Tablets need work before being deployed into the school yard

Just a couple weeks ago Apple announced they were bringing text books to the iPad. Even though I believe it will be a long time, if ever, that we see a good number of schools being able to go to a digital format for text books, this was definitely a step in the right direction. However I feel that tablets have a long way to go before being truly viable in schools, or even in the workplace. The reason for this is pretty simple. Neither Apple or Android have a good way to lock down a lot of the settings and options in their tablets. Now this hasn’t stopped lots of schools and companies from trying to get on board, but that doesn’t mean that it couldn’t be drastically improved.

I work IT at a charter school and through a grant they just got 60 iPad 2s. I spent most of my day today trying to figure out how we can make it so that the kids can’t get into the settings menu. After spending a good few hours searching the internet for an app or some hidden setting we overlooked, we gave up. I did find an app that could possibly do what we wanted, but the iPad had to be jailbroken. When I got home I did a little research about doing the same kind of thing with Android tablets. I came across a lot of the same kind of threads of people asking the question of how to lock down their tablet. It seems that it doesn’t matter if it is Android or Apple, there is just not a lot of good ways to secure a tablet. This is something that needs to change if tablets are going to become commonplace in either schools or the workplace.

Some people may be wondering why you would need to lock users out of certain settings on tablets. Well you would need to do that for the same reason that companies lock down their networks. On a computer network you can pretty much lock down anything you want, and the end user can only do what you want them to do. The reason for needing to do this is simple. When you control what the user can and can’t do on a machine, you greatly limit the number of problems that machine has. Some people just don’t know any better than to be downloading software from a bad site, or in the case of kids they just might be curious about what certain settings do, or maybe kids or adults just hate their schools or jobs and want to be hateful towards the piece of equipment they have that doesn’t belong to them. Whatever the reason, there is a real need to be able to lock down computers and tablets.

In my research today one thing I found out is that by either rooting an Android tablet, or jailbreaking an iPad, you can achieve the level of security that is needed. This isn’t good enough however because most schools and companies are not going to want to void the warranties on $30,000 worth of tablets just to achieve the security measures they want. Instead they will just give them to the IT guys to reset whenever they get too messed up, because it’s cheaper that way and they don’t know any better. Hopefully Android and Apple developers see the need for this to be fixed and create a solution for it, before schools and companies give up on tablets and buy more laptops instead.

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Bryan Faulkner

Bryan Faulkner is a former associate editor at Pocketables. He loves to find new ways to use his tablets while working as the Tech Director at his local church. Mixing sound from the iPad is his newest obsession. He currently has a pair of HP TouchPads, an iPad 2, a decommissioned HTC EVO 4G, and a Samsung Galaxy Note II to tinker with.

11 thoughts on “Tablets need work before being deployed into the school yard

  • February 7, 2012 at 4:44 pm
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    Bryan,

    I too am facing the same problem with a school whose network I look after.

    I would like to see some sort of app which provides Active Directory integration – I cant see it happening on the iPad –

    If you do ever come across any way of doing this, or centrally administering tablets for a central server, I would appreciate it if you could forward any info on the subject!

    My email is denis[at!]everythingit.ie

    Thanks,
    Denis

    Reply
  • February 7, 2012 at 10:08 pm
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    Hey Denis! The only real tool I found that helped with setting up the iPads I was working with is called the iPhone Configuration Utility. You can download it from this link: http://www.apple.com/support/iphone/enterprise/

    I read that there is a way to manage them all wirelessly, but we decided not to pursue that route. I believe it was called Mobile Device Management, and there was a way to manage them through a wireless network. We might move to that eventually, but we want to see what kind of problems and concerns come up since this is a new adventure for both the school and IT guys.

    Reply
  • February 13, 2012 at 4:08 pm
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    Where is the problem, if there is an easy (and fast) way to factory reset the tablet ?(there’s one on my Asus Transformer)

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    • February 13, 2012 at 8:52 pm
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      The school I am working for has 60 iPads. To factory reset and reinstall all the apps takes at least 7-10 minutes per iPad. That’s at least 7 hours to reset all of them. It is a much better idea to lock them all down in the first place so they don’t need to be reset at all.

      Reply
  • February 14, 2012 at 1:37 pm
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    I would have thought that a factory reset was anyway an extreme case… How are you going to understand how an OS works if access to settings is forbidden ? It’s like IT people compulsive need to control everything, beginning with internet filtering (oh my God, our children could have access to the real life… sexual content, or even pedophile content). Let’s hide those horrible things.
    Education means discussing (even difficult) themes the children are faced with, even out of school. Especially for children who are not lucky enough to be able to discuss it with relatives.
    Excuse my bad english.

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    • February 14, 2012 at 7:21 pm
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      Factory reset isn’t really that big of a deal on an iPad. It just deletes all the settings and takes you back to the initial first time setup. If you have a back up already done, it takes just a few minutes to reload that up.

      IT people have a need to control everything because in my experience most people aren’t smart enough to not screw something up on their computer. And when they do screw something up, who do they call? The IT people. So by locking things down it makes less work for the IT people in the long run.

      As for controlling websites, are you actually suggesting we should let 6 year olds navigate their way to a porn website? Of course we should control those things! They aren’t old enough to decide what is good or bad on their own, so that means the adults in their life have to do it for them. That’s the whole point of raising kids and educating them.

      And these iPads are educational tools, not a portable porn browser. They wouldn’t be used for educational purposes if the students were free to do what they want on them. The point is not for them to learn how the OS works by getting into the settings and messing with them, the point is for them to use the apps given to them to learn.

      Reply
  • February 18, 2012 at 8:44 pm
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    Bryan,

    At this point, I think for a school to invest in a programmer to create an app with one function, and that is to lock down “Settings” on an ipad shouldn’t be such a costly investment. In fact, I discovered a site that allows a person to approach programmers and set a price and wait for them to contact you. I believe it’s a bidding process of sorts. They will either agree with the price, decline, or ask for more. Anyway, here’s the link: https://www.elance.com/?r

    Good luck!

    Reply
    • February 20, 2012 at 5:10 pm
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      Hey Ed, thanks for the link. I actually found a solution to this problem, and that was by jailbreaking the iPad. My guess is Apple won’t allow an app that locks down the “Settings” more than they already have, that’s why you have to jailbreak it to get it done. You can read more about it in my post here: http://pocketables.com/old_id/8157

      Reply
  • June 12, 2012 at 9:48 pm
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    I work for 42Gears Mobility Systems where we develop lockdown tools for mobile devices. Our product SureLock is completely supported on Android whereas iOS and Windows 8 support will be available soon.

    http://www.42gears.com/surelock/

    Many schools/universities use SureLock to lock down the tablets so that the students can only access certain allowed apps and cannot venture into the Settings area.

    Hope you find it useful.

    Reply
  • September 21, 2012 at 6:56 pm
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    This response is a little late for this post, but I’ll point out that my company has created a new tablet management system for Android that can lock down the tablets and let the teacher or admins remotely install apps too. The system is called TabPilot and can be found at http://www.TabPilot.com if anyone is interested. It’s designed specifically for schools and allows teachers to configure the apps to be available for use during their class.

    Reply

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