iOS MDM: iPad and iPhone Device Management Explained

David Ruddock
Alex Deane
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Learn about Esper mobile device management software for Android and iOS

iOS Mobile Device Management, or iOS MDM, is the software used by businesses and IT teams to monitor and manage their iOS devices remotely. If your business uses iOS devices, an iOS MDM can increase your visibility and control, helping you manage them more efficiently and securely.

What is iOS Device Management?

iOS device management is the remote access and monitoring of Apple devices like iPads and iPhones by a company or organization. Tasks associated with device management include: configuring devices to meet specific requirements, setting and enforcing security policies, remotely updating devices, and deploying applications. An MDM (Mobile Device Management platform) is designed for completing these tasks at scale. Using an iOS MDM, you’ll have centralized management of all your devices and can even automate many workflows, speeding up deployment of devices in your fleet and reducing downtime in the field.

Which Devices Can You Manage with MDM for iOS?

iOS MDMs primarily manage iPads and iPhones, though some also dabble in Apple TV support. Very limited Apple Watch support is also available on some iOS MDM platforms. Exact capabilities will vary based on device type, iOS version, and the specific iOS MDM software used. In general, an iOS MDM can remotely configure settings, manage applications and content, remotely locate, lock, or erase devices, and enforce security policies.

Some older iPhone and iPad models may not be supported for use with an iOS MDM because they no longer receive iOS software updates from Apple. It’s crucial to understand which version of iOS your devices are running, as well as how long Apple will continue to update them. You can find iOS end of life information for iPad and iPhone models here. Once a device is no longer supported by Apple, you run substantial risk keeping it active in your organization — it may be vulnerable to security exploits, develop bugs, or become incompatible with updates to your organization’s critical applications.

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How Much Does MDM for iOS Typically Cost?

The cost of an iOS MDM depends on many factors, such as features, device count, and support level. Pricing models also vary, including per-device, per-user, feature-tiered plans, and custom enterprise contracts. Finding the most cost-effective approach depends greatly on your company’s specific needs. Some vendors also offer free versions of their iOS MDM solutions, which will most likely come with severely limited features and little to no support beyond documentation.

Regardless of the particular pricing model, the cost of an iOS MDM can quickly add up, and looking at an annual bill estimate may give you a bit of “sticker shock.” Here are some things to consider when weighing the value of an MDM to your organization.

  • How many hours can be saved through automated device deployment?
  • How many hours of downtime are avoided through remote updates and app deployments?
  • How much more quickly do devices and features deploy in the field? (I.e., reducing time-to-revenue, increasing agility)
  • What other projects and initiatives can be pursued when manual deployment is no longer necessary?

Measuring such factors, we understand, isn’t easy. We have a detailed breakdown of MDM pricing considerations you can read here that will help you evaluate the cost of any MDM solution, along with an RFP template to compare vendors.

Free MDM RFP Template

What are Common iOS MDM Features? 

When using the iPad or iPhone for a dedicated business or organizational function, you’ll need to greatly restrict that device’s functionality to avoid tampering or unauthorized use. Simultaneously, you’ll need robust and scalable remote access and management features as your fleet grows and your use cases evolve. When shopping for an iOS MDM, you’ll want to look for features like:

  • Device Enrollment: Device enrollment can be time-consuming. An iOS MDM can help you streamline the process and ensure proper configuration, often through Apple's Device Enrollment Program (DEP) or Automated Device Enrollment.
  • Dashboard: A centralized web interface for monitoring all enrolled devices and their statuses, as well as access to core features like remote control, geolocation, blueprint management, and app payload management. 
  • Supervised mode: Supervised mode is the framework through which essentially all iOS remote device management flows. Read our supervised mode explainer for a detailed breakdown.
  • Remote wipe: Erase a device securely and completely in the event of loss, theft, or malfunction.
  • Disable features: Many features of iOS should not be accessible when an iPhone or iPad is being used in a business or dedicated purpose setting. An iOS MDM can lock out many such features, like the notification center, iMessage, Siri, device settings, web browsing, automatic app updates, and more.
  • Blueprint management: Blueprints are the configuration profiles used to apply the default content, settings, and behaviors on a managed device. Your MDM solution should provide you with a way to create, modify, and manage your iOS blueprints.
  • Content and app management: iOS MDMs can give you full control of the content and apps on your devices from anywhere. You can distribute, install, update, and remove content and apps remotely to ensure compliance and performance.
  • Activation Lock Bypass: If an MDM-managed device is factory reset, an iOS MDM can bypass Apple’s Activation Lock to restore it without using an Apple ID username and password.
  • Autonomous Single App Mode: This feature allows a managed iOS device to temporarily be set to kiosk mode “on demand” by an authorized end user. This is often an important feature for devices in healthcare settings, where a patient or customer may need to enter data for use by a provider.
  • Hardened kiosk mode: There are many risks to devices when they’re out in the wild. A secure kiosk mode locks your devices to only the app or apps you choose, helping to prevent unauthorized user activity and tampering. 
  • Device tracking: Knowing your devices are in the right place is crucial if you have a widely dispersed fleet. iOS MDMs let you track device location with GPS, set geographical boundaries, and lock or wipe stolen or missing devices.

While you may not use all of these features initially, it’s important to remember that your iOS MDM solution should provide room for your use case to scale — both in size and complexity. For example, enrollment automation features and fine-grained deployment tools can seriously reduce the resourcing necessary to expand or update your fleet.

iPad Device Management vs. iPhone Device Management

iPads and iPhones are generally similar, as they both run on Apple’s mobile operating system (iOS for iPhones, iPadOS for iPads — learn about the differences in detail here). Still, some specific requirements may differ between them due to their distinct use cases and capabilities, including:

  • Kiosk mode: Both the iPad and iPhone support Apple’s kiosk mode (Single App Mode, also known as App Lock). But due to their size and lower cost, businesses often use iPads instead of kiosks or point-of-sale devices. A robust kiosk mode may be more important to lock down iPads to a single app or a set of approved apps.
  • Shared iPad mode: iPads are often configured for shared use, letting multiple users access personalized settings and apps. Make sure your iOS MDM solution can adequately support this process.
  • Apple Pencil support: Peripherals need to be managed too. If Apple Pencils are in the picture, ensure you can manage and configure their settings.
  • Education-specific features: iPads are becoming more popular in education use cases. You may need an iOS MDM with classroom management tools, app distribution for learning materials, and student device monitoring.
  • Screen size: The screen size and resolution difference between iPads and iPhones can impact content distribution and content and app layouts. If you have a mixed fleet, the ability to granularly customize is key.
  • External display support: All of Apple’s iPad models that use USB-C support display output mode. Only two models of iPhone (15 Pro and 15 Pro Max) support display output.
  • USB-C vs Lightning connector: Prior to the iPhone 15, Apple iPhones used the proprietary Lightning cable to connect to power and wired data. iPads typically have USB-C, which is common to many other devices and uses cheaper cables (a potential concern for device fleets).
  • Cellular connectivity: While iPads with cellular data are available, all iPhone models are equipped with a cellular (4G / 5G) modem. If your use case extends beyond the range of Wi-Fi access, cellular data may be necessary to ensure a device is always reachable. An iPad that is “Wi-Fi only” cannot use cellular data. Also, no iPad supports standalone telephony features (an iPad cannot make phone calls or send SMS text messages unless linked to an iPhone).

Given these relatively minor differences, management considerations for iPads and iPhones are very similar. Any iOS MDM that is capable of managing iPads should be just as capable when it comes to iPhones, and vice versa. For the Apple TV and Apple Watch, there are much more significant differences, and both offer very limited managed capabilities when compared to the iPhone and iPad.

iOS MDM Limitations and Drawbacks

An iOS MDM is crucial for the management of Apple devices at scale, but there are some limitations and drawbacks to be aware of around iOS more broadly.

While you’ll gain substantial control over your iOS devices with an iOS MDM, Apple has built the iOS platform to maintain a highly consistent, secure, and accessible user experience. For example, you cannot completely disable iOS OTA software updates with an MDM — Apple will eventually force devices to accept them. On-device app behavior, user interface, settings, and security policies are also strictly defined by Apple. There are benefits to this approach — your customers or users will likely be very familiar with Apple’s devices. The chance a device will behave in an unexpected way or malfunction in the field could be much lower.

App procurement, distribution, and configuration come with their own limitations. You’ll be entirely reliant on the Apple App Store and subject to Apple's app review and approval process for distributing apps, even ones you only intend to use internally in your own organization. (Though this may be changing.)

Your choice of hardware is also inherently limited to Apple devices. All iOS MDMs are tightly integrated with Apple services. In fact, all iOS MDM features and commands flow through Apple’s own servers — to prevent abuse or misuse of Apple’s own APIs and services. The net result is that Apple ultimately defines what can or cannot be done with an iOS MDM, because Apple is the gatekeeper for all such services, technically and contractually.

Even considering all of the above, the user experience, performance, and high availability of Apple devices globally make them a very attractive option for many use cases. Perhaps the greatest concern when choosing iOS to underpin your fleet management strategy is the cost of the devices themselves — you are undeniably paying a premium for Apple hardware.

Key Considerations When Shopping for iOS MDM

More than any other factor, the intended use case of your devices will decide which iOS MDM is best for you. The more complex your use case is, the more crucial finding the right iOS MDM becomes. If you’re locked into an iOS MDM that can’t cover your fleet strategy end to end — from deployment, to management, ongoing updates, support, and device replacement — you could end up paying for a solution that costs you a lot more than your annual bill.

Features like simplified deployment, robust security, and the ability to customize are essential for ensuring admins and end-users have a high-quality experience. For long-term success, paying attention to an iOS MDM’s flexibility, scalability, and integration capabilities is crucial to ensure it can grow and change with your business.

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David Ruddock
David Ruddock

David's tech experience runs deep. His tech agnostic approach and general love for technology fueled the 14 years he spent as a technology journalist, where David worked with major brands like Google, Samsung, Qualcomm, NVIDIA, Verizon, and Amazon, reviewed hundreds of products, and broke dozens of exclusive stories. Now he lends that same passion and expertise to Esper's marketing team.

David Ruddock
Alex Deane

Alex is a Content Marketing Manager with 7+ years experience in content creation, creative direction, and project management for tech companies. When it comes to writing about technology, she prioritizes on making complicated topics easier to understand and fully believes that tech writing doesn't have to be boring.

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Kiosk mode

Hardened device lockdown for all devices (not just kiosks)
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App management

Google Play, Apple App Store, private apps, or a mix of all three
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Device groups

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Remote tools

Monitor, troubleshoot, and update devices without leaving your desk
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Touchless provisioning

Turn it on and walk away — let your devices provision themselves
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Reporting and alerts

Custom reports and granular device alerts for managing by exception