People sure like Apple, don’t they?
As of 2021, the company boasts the title of world’s most valuable technology company.
With Apple’s sleek designs and easy-to-use devices, it’s no wonder so many folks choose them over other options. Unbeknownst to the general public, the tech giant also provides software solutions for businesses.
Apple Business Essentials (ABE) is one such solution, specifically tailored for small and medium-sized businesses (SMBs).
But is the ABE suite of products really all it’s cracked up to be? Especially in terms of mobile device management (MDM)?
In this post, we’ll break down how ABE works, reveal if it truly delivers when it comes to MDM, and discuss a new approach to heterogeneous device management.
Let’s dig in.
What Is Apple Business Essentials?
In order to understand Apple Business Essentials, one needs to familiarize themself with Apple Business Manager (ABM). ABM is a web portal for IT administrators to deploy and manage Apple devices.
Conceived as a solution for enterprise and educational needs (where it is called Apple School Manager), ABM provides organizations with the tools needed for enrolling devices, managing company-owned Apple IDs, and assigning or revoking users’ access to already purchased apps and books.
What exactly is Apple Business Essentials? Think of ABE as an ABM + cloud storage + AppleCare+ + MDM service that enables admins to remotely configure, deploy, and manage Apple devices.
Devices must meet the following requirements to be eligible for ABE use:
- Purchased directly from Apple, or from a participating Apple Authorized Reseller, with an enrolled and verified Apple Customer Number, or linked to that reseller’s Reseller Number, respectively, for automatic device enrollment.
- Company devices are enrolled in ABM (admins can use Configurator to get them there).
- Individual BYODs can be user-enrolled for iOS.
- Updated browsers in place for Safari (14.1 or later), Chrome (87 or later), or Microsoft Edge (87 or later).
- Run on iOS 15, iPadOS 15, macOS 12.0.1, or tvOS 15.
Note: operating system requirements may vary depending on intended use.
What Admins Love About Apple Business Essentials
As everyone knows, with Apple, the focus is always improving user experience (UX). And this rings true with ABE. Let’s check out some of the reasons IT admins love ABE:
Easy Use and Setup
Setting up ABE is pretty straightforward. All an admin needs to do is register their organization and create an initial administrator account by providing their legal name, work email address, phone number, and job role. Then, they can proceed to create managed Apple IDs and allocate these to users.
As Matt H. puts it, “ABE has made it really easy to implement and deploy company cell phones to our mobile employee. My favorite thing about the software is how easy it is to use.”
Initial administrators can also add up to four admins to prevent problems when one is unable to sign in for one reason or another.
Automated Settings and Apps
Admins also love the capabilities of ABE’s Collection feature. The feature allows them to assign apps and settings to users, user groups, and devices.
For example, suppose Jill, the IT admin at Books & More Books Inc. wants an app for editors to make notes and leave reviews on books. She also wants a setting that only allows them to access yet-to-be-published books. With Collection, Jill can purchase licenses for the app, configure the settings, and then assign the user group “Editors” to the collection.
Also, since users can be put in more than one collection, admins can make a collection fit the task, the user, or both.
Although there has been a steady increase in the number of employees returning to the workplace after the pandemic, there is still a significant number who work remotely.
And this is why the inclusion of AppleCare+ as a feature of ABE is something for admins to get excited about. In instances where employers can’t provide in-house IT support, AppleCare+ can pick up the slack and provide technical support to an organization’s remote users, including repair and replacement options.
What Admins Wish It Did Better
Although ABE provides many useful features, some admins aren’t completely satisfied with its offerings (and for good reason). Here are a couple of things these admins wish the solution did better::
As with most SaaS options, ABE offers three tiers of monthly subscriptions. The pricing varies depending on whether the customer has a single device ($2.99) or three devices ($6.99 or $12.99). Storage is also included in the plans, with 50 GB for a single device and 200 GB (or 2 TB) for a three-device plan.
With that said, there may be instances where these offerings don’t meet the user’s specific needs. What if a user requires 100 GB of storage, but only has one device? They will still need to pay for the $6.99 tier. Similarly, there isn’t a choice if a three-device user doesn’t need iCloud storage.
Currently, only organizations that have a maximum of 500 employees can use ABE. While most small businesses won’t have problems with this restriction at present, midsized businesses may find this limit rather restrictive.
Even if this isn’t a problem for an organization at the moment, the solution isn’t future-proof. In a few years’ time, the business may ramp up on employees. What happens then? It’s back to the drawing board, of course.
Another thing many admins dislike about ABE is the lack of granular control.
For example, while they can assign an app to users and set it up so that only the app can be used on a device, they are unable to control or manage how much data within the app will be accessible to each user. The dilemma often arises in conversations like the one below:
Plus, admins can’t determine what privileges users have on certain resources, or how much access they should have.
This one is fairly obvious. While ABE is targeted at providing solutions for Apple devices, which are gaining increased usage in work environments, it won’t do much for a heterogeneous work environment where devices such as Android, Chrome OS, and Windows, are also in use.
While admins can manage the Apple devices they have with ABE, they will still need to look elsewhere for managing other devices.
Should You Use Apple Business Essentials for MDM?
Whether you should use Apple Business Essentials MDM depends on several factors. ABE would be a good fit for a business that ticks the following boxes:
- Conducts operations on a homogenous fleet of Apple devices and app store apps.
- Houses employees who are already familiar with Apple’s UI.
- Plans to keep headcount below 500 employees for the next few years.
- Doesn’t require admins to grant granular access to various users.
- Doesn’t need to implement multi-factor authentication (MFA).
- Doesn’t plan to deploy custom apps to its iOS devices.
However, a business should look elsewhere than ABE for its MDM solutions if it doesn’t meet the criteria above. The need for a superior MDM provider becomes amplified where the business:
- Keeps FileVault keys in a secure location away from prying eyes.
- Helps its employees have their business apps seamlessly work with their company passwords.
- Uses a storage solution that lets users work with anyone, anywhere, using any productivity suite.
- Works with a billing administrator.
- Does its billing through a management portal.
- Needs an automated resolution of conflicts.
Thankfully, “more” doesn’t have to be more services; it can simply be one service with more solutions.
A Streamlined Alternative for Cross-System Management
Imagine you’re at a key juncture. Your organization has deployed Apple Business Manager with great success but now needs a mobile device management solution.
You know that your company needs more than what Apple Business Essentials can offer, but you also need a solution that integrates well with ABM and can manage both Apple and non-Apple devices.
What do you do?
You could get an all-in-one, cross-platform solution like JumpCloud.
JumpCloud integrates well with ABM infrastructure and controls not only macOS but also Linux and Windows workstations and servers. Its MDM not only works seamlessly with both Apple and non-Apple devices, but it also gives organizations the ability to:
- Deploy MFA across their network infrastructure.
- Implement single sign-on (SSO) for employees and improve users’ experience with security measures.
- Have granular control over access to company resources and can implement least privilege access for users.
- Secure data with full-disk encryption on company hardware.
- Complete all of these tasks from a single dashboard.
Now, that’s a real one-stop shop for device management.
The Verdict on ABE for MDM
Unlike individuals who can compromise on certain features for the sake of familiarity, businesses cannot afford to invest in solutions that don’t meet their MDM requirements now and in the future.
ABE is a trustworthy choice for SMBs that only have Apple devices and need basic MDM control, like deploying apps. But it’s not an ideal fit for small-to-medium-sized enterprises (SMEs) expecting to scale in heterogeneous environments.
JumpCloud combines multi-platform MDM, improved security, and granular control over resources — all in one sleek dashboard. Sign up with JumpCloud for free.
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And watch your MDM stress melt away.