Apple VPP’s Flaming Hoops

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Published on: October 31, 2012

One thing I have zero patience for in technology is having to take extra steps for no reason at all beyond a developer somewhere lacking the discipline to solve a problem. I can sometimes let this slide in a beta product from a one-man, Open Source operation, but when it comes from a company like Apple, it just kills me.

In the big scheme of things, Apple’s Volume Purchase Plan is not as bad as some make it out to be. While breaking volume app purchasing process into several different components—the purchaser, the facilitator, and the user—seems cumbersome at first, it offers a lot of flexibility for a larger school or organization.

I even understand treating Apps as consumables. Sure, it’s easy to blame Apple greed for insisting companies and schools purchase several copies of apps every year. But keep in mind, the developers still get the lion’s share of the profits. If I’m a developer I’d be all over developing apps specifically for schools to purchase over and over and over.

No, these particular hoops comes into play when distributing apps via Apple Configurator.

Flaming Hoop Jump
“Just one more of these and Keynote will be on all the iPads!”

The basic process goes like this:

  1. Download spreadsheet of purchased codes
  2. Redeem one code to download the app in iTunes (ensuring you use the iTunes account for the devices in question!)
  3. Transfer the app to Apple Configurator
  4. Re-download the spreadsheet of purchased codes
  5. Import the spreadsheet of purchased codes into Configurator
  6. Install the app

My beefs are with both 2 and 4.

Step 2 is an example of where the whole Apple ID structure cripples things for deployments. This would be a non-issue if I could use Apple Configurator to download the app, but instead I have to use iTunes, and I have to sign out and sign in with different iTunes accounts to keep everything straight. While I’m sure Apple would love it if I purchased a Mac Mini or a MacBook to manage every group of iPads, that’s just not going to happen. Even if we had the money to burn, I’m not sure the expense makes sense just for the sake of convenience. With this single instance of Apple Configurator, I maintain three separate sets of iPads for three different buildings.

Apple: If we have a separate portal for purchasing hardware and apps, then why not just give us a whole separate portal for app management? Why push us to third-party MDM suites and drive up our costs for products we can already hardly afford?

Step 4 is just plain stupid. Re-download the spreadsheet to fool the app? That sounds like a hack someone discovered, not part of an official howto document. While Googling for this solution myself, I ran into a number of users on message boards with the same problem. The day after I figured it out, one of my colleagues in downstate Illinois ran into it, too.

I hear a lot of people say Apple “forced iPads down our throats” without it being ready. I’m not sure that’s entirely accurate, as I think it’s as much educators putting a high demand on iPads, and they may be asking iPads to do more than originally anticipated. And yes, there are large deployments out there dealing with this very same thing.

But that doesn’t change the fact that this is just a half-baked process at best. It’s only going to add to the confusion my teachers already experience. With all the talent at Apple, and all the effort going into iOS development in general, I find it hard to believe this is the best solution they could find (especially after my preliminary experiments with Amazon’s WhisperCast, which I’ll talk more about tomorrow).

Apple Configurator is a good start. Now make it the next-level management package it should be.

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