When I started deploying iOS in my school in 2010, the process we went through to set up devices and deploy apps was exactly the same process that I went through to set up my personal iPad. That process was never going to scale beyond 100 or so devices. Today, iOS deployment has become far more professionalised and far more scaleable.
iOS 7 actually did a ton of work to improve this area of iOS management. It introduced Managed Distribution--the ability to deploy apps to devices over the air--and the Device Enrollment Program that hooks your own management tools into the iOS Setup Assistant.
What iOS 8 brings to the table, by comparison, is smaller but still very welcome.
Firstly, there are new Mobile Device Management (MDM) controls and queries. An MDM query allows a management server to interrogate the device to find out something about its state. One that I will use heavily is the ability to discover when a device last backed up to iCloud. This will allow me to be alerted by my management server when students run into trouble with their iCloud backups and help them.
iOS 7 introduced a Web-filter restriction. This restriction, if applied, would enable a content filter that worked at the lowest levels of the iOS networking stack to filter out objectionable content. The problem was that the way iOS decided what was, and was not, objectionable was both extremely crude and almost totally non-configurable. iOS 8 introduces the ability for third-party developers to hook into this system and provide content filtering.
Apple TV has become de rigueur for many schools making heavy use of iOS, but it has always been a little difficult to manage them on large school networks. iOS 7 introduced some new capabilities to make this easier, but it wasn't quite the breakthrough it needed to be.
Last year, Apple added the ability to use Bluetooth to allow an iOS device to discover that it was close to an Apple TV. This eliminated one problem with discovering Apple TV across a large network, but you still needed to be able to send traffic between the iOS device and the Apple TV across that network. This was a problem for many schools where, for example, the student network and the staff network were isolated from each other.
iOS 8 promises to eliminate this problem entirely by, well, eliminating the need for a network between the two devices. Whereas iOS 7 had peer-to-peer discovery, iOS 8 has peer-to-peer discovery and playback.
This is important in several areas. Firstly, those schools with complex networks no longer need to find workarounds to accommodate Apple TV. Secondly, those schools with no networks can still buy and use Apple TV in the classroom. Thirdly (and this is dear to my heart as a travelling consultant), visitors to the school will not need to sneak onto the network just to use the Apple TV.
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