Apple recently released a new tool for managing iOS devices in business and education. The new Apple Configurator app is a free download in the Mac App Store for Macs running Lion. Although it takes the sting out of managing iPads, iPhones, and iPod touches for smaller organizations, it won’t replace more full feature MDM (mobile management) solutions for mid-size or larger companies.

Apple Configurator lets a Mac manage iOS devices and and makes it pretty painless to accomplish the following set of tasks:

•Wipe (restore) devices and install a specific iOS release
•Update the installed iOS version
•Assign unique names/identifiers to each device
•Backup and/or restore data from an existing backup
•Create and apply configuration profiles
•Install apps (from the public App Store or created for internal use)
•License paid apps using Apple’s Volume Purchase Plan for business or education
•Install documents (documents must be associated with an installed app because iOS doesn’t offer a user-facing file system)
•Assign devices and related configurations to users (users can be populated based on an enterprise directory service like Microsoft’s Active Directory so long as the Mac running Apple Configurator is joined to such a service).
•Organize devices into groups for easier management
•Restrict devices from syncing to other computers
•Assign a organization or user-specific lock screen image
•Create a device check-in/check-out setup that ensure users always have access to their on-device data regardless of whether which device they are assigned (similar to roaming profiles in a Windows business environment where users have the same desktop regardless of which PC they use)
•Enroll devices in a third-party mobile device management (MDM) console for additional capabilities