Apple TV – Too Cool for School, Two

Apple TV – Too Cool for School, Two

apple_tv_4_backSeveral years back, I gushed about the Apple TV.

Well, not gushed, exactly. But I definitely went on about how much I really liked the device, but had serious reservations about its role and efficacy in the enterprise, or in the classroom.

A few years later down the road, how do I feel?

Well – some things have improved significantly with the Apple TV, some things have not, and some things leave me shaking my head in frustration.

The Ugly

Apple TV has only one video / audio output port, and that is HDMI. This is not a con, in and of itself.

So, why then, do I place this at the top of my “ugly” list?

Because their HDMI implementation is so damned picky. Don’t have the “right” HDMI cable? No picture. Your HDMI device doesn’t “negotiate” its signal the way the Apple TV “likes?” No picture. Using a splitter or adapter to convert the Apple TV’s HDMI output to DVI or VGA? Some work; others don’t.

If you have a Gen 2 or Gen 3 Apple TV, odds are you have less problems with this particular gripe. However, if you are in the throes of rolling out Gen 4s (which we are), more likely than not you will have an issue working with legacy implementations, like Smart Boards and Projectors. We certainly are, and are staring down the prospect of having to run new HDMI cables in place of / addition to our legacy VGA cable runs to our projectors. That, or continue to search for an HDMI-to-VGA adapter that will work with our systems. So far, we’re still looking.

The other “ugly” thing? A USB-C cable (not included) is the only way to connect directly to the device for configuration. Now, for the vast majority of tasks, you don’t need to connect a USB-C cable. However, we use Enterprise Authentication and RADIUS to connect to our wireless network, so we needed a USB-C cable in order to use Apple Configurator.

But, if you go to an Apple Store, you will find that (a) they don’t make a USB-C cable, and (b) they usually don’t stock them. I tried three Apple Stores in NYC (and one in Jersey). Look: if you’re going to support an emerging standard, support it. We wound up buying one from Amazon, but you should take care – because not all USB-C cables are created equally; some shoddy cables have bricked the PCs to which they have been connected.

The Meh

The software for the Gen 2 and Gen 3 Apple TVs would allow you to “hide” elements (apps) from the main menu – very good. Further, you could hide poster art for Movies, TV shows, and Music from the main menu, which is a must for use in environments like Elementary and Middle Schools, where you don’t necessarily wish to display risqué poster art before impressionable young minds.

Gen 4 Apple TVs don’t come pre-installed with Apps; rather, you install apps from the App Store – an improvement.

However, what Apple Giveth, Apple Taketh Away. You can no longer hide Movie Posters (or any App Preview Art) if it is available on the menu; and you can’t remove Apple Movies, Apple TV Shows, or any of the Apple preloaded apps.

The only workaround – for now – is to move Movies and TV shows to the second row of the main menu, so that at least the previews don’t pop up the very moment you start the device.

… And, The Beautiful

There is much to really like in the Gen 4 devices:

  • The new remote. Rechargeable, track pad, Siri. While text input is still no joy, compared to the old Apple TV remotes, this is a huge step forward.
  • App Store for the Apple TV. As I mentioned above, there are only a handful of pre-loaded Apple apps (Movies, TV Shows, Settings, App Store). All other apps – YouTube, Netflix, Hulu, etc. – are loaded through the App Store.
  • BEAUTIFUL animated screen savers.
  • The ability to load profiles Over the Air (OTA). Remember where I complained above about the lack of an included USB-C cable? Well, the ability to load profiles (usually used to preload network credentials, MDM certificates, and restrictions) over the air means that you have one less reason to connect directly to the device, or even to use Apple Configurator at all.

On Balance – Better – But Not Perfect

On balance, the Gen 4 Apple TVs are an amazing consumer device. For the classroom, they still have some tweaking to do to make them a great solution, out of the box.

That said, in the classroom and in the Enterprise, they can work very well.

But you should be prepared to expect curveballs and allocate your time for implementation and deployment appropriately.

I’d love to hear your experiences / war stories. Hit me back in the comments below.

Are Colleges Victims of Showrooming?

Are Colleges Victims of Showrooming?

One of the big laments this holiday shopping season (at least by retailers like Best Buy) is that customers are coming into physical stores to “showroom” electronic gadgets, and then going back home to buy their products online on Amazon – for far less money.

With all the oxygen in the room being sucked in by MOOCs, edX, and startups like Udacity and Coursera, one has to ask – are Colleges and Universities similarly victims of “Showrooming?”

The jury is still out.

However, if startups like Udacity and edX can parley their currently free courses into fungible and demonstrably marketable credentials, then it’s Katy-bar-the-door: it’s over.

You don’t have to be Nostradamus to see that changes are coming. All you have to do is visit your nearest bricks-and-mortar, big-box electronic retailer, and replace “laptop” or “TV” with “degree” in your mind.

Coming soon, to a Showroom near you.

Fish Where The Fish Are

Fish Where The Fish Are

You know the old Sales saw: “if you want to catch fish, fish where the fish are.”

I’ve been thinking about this quote quite a bit this past year, as our school implements telepresence on campus.

Traditionally, when one envisions telepresence or teleconferencing, one tends to think of tricked-out conference rooms, with large flat screen TVs and HD cameras, and everyone sitting at a long table.

In the college classroom, that setup is a total non-starter. Except for the smallest of seminars, college classrooms don’t look that way, and faculty don’t teach that way.

Yet, still today, when you do happen to stumble across teleconferencing at many schools, the “classrooms” are really very specialized, high value conference rooms that wind up being virtually (no pun intended) unused. (Saying to myself “we had one of those”).

So – what’s the solution?

Fish Where The Fish Are.

Put your telepresence / teleconferencing dollars where teaching happens – in actual classrooms.

Telepresence at Hendrix
Telepresence at Hendrix

Your faculty is not going to invest time in learning how to work technology in a room that they never visit, is halfway across campus, and is controlled by one or more other departments. But, if telepresence is in the places where your faculty lives, inside their classrooms, you stand a fighting chance of actually doing what you want to do in the first place with the technology – enable highly engaged students to learn, because now the technology is a part of their day to day experience and ecosystem.

There are plenty of challenges to effectively implement and support telepresence at any school (not the least of which are funding, developing great relationships with teleconferencing vendors and channel partners, and developing support staff who understand the technology).

Improve your chances of teleconferencing teaching success by putting the tech in the classroom, not the board room.

Fish where the fish are.

Apple TV – Too Cool for School?

Apple TV – Too Cool for School?

Apple TV

First, let me unequivocally say I love my Apple TV.

Love. It.

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:

  1. Insert a “rogue” wireless router off of one of our ethernet ports (yeah, right). Or,
  2. 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.