because you won’t have to wait for each one to boot up.

To activate each iThing, you need to connect it to a computer that’s running iTunes, which you can download at www.apple.com/itunes. The activation is much easier and faster if iTunes is in activation-only mode. To enable this mode on a Windows computer, follow these steps:

  1. Use Task Manager to verify that iTunes isn’t running. If iTunes isn’t completely shut down, the command given in step 2 won’t work.
  2. Open a command prompt window and run the command

"C:\Program Files\iTunes\iTunes.exe"
 /setPrefInt StoreActivationMode 1

Although this command wraps here, you'd enter it all on one line. The same holds true for the other commands that wrap.

Here are the steps to enable the activation-only mode on a Mac OS X computer:

  1. Use Activity Monitor to make sure iTunes isn’t running.
  2. Open Terminal and run the command
defaults write com.apple.iTunes 
StoreActivationMode -integer 1

After iTunes is in activation-only mode, connect the first iThing to the computer. A message will appear noting that iTunes doesn’t support syncing, as Figure 1 shows. This message appears because you turned off syncing when you enabled the activation-only mode. Click OK.

Figure 1: Warning message that pops up during activation Figure 1: Warning message that pops up during activation

If everything is working correctly, the iThing should activate immediately. (There’s no wizard to go through.) When you see a message like that in Figure 2, you can disconnect the device.

Figure 2: Message noting a successful activation Figure 2: Message noting a successful activation

Repeat this procedure for the remaining iThings. After all the devices are activated, proceed to stage 2.

 

Stage 2: Application Deployment

It’s now time to install the applications using iTunes. However, iTunes needs syncing support to do this, so you first need to take iTunes out of activation-only mode. To disable this mode on a Windows computer, open a command prompt window and run the command

"C:\Program Files\iTunes\iTunes.exe"
/setPrefInt StoreActivationMode 0

To disable this mode on a Mac OS X computer, open Terminal and run the command

defaults delete com.apple.iTunes
StoreActivationMode

Next, download the desired applications from the iTunes Store using a generic company account that doesn’t have a credit card associated with it. You can find instructions on how to do so at support.apple.com/kb/ht2534. Using a generic account is important because applications that are ghosted to other devices are permanently tied to this account, even if you log into iTunes on the device with your own account. This is a limitation of the Apple iOS that might be fixed in future releases.

Now, connect the first iThing to the computer and perform the following steps in iTune:

  1. Click Register Later.
  2. Agree to the licensing terms and click Agree.
  3. If prompted for the locator services, click Not Now.
  4. Sync the applications to the device when prompted.
  5. Arrange the application icons the way you want.
  6. Sync one final time. You’ll use this configuration to image the rest of the devices. You can think of this as your “master Ghost image”.
  7. Back up the device so that it can be restored to the other devices. Do this by clicking the device in iTunes while pressing the Ctrl key, then choosing Backup.
  8. Clear the Open iTunes when this is connected check box. This will prevent iTunes and the iPhone Configuration Utility from interfering with each other during stage 3.
  9. Disconnect the device.

To deploy the applications to the remaining iThings, follow these steps:

  1. Connect the device to the computer.
  2. Click Never Register or Register Later.
  3. Agree to the licensing terms and choose Continue.
  4. Choose Restore from backup. Note that if the device has already been provisioned, restore by clicking the device in iTunes while pressing the Ctrl key, then choosing Restore.
  5. Clear the Open iTunes when this is connected check box.
  6. Leave the device connected to the computer and iTunes while the device reboots so that it syncs one final time.
  7. Disconnect the device.

Stage 3: Configuration

In the last stage, you configure the iThings for your specific business needs by creating a Configuration Profile. You can think of the Configuration Profile as a Group Policy Object (GPO) for iThings. For example, you can create a Configuration Profile that:

  • Requires users to enter a passcode. You can require users to create a passcode that’s alphanumeric or a minimum length.
  • Turns off the device after a specified number of seconds to save battery life and prevent unintended operation.
  • Imposes media restrictions, such as not allowing movies or television shows.
  • Allows synchronization with Microsoft Exchange and provides the settings (e.g., Exchange server address, domain) to do so.

To create the Configuration Profile, you need to use the iPhone Configuration Utility, which you can download for free from support.apple.com/kb/DL851. After you install the utility on your Windows or Mac OS X computer, click Configuration Profiles and configure each applicable section. You don’t have to configure every section, as Figure 3 shows. For example, you can skip the VPN section if there are no VPN settings to configure. You can find detailed information on how to configure the sections in the “iPad in Business” web page.

Figure 3: Sections in the Configuration Profile
Figure 3: Sections in the Configuration Profile

After you’re done configuring the profile, click Export. Leave the security set to Sign configuration profile. Save the profile with a name that identifies its purpose.

Next, connect one of the iThings to the computer. In the iPhone Configuration Utility, click the device’s name under DEVICES. Choose the appropriate Configuration Profile and click Install. Disconnect the device. Repeat this procedure for the rest of the iThings.

At this point, the Configuration Profiles are installed on the devices but they haven’t been implemented. Users must click Install on their devices (see Figure 4) and provide the requested information before the profile is actually implemented and enforced. For example, if the profile allows synchronization with Exchange, users are asked to provide their email address and password.

Figure 4: Configuration Profile implementation
Figure 4: Configuration Profile implementation

That’s it. You’ve now successfully mass deployed multiple iThings.