Apple @ Work is brought to you by Jamf, the Apple management standard. Learn more at Jamf.com/9to5mac.??19199009002. Over the past few weeks I have looked at various tips and tricks for mobile device management systems. If you are new to the MDM world, this is how you manage devices in bulk. Whether managing a few or thousands of devices, an MDM solution can be useful. It lets you push out distribution devices without touching them, installing configuration policies, and installing and managing applications remotely.
This week I wanted to talk about the application management process with MDMs. Apple has changed this process over the years, and it has become an absolute pleasure to manage and install apps on macOS and iOS through MDMs. In the first few days of iOS management, we had to use iTunes to load content onto iPads (no, I'm not kidding). Installing yet another application was painfully slow, and you won't know how slow iTunes went during the process of updating iOS. There was almost no chance that I would install anything other than major updates to iOS because it took so long.
From there, we moved to MDM-based app installs that came over the air. IT teams enjoyed this because it meant you didn't have to touch every device. The downside to this is that it required end-user acceptance with the device's App Store account. This was a problem for kiosk units, units for younger children in K-12 and other multi-use scenarios. But one of the major benefits of this system was that Apple took the opportunity to revoke licenses and take them back. This meant that if you only needed an app for a short time on groups of devices, you could distribute it, let them use it for a period of time, and then bring it back to your app library.
 A few years ago (iOS 9 or later, or macOS 10.11), Apple moved to a new app authorization mechanism, and it was called Device Based App Assignment. This method allows the MDM administrator to distribute apps to a device, and the end user does not need to do anything to receive the application. As before, the app can also be revoked at any time. The only downside to this model is that if a user has an iPhone and an iPad, they will only have access to the app on the device it was assigned via MDM. Device based app assignment is perfect for kiosk distributions, K-12 and corporate users.
We are now in a place with app installs on macOS and iOS where everything is just about perfect. The process of the Volume Purchasing store transferring licenses to the MDM is happening in the background. My MDM and VPP store are connected via a symbol that I must renew on an annual basis. Apple built the system so that the licenses are ultimately with them, so I could switch MDM vendors in the future without losing all my licenses. Once in the MDM (this process can take anywhere from one minute to five minutes on average), I can then go through the process of installing the app. While different MDM providers will present the UI differently, they generally do the same with app installs. I have the option to install it on a specific group of iPads or leave it in self-service. Self Service is a dedicated app store that schools and businesses can have. I always force the installation so that users do not have to search for the applications.
My only workflow barriers I still have with app installs on macOS and iOS have to do with in-app purchases. Apple still doesn't have a way to remotely unlock IAP content. Fortunately, many applications that require IAP offer a paid amount version that unlocks everything from the beginning. Overall, the current model for managing and distributing apps via MDM is reliable and efficient, and there's not much else you could want from an IT system.
I sometimes get asked if an MDM is needed for smaller deployments (under 10 devices), but I think app management is the killer feature that makes it worth it. With tools like Jamf Now available to small businesses, there is no reason for companies to spend time deploying and managing devices without top MDM.
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