First, let me unequivocally say I love my Apple TV.
That said, I wanted to put it through its paces to see what difficulties one might encounter in placing it into a classroom environment. Just because a device is a great consumer device, doesn’t mean that it is well suited for secure business environments or for complex networking configurations one might find at a college or university.
And that is indeed the case with Apple TV; for most users, it poses a number of challenges trying to integrate it into a corporate or collegiate setting.
First, Apple TV doesn’t support Enterprise WPA2 authentication. Most organizations worth their salt doing Wi-Fi to any serious extent use Enterprise authentication, which leaves one seriously SOL trying to connect the device this way.
Note: Technically, you (well, not you – but someone with administrator knowledge of your network) can configure an Apple TV to work using WPA2, using the Apple Configurator. But be warned: it is for the brave of heart only, is not very user friendly, and once you use it to configure a device, the device pretty much can’t be configured any other way unless you wipe the device and start over. So. Not very helpful, actually.
Secondly, for those institutions that offer a web page to authenticate access to their wireless networks, this leaves Apple TV in the cold as well; there is no web browser to open and authenticate with.
There is an ethernet port on the Apple TV that works perfectly well. But this leads to the third issue with using Apple TV in the classroom or the boardroom, and that is that the Apple TV mechanism for being “discovered” by iPads and iPhones (which in truth was my main interest in using the device in the classroom) doesn’t work well (or, at all) across multiple switches or routers without wide open access to a number of TCP and UDP ports (which most competent network admins wouldn’t open anyway if you begged them).
So, what does this all mean, really?
It means that if you are serious about using the Apple TV in a corporate setting, you have some work to do to get it to work as well as the device does in the home.
At Hendrix College, we have close to 400 wireless access points, all using Enterprise Authentication. So, connecting to that is a non-starter. If I connect to the wired ethernet network on campus, I can’t “see” the device with anything other than the Apple remote that comes with the Apple TV. No good.
The only real option is to do one of two things:
- Insert a “rogue” wireless router off of one of our ethernet ports (yeah, right). Or,
- Configure a laptop or smart phone as a wireless access point, and point the Apple TV to that.
I chose the latter, and configured my Macbook Pro as a secure wireless access point, connected the Apple TV to that, and then connected my iPad and iPhone to that same new wireless “network” being broadcast from my laptop. Under this scenario, the Apple TV could connect to the internet, my iOS devices could “see” the Apple TV, and I could demonstrate “mirroring” my iOS devices using the Apple TV.
As an administrator, I’m always looking for economical and straightforward technologies that I can recommend to faculty for their pedagogical use. On its face, the Apple TV is a relatively inexpensive appliance with lots of promise.
But in its current incarnation, it simply isn’t ready for use in most classrooms without a good deal of infrastructure knowledge, planning, and support. In my judgement, if Apple can add Enterprise security to the device, or make the device easier to discover by laptops and iOS devices in complex networking scenarios, then another evaluation can be made.
For now, I simply have to concede that it’s just too cool for school.