Alma
Evans

What is iOS kiosk mode?

Alma Evans

Apr 24, 2020

10 min read

Sometimes you may want to restrict your publicly placed iOS device to run only a single app or a bunch of custom apps created for specific business purposes. iOS kiosk mode is a quick way to achieve this, majorly helpful for locking down customer-facing devices. iOS kiosk mode takes the human element out of functioning these public terminal devices acting as the simplest way to automate some critical processes.

The iOS kiosk mode

Definition:

iOS kiosk mode is a restrictive mode that locks down an iPhone, iPod, or iPad to a single app or a specific set of apps to run in the foreground.

Having the ability to restrict the devices to use only selected applications is quite a useful feature especially when they’re working outdoors. And since these devices are left unattended, they should be properly maintained and necessarily secured. This is one of the main reasons why iOS is preferred over other OSs for the kiosk system to run on in some common use cases.
As far as kiosks are concerned, choosing iOS which offer added security benefits in the setup, configuration, and management phases is not a bad idea. Moreover, for a small/medium business owner, an iOS device can be a great and cost-effective kiosk due to its flexibility, quick integration features, and ease of use.
On an iPhone, iPad, or iPod touch device, there is a quick way called Guided access mode to turn it into a kiosk-style device. Guided access is a universal feature found in all iOS devices which limits the OS options available for the users to choose from.

What is guided access mode?

Student using Guided access enabled iPad
Student using Guided access enabled iPad
 

Guided access is the simplest way to put your iPhone, iPad, or, iPod touch devices into a single-purpose mode. Guided access is an inbuilt option in Apple’s iOS and can be configured right away from the system settings. This accessibility feature decides what all things your respondents can tamper with on an iOS device.
The feature was originally introduced in iOS 6 as a parental control measure. The primary intent was to temporarily prevent children from interfering with some device settings which might cause some sort of frustrating effects on the system. The feature was mostly targeted to school children and hence often referred to as a learning feature. Later on, the feature was elaborated to accomplish some lockdown mechanisms on iOS devices.

How to enable the guided access mode?

  • Go to Settings > Accessibility > Turn on “Guided Access”.
  • Click on Password Settings > Tap “Set Guided Access Passcode”.
  • Enter and confirm the passcode.
  • Choose to set up Face ID or Touch ID as a means to end the Guide Access Session.

How to start a Guided Access Session?

  • Open the app.
  • Triple tap the side button if it’s iPhone X or later. Triple tap the Home button for iPhone 8 or later.
  • Click on Guided Access > Tap Start.

Or simply

  • Open the app.
  • Ask Siri to “Turn on Guided Access”.

Guided access keeps a particular app open and upfront and gives the option to disable hardware buttons so as to restrict the access to other parts of the system and prevent the user from closing the specific app. A few other settings can be done to build a perfect kiosk-like experience for the end users. Guided access can act as a powerful tool when combined with some device restriction options. It’s possible to control how users interact with locked devices by allowing/disallowing the following settings:

  • Disable hardware buttons like volume buttons and sleep/wake button.
  • Turn off touch gestures if you don’t want users to interact with the app.
  • Restrict the device from responding to motions. For instance, you can prevent the user from changing the screen orientation by rotating the screen.
  • Turn off the keyboard.
  • Disallow the lookup feature.
  • Choose a time limit for the guided access session.

The major trouble with Guided access is that it can be easily tweaked by anyone when needed. By triple tapping on the home/side button, the password prompt will be easily brought up and the user could guess the guided access PIN to quit the app. That is, whenever the home button or side button is exposed to the users there’s a chance that your system might be easily compromised. A correctly guessed PIN means complete access to the entire system. A workaround is to use an enclosure which covers such hardware for the device, but this is just a temporary fix. A much more reliable alternative to Guided access is the Single app mode for kiosk lockdown.

Single app mode

Single app mode for iOS devices
Single app mode for iOS devices
 

Single app mode is an advanced feature that completely locks down your supervised iOS device to a particular app serving the role as a digital display, informative kiosk or a point of sale. This is considered as the ideal solution when the device is used in a public domain just because no one can guess your PIN and leave out of the kiosk mode easily.
An Apple Configurator or an MDM solution is used to enable a Single app mode and the same tool is required to disable it. You can make use of this sophisticated option in scenarios where Guided access mode is found inadequate to meet your requirements.

Guided access vs Single app mode

Apple provides different options to activate kiosk mode on iOS devices but choosing the best method is up to you. Guided access can help create a makeshift kiosk but for an absolute lockdown experience, the Single app mode feature founds to be more appropriate. You can choose the one which is right for you by evaluating your requirements. However, let’s have a quick glance at some differences that are commonly noticed among these two kiosk options.

Guided access  Single app mode 
The quick solution for temporary kiosks.  The ideal solution for sensitive kiosks.
It can be easily configured from the system settings.  It can be configured with the help of an MDM server or Apple Configurator. 
It’s a basic option with some sort of restrictions like disabling hardware buttons. It’s an advanced option with additional restrictions as compared to the guided access mode. 
Device supervision not required. Device supervision required.
Remote configuration is not possible. Manual access to the device is mandatory for the configuration. Remote configuration is possible with an MDM solution. 
On a reset using the combination of hardware buttons, the device will show the sign in screen. Once signed in, guided access should be enabled again. On a reset using the combination of hardware buttons, the device will boot back into the configured app.
The makeshift kiosk can be easily bypassed accessing the hardware keys and guessing the PIN. The true kiosk can be bypassed only with the help of an MDM solution or Apple Configurator. 
Parents and teachers restricting children to focus on a particular app is the typical working scenario.  Customers interacting with a publicly accessed kiosk is the common working scenario. 

Both tricks work over all compatible iPhone, iPad, or, iPod touch devices, but the highly recommended option is the Single app mode as it is more secure. Guided access is an okay solution to build a quick and dirty kiosk. On the other hand, if you are looking for an exact locked down environment, Single app mode will be the right option for you. Especially, when you don’t want your users to intentionally/accidentally directed away from what is meant for them, Single app mode turns out to be the best choice.

Kiosk configuration methods

As there are different tools to set up iOS kiosk mode, turning out your device to a fixed purpose device can be a confusing process. Learn these methods and know the best deployment strategy for your use case.

iOS kiosk mode using Apple Configurator

iOS kiosk mode using Apple Configurator
iOS kiosk mode using Apple Configurator
 

Apple Configurator is a Mac tool that supervises iOS devices and enables the single app mode. Setting up iOS kiosks with Apple Configuration has the added benefit of pushing additional restrictions and Blueprints to further limit the device functionalities exposed to the users. But the issue is that we have to physically access each of the devices and manually connect them to a Mac to make it done. So, this can’t be considered as a scalable option.

Set up steps:

  • Turn off Find My iPhone/iPad feature to prevent Apple Configurator from setting up the device.
  • Connect the device to the Mac running Apple Configurator using a USB.
  • Supervise the iOS device.
  • Start Single app mode and select the app from the list.

iOS kiosk mode using an MDM solution

MDM solutions like Hexnode can remotely set up, manage and monitor iOS kiosk devices from a single console. The full-fledged kiosk solution from Hexnode for iOS is built around a scalable security framework specifically built for special-purpose devices. The standard device home screen gets replaced by a customizable interface which gives access only to the whitelisted apps/websites. iOS kiosk mode can be combined with other security features from Hexnode for added protection. With Hexnode you can:

Hexnode iOS kiosk solution

Hexnode iOS kiosk solution features:

  1. Single app mode
    • Restricts the device to a single app that runs in full screen.
    • Advanced kiosk settings to limit accessibility options.
  2. Autonomous single app mode
    • An app can enter itself to the single app and release itself when the user finishes working with it.
    • Only specific apps can support Autonomous single app mode and the developer controls when the app will be entering the single app mode.
    • Helpful in preventing the accidental exit of apps.
  3. Multi-app mode
    iOS multi-app kiosk mode
    iOS multi-app kiosk mode
     

    • Multiple apps are whitelisted for kiosk use.
    • Launches a custom start page instead of the device home screen.
    • Only the selected app will be displayed on the launched screen hiding all other apps installed on the device.
    • Even a device restart will relaunch the kiosk home screen.
  4. Web app kiosk mode
    iOS web app kiosk mode
    iOS web app kiosk mode
     

    • Device runs one or more websites in full screen.
    • Can choose the Safari browser or Hexnode Browser Lite to access the whitelisted websites.
    • Options to configure accessibility settings.
    • Advanced options to customize the kiosk experience.

With all these capabilities, Hexnode MDM can make some changes to the way how iOS kiosks work in a public environment. You can push/update the settings over-the-air and make sure that the kiosks are always working as intended. In brief, with Hexnode iOS kiosk mode, desired apps and features can work on the device ensuring that the user experience and device security are never compromised.

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Alma Evans

Product Evangelist @ Hexnode. Already lost up in the whole crazy world of tech... Looking to codify my thoughts for now...

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