The iPad Project Shopping List: Syncing and Charging Devices (Part 2 of 3)

If you haven’t read part 1 of the “The iPad Project Shopping List,” please read it here. It describes the important first steps for an iPad project and which iPad to purchase.

Below is a simplified list of what you absolutely need for an iPad Project. In this 3-part blog series, I’ll break down why each item on the list is necessary and provide some recommendations. In this post, I’ll focus on how to sync devices and which iPad cart/trolley to choose.

iPad Project Shopping Checklist

  1. The right iPads/devices

  2. Protective cases

  3. A way to sync devices

  4. iPad Cart/Trolley

  5. Leads and adapters

  6. Accidental damage insurance

  7. The right Apps


How should I sync my iPads?

This is the question that often causes schools the most confusion, perhaps due to the complex advice that sales companies give. There are three ways to sync your iPads. Here is a breakdown of each method and what equipment each requires:

1. The Mobile Device Management Sync

Mobile device management (MDM) is the administrative area dealing with deploying, securing, monitoring, integrating and managing mobile devices. Under Apple’s new Deployment Enrolment Program (DEP), you can have your iPads configured to work on your MDM system straight out of the box, completely removing the physical aspect of syncing devices. There are over a hundred manufacturers of MDM systems, which I talk about in more detail in the Infrastructure chapter in my book, The Tablet Revolution: How to Transform Student Learning with iPad

My belief is that all schools should be using an MDM system because it is the easiest and most cost effective way to manage iPads. Some salespeople do not encourage its use because they are the lowest money maker. Syncing carts and technical installation garners hundreds of pounds of profit for the sales person, whereas MDMs make about £1.50 per license. Keep this in mind if someone tries to steer you away from an MDM solution.

What you will need: MDM licenses

2. The Caching Server Sync

Rather than download an app or update on each device, the caching server downloads the update once and deploys it to each iPad registered on the system. This was the forerunner to mobile device management (MDM) and requires you to install a Mac Mini server. A big advantage of this method is that it greatly reduces your Internet bandwidth when you download updates or deploy apps. Due to the advent of MDMs, it is reducing in popularity, however, it can be run in combination if you wanted to take advantage of both.

What you will need:

  • Mac Mini Server
  • Technical installation

3. The Hardwire Sync

This uses an iPad cart to sync and charge devices.  You will need a Mac computer (desktop or laptop) to take full advantage of this, as Windows computers can only sync nine iPads simultaneously. On a 1:1 deployment a few years back, I tested the maximum you could sync with a Mac. It topped out at around 58 iPads!

What you will need:

  • Sync-and-charge cart
  • Mac laptop



Which iPad cart/trolley should I buy? 

Embracing the MDM-syncing solution can save your school thousands of pounds on iPad trolleys. Investing in MDM means that you only need trolleys that charge, which can be anywhere up to £500 less than those that both charge and sync. Like every other iPad accessory, there are literally hundreds of manufacturers and models on the market here. I will detail a few that I have had a good experience with because the quality can vary hugely.

If for whatever reason you still want to use trolleys to sync your devices, it is worth noting that you should be looking for a manufacturer that uses Apple MFi licensed charging hubs. This means the hardware complies to Apple’s high standards which will minimise issues arising. Cambrionix is the big name in this industry, and almost all the big name trolley manufacturers use their hardware. Incidentally, this is the reason why it costs so much more to have the sync-and-charge version, as anything Apple licensed is price controlled.

As with all gadgets, there are many Chinese-made imitations that are far cheaper. Avoid these. An old boss of mine worked with a school that sourced Chinese-made carts at a fraction of the price of the established brands. Within three months, two of the carts had burst into flames while syncing. Rather than count his lucky stars that no one was injured, the IT manager replaced them by reordering the same carts, a decision which eventually cost him his job when a third caught fire.

From my experience, the contenders for charge carts are the following:

16 - 32 bay trolleys

Zioxi Concepts - Zioxi Concepts make some very good value charge carts that are among the cheapest on the market. They sell direct and you should be able to buy a 32-bay unit for under £800.  It is worth bearing in mind that their products are made out of wood, so if you are worried about ruggedness and damage they might not be for you. From my experience, lead time (the time it takes from ordering to receiving delivery) with Zioxi trolleys fluctuates widely from anywhere between four to twelve weeks.  

Monarch (LabCabby) - Monarch seem to be turning one of their products into a brand of their own, called LabCabby. They make two very good trolleys, the TabCabby, which accommodates 32 iPads and is made from moulded plastic and metal, and the GoCabby, a 16-bay case on wheels, one of the most cost-effective on the market. Both are mid-ranged priced and a little more rugged than Zioxi Concepts products.

Parotec IT - Parotec IT specialise in producing flight-case style iPad trolleys and were one of the first to market. They offer a range of products for particular iPad models, so if you are buying iPad Minis you can save space and money by buying one of their dedicated iPad Mini trolleys. One benefit is that Parotec is based in the North West of England and hold stock in the UK, one of the few companies to do so. In my experience, their customer service is the best in the market; they take less than a week to do repairs and replacements if needed, and can often do these on-site.

8-10 bay cabinets

Griffin - Griffin makes the Multidock, a 10-bay sync-and-charge unit that can be secured in the classroom or connected and stacked with other Multidock units to make a trolley.

Kensington - They offer a charge-and-sync unit that is among the cheapest on the market. It is a high-quality metal construction and pretty secure if installed in a cupboard within a classroom.

Ergotron - At the premium end of the cabinet offerings is the Ergotron Tablet Management wall mounting unit. In terms of appearance, its sleek metal finish makes it an easy winner.  This design comes at a price, however; it is almost twice the price of the Kensington sync and charge.

In general, I am not a fan of the iPad cabinets as I do not think they are great value for money. Rather than investing in a cabinet for every classroom, I recommend using an MDM system and buying trolleys instead, which are much more affordable.

To highlight the value of each solution I have outlined the costs below. The trolleys and cabinets have been rounded to the nearest hundred pound.

Option Total Cost Cost per iPad
32 bay Zioxi Trolly (£800) + MDM license (£10 per iPad) £800 + £10 x 32 = £1120 £35
10 bay Griffin Multidock 500 £500 £50

As you can see from the chart, using an MDM system and buying trolleys will cost you less per iPad. 


  • Decide on how you are going to sync your iPads before you start getting quotes. This is where the most money can be saved, and where salespeople make big margins.
  • Double check the item list: MDM systems are cloud based and do not require a Mac computer, but it is not unusual for the salesperson to sneak one in. Choosing an MDM system can save your project thousands of pounds because you’ll only need trolleys that charge.

Is technology in your school simple and effective? Take the LearnMaker Scorecard test to find out. Get your personalised 14-pg report and guide:  

The LearnMaker Scorecard is completely free. All it requires is 10 minutes and your honest input. This Scorecard gives you 3 key areas on which to focus to make technology in your school simple and effective. 

Jay Ashcroft

Entrepreneur. Author. Speaker. Cofounder of LearnMaker