Friday, January 25, 2013

Guided Access - Can It Aid in Device Management? – Part 2

In my last post I covered how Guided Access is being used to help us manage the iPads in our Reflection Areas. This time I want to share how Guided Access has worked on our iPod touches.

The museum has 80 4th generation iPod Touches with our iOS app installed available for guests to check out. These are free thanks to the generous sponsorship of Cox Communications. After talking to colleagues at other institutions about their experiences, and trying out several alternatives, the decision was made to use iPod cases that do not cover the Home button. Even though covering the Home button could have helped control the devices, the benefits of allowing staff and knowledgeable users to easily service devices when needed seemed to outweigh the potential costs of leaving the Home button accessible.

To conserve battery life and prevent new content from being installed on the iPods, we decided to use Apple's iPhone Configuration Utility to create a configuration profile to block access to certain apps such as Facetime, Camera, App Store, iTunes, and Safari.

What we did not expect was the creative ways some of our guests would find to use other apps that cannot be blocked. One example was setting reminder alerts to display messages proclaiming, “You’ve won $2! Go to the front desk to collect.” We often find alarms, voice memos, and notes that are created by guests as well. Because some of these can be offensive, our Guest Services staff must take time when a device is returned to check all the affected apps.

Since this is our first year of being open, we are constantly evaluating procedures to make them more efficient and to better serve our guests, so we were looking for a solution that would cut down staff time needed to check-in a device, thus making it available to the public again faster.

On the iPods running our mobile app, Guided Access worked great. We no longer had guests leaving memos, recording voice messages, setting alarms, or giving false reminders about winning cash prizes at the front desk. However, we did have a major issue with guests no longer being able to control the volume.

That's right: Guided Access mode disables all the hardware button functions, including the volume. In the Guided Access settings, you can choose to enable screen sleep so the Sleep button will only put the device to sleep and not turn it off, but you cannot do the same for volume control.  I’ve tried contacting Apple to see if this is a bug, but it appears that's how they intended the program to work. I’ve also talked with several others in the field of education technology who are struggling with this issue. Teachers are especially affected, since they have to turn off Guided Access, individually adjust the volume for each child in the class, and then turn Guided Access back on.

Perhaps Apple will address this issue in the future, but we couldn't wait.  We tried to set the volume control at the 50% level, thinking it might be a good compromise for most listeners. However, hearing capabilities vary so much between individuals that it was better for us to stop using Guided Access, so after two days we turned Guided Access off on our iPods. Another alternative would be to provide headphone with their own volume controls, but that could add significantly to the expense of the headphones, as well as introducing an additional physical feature that could break. It could be a viable solution in many situations, though.

The good thing we discovered, though, is that if the app you're using has software volume controls, then you can still adjust the volume while in Guided Access. Perhaps Apple expects everyone to use an app that has software volume controls. The good news for Crystal Bridges is that we can work with our development company to get this function added to our app. However, that isn't an option for users who can't add features to the apps they need to use Guided Access with, so it is an imperfect solution at best.