Managing Mobile Devices at Home

I am sure most of us have multiple mobile devices at home, such as smartphone, a tablet, or the distant cousin of the smartphone and tablet – the phablet. These mobile devices may be a combination of iOS, Android, and Windows Mobile.

With our kids, spouse, and parents using mobile devices, it becomes imperative for us to manage all these devices from a single interface. Especially with less technical users, it is important to manage tracking, apps, and other settings on the devices for them.

The Questions

When managing these mobile devices at home, there are some questions that plague us quite a bit, such as how do I:

  • Track my devices: Where are the devices right now? Where have the devices been?
  • Monitor my devices’ data: How do I monitor call history, Wi-Fi networks that the device has connected to, and Apps installed on the device?
  • Manage apps on my devices: How do I install an app on all my devices remotely? Can I delete Apps from my devices remotely?
  • Protect my devices: How do I enforce a Password Policy, remotely lock, or remotely wipe the device?

The Problem

Unlike corporate IT departments, we don’t really have a budget for advanced Mobile Device Management (MDM) solutions. So, in effect, here’s my problem:

  • I want to manage my mobile devices at home (for my family).
  • I have no money to buy an MDM solution for my home.
  • I don’t really have the training required to use an MDM solution.

The Solution

The answer to my problem is the Mobile Device Management solution by a company called 3CX. This MDM solution is cloud-based and so there is no installation required except on the mobile devices you want to manage. The 3CX Mobile Device Management solution is easy to use, has a web-based interface, and lets you manage up to 5 devices for free.

Setting up the MDM

Here’s how I set up the MDM solution on my devices:

  1. Go to http://www.mobiledevicemanager.com/ and sign-up. To activate the account, click the link in your email.
  2. Download and install the 3CX MDM App on the Android and iOS devices. When prompted, I logged in using using the credentials I created in step 1.
  3. Go to http://www.mobiledevicemanager.com/ from any browser and log in. Go to the Pending Approval node and approve the devices.

(For more information, refer to the 3CX getting started guide. It’s concise and well written.)

And Voila! The devices are visible on the web-based dashboard.

1Dashboard

The interface is clean and easy to navigate. I’ll talk about a few cool features of the MDM solution. I’ve added some screenshots of the MDM solution. You can click the images for a larger view.

Managing Mobile Devices

The Devices node lets you manage all your devices from a single interface. As you can see, both my devices are listed. One interesting feature is that the node shows you the last time when your device checked-in.2a_Device_List

Click the device you want to manage. For this example, I clicked the Android device. A few critical icons appeared as soon as I clicked the device. I’ll talk about a few important ones:

0_Device_List_Icons

  • Messaging – you can send a message to the device directly from this interface.
  • Lock – you can lock the device remotely.
  • Unlock – you can unlock the device remotely. You can also set a passcode.
  • Wipe – if the device was stolen, you can wipe the data on the device remotely.

The following tabs show a lot of useful information.

Map tab – displays the current location of the device.

2b_Map

The Info tab shows useful information about the device. I found it interesting that it was able to tell me if the device was charging or on battery. Interestingly, it displayed the memory and CPU usage too!

2c_Info

The Applications tab shows the list of applications installed on the device.

2d_Applications

The Location History tab shows all the locations where the device traveled to in a certain time frame. The grid shows a time stamp, address, and location co-ordinates. The location is accurate to a few meters. 2e_Location_History

The Call History tab shows a list of all outgoing and incoming calls with the duration.

2f_Call_History

The Policy tab lets you manage the usage policy. You can also enforce a password policy, if necessary.2g_Policy

The Wi-Fi tab shows all the Wi-Fi networks the devices connected to in a certain time frame. Interestingly, it also displays the security type and the visibility of the Wi-Fi networks that the device connected to during those times!

2h_WIFI

The Email tab lets you configure an email account on the device remotely.

Email_Tab

Navigation

The MDM has a Tree pane and an expandable node for easy navigation. You can expand nodes that have one or more sub-nodes.

3Nodes

Depending upon the node, the following information is available:

  • Dashboard –  a snapshot of the managed devices.
  • Devices – list of managed devices and detailed information shown through various tabs as described in the previous section.
  • Pending Approval – lets you approve the devices before managing them.
  • Group Policies – lets you define the behavior of certain settings. For example, your Password Policy.
  • Messages – lets you send messages to online devices.
  • Users – lets you add, modify, or delete users.
  • Alerts – lets you configure alerts for various actions performed by the device or the user.
  • App Management – lets you manage the Apps on the devices. (I will explain App Management further in this post).
  • System – settings for the Administrator.
  • Resources – help files and other useful links.

Alerts

The 3CX MDM lets you configure alerts based on various actions. Here is how the alert configuration screen looks:

4Alerts

App Management

I have saved the best for the last. App Management, in my opinion, is the most important feature of this solution. Expanding the App Management node shows these other sub-nodes:

5a_App_Management

1) Installed Apps – shows the list of apps installed on your managed devices. You can select a particular app and click Remove Application to remove the app from the device.

5b_Installed_Apps

2) App Repository – shows your own App Repository. You can create your own App Repository by adding apps from iTunes or Google Play store. You can use this repository to quickly install apps onto the managed devices. For example, if you are going to Disney world, you can add the Disney app to the repository. You can then easily deploy this app onto the devices used by your family.

5c_App_Repository

Once you have an app to the App Repository, go to Devices > [Your Device Name] > Applications (tab) > Add from Repository (button) and select the app from the dialog that opens. Select the App you want to deploy to the device and click Add.

Add_From_Repository

3) Whitelisted Apps – users of your mobile devices are allowed to download these apps. For example, I added the weather app as a Whitelisted App. The users of my managed mobile devices can now install the weather app. 5d_Whitelisted_Apps

4) Blacklisted Apps –  users of your mobile devices are not allowed to download these apps. For example, I added a poker app as a Blacklisted App.

5e_Blacklisted_Apps

Conclusion

Homes and people are now connected via mobile devices. With more and more devices entering our homes, the safety, security, and management of our mobile devices become a critical task. Consequently, Mobile Device Management solutions are not meant for corporates alone. Homes need MDM solutions too. Needless to add, you are now the IT administrator of your connected home.

Disclaimer: The Digital Dimension of Technology is an independent non-commercial technology blog. We have not been endorsed by 3CX. 

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