Zebra Device Infrastructure Evolution

Android Platform Transition

Overview

In accordance with Google-mandated enhancements to Android device security and data privacy, the Zebra device architecture is undergoing a major change. Zebra is working hard to make many of the changes transparent, but actions are required for most customer and partner apps either now or in the near future, particularly for data persistence and for apps that share and/or use shared data. Beyond Google mandates, Zebra is taking the opportunity to transition away from proprietary frameworks in favor of public specifications, and to build new solutions to help simplify app deployment across an enterprise. This evolution of the Zebra Android-device platform will help shrink development times.


Re-engineering MX

On Zebra devices running Android 11 and later, the feature set implemented historically by the MX service will be delivered by Zebra Device Manager (ZDM), a more extensible service that's easier to maintain and that provides a modern foundation for the delivery of new features and capabilities in the future. The familiar MX feature set remains and is still referred to under the MX brand name, with version numbers corresponding to those of Android.

As we move into the future, MX features will be exposed by ZDM, which hosts a new, more modern programmatic interface that conforms to public specifications and standards. While everything has changed for MX under the covers, Zebra also is modifying its tools and utilities for use with ZDM to provide as transparent a transitional experience as possible for customers and partners. In addition to its new capabilities, ZDM also will perform the following:

  • Configuration of Zebra devices running Android 11 and later
  • Secure barcode processing for device configuration
  • Managed Configuration processing for Zebra app administration
  • Communications with all APIs, including those of the Android system, Zebra apps, and DPC and privileged-device APIs

MX Enhancements

In addition to implementing current MX features, the enhanced version also can do the following:

  • Work programmatically with apps and other services on the device through a publicly specified content provider interface and the new Zebra Secure Storage Manager (SSM) tool
  • Leverage SSM to make persistence more secure by encrypting persisted data
  • Store access permissions (i.e. "whitelists") for apps and manage inter-app file and data sharing
  • Receive updates independent of the underlying OS image, for faster delivery of features and fixes

Other Major Benefits

  • Faster delivery of Zebra value-added features thanks to decoupling from proprietary system underpinnings.
  • Many new features and fixes available without a system update.
  • Android Content Provider model employs public Android APIs, improves security, provides consistent sharing method for all apps.
  • Security is improved for persistent data, including for EMM device enrollment, device configuration and enterprise apps.
  • Replaces proprietary XML with publicly available and extensible specifications.
  • Secure Storage Manager encrypts all data stored on the device, including persistent and transient data.
  • All Zebra apps to support Managed Configurations for feature configuration and settings-file deployment.
  • Simplified Device Owner enrollment from device Set-up Wizard for GMS and non-GMS devices.
  • EMDK and StageNow solutions will continue to support device configuration using new methods.

MX Deprecation

Some of the features in MX will not be implemented as Managed Configurations, either because they are not being used or offer little or no value. These features will be deprecated over time and eventually dropped from MX.

Learn more about MX feature disposition.

MX Feature Disposition

  • The MX Feature Matrix adds a "Status" column with icons to indicate disposition of each configurable parameter
  • Hover over an icon to display its description.
  • Click an icon to display the icon key.

New Services, Tool Versions

The following architectural changes are being phased in between now and mid-2022. See Transition Timeline for more information.

  • Secure Storage Manager (SSM) employs Android Content Provider model for persistence, data storage and data sharing. Use of the /enterprise partition will still be allowed initially, but Zebra strongly recommends switching to SSM as soon as possible. Available now on devices running Android 11.
  • Data Encryption Tool (DET) provides end-to-end encryption for on-device data storage and retrieval.
  • StageNow desktop and client to support Managed Configurations and JavaScript barcodes for device and app setup.
  • EMDK to update Profile Manager with support for JavaScript-based configuration model.

Note to Developers, EMMs

The use of XML for configuring Zebra devices and app settings is being phased out, to be replaced by JavaScript. Zebra has selected Android 11 as the "transitional" OS version. Zebra devices running Android 11 will accept either XML or JavaScript for device configuration. This is intended to allow organizations to continue using current methods while gradually converting to the new methods for staging, persistence, and data and file sharing being introduced. Zebra devices running Android 13 (and later) might NOT accept XML for device configuration, be it through scanning XML barcodes, XML pushed to devices by an Enterprise Mobility Management (EMM) system or XML embedded within an EMDK app.


What Do I Have to Change?

Most apps and processes for Android devices will require at least some minor changes, and changes will definitely be required under Android 13.

In the chart below, the two left-hand columns list the Zebra Mobility DNA components and how their major activities are achieved under Android 10 and older. The two right-hand columns show how activities are achieved under Android 11 (the "transitional" OS) and how they'll be done under Android 13, when released.


Transition Timeline

Dates subject to change without notice
Feature implemented

SEPTEMBER 2021

  • Zebra begins shipping devices running Android 11
  • Scoped Storage feature precludes use of SD Card for apps targeting API level 30
  • Secure Storage Manager preinstalled on all devices running Android 11
  • No change for admins using current MX-based persistence method on devices with Android 11 or earlier

OCTOBER 2021

  • Zebra ships additional devices running Android 11

DECEMBER 2021

  • StageNow desktop and client apps support MX 11.2
  • DataWedge supports Managed Configurations
  • Device Central supports Managed Configurations

JAN-FEB 2022

  • SSM supports secure configuration deployment for apps
  • OEMConfig new schema (beta) delivered
  • Enterprise Browser beta supports Managed Configurations

JUNE 2022

  • Enterprise Keyboard support for Managed Configurations

NOVEMBER 2022

  • StageNow desktop and client support for JavaScript barcodes for device enrollment and staging
  • StageNow desktop support for conversion of XML barcodes to JavaScript

DECEMBER 2022

  • DataWedge available from Google Play, installs and accepts upgrades without a system update
  • Enterprise Home Screen support for Managed Configuration
  • Software Licensing support for Managed Configurations; installation/upgrade without a system update

1Q 2023

  • Zebra devices running Android 13 (staging through JavaScript or Managed Configuration only)
  • EMDK support for JavaScript output for device configuration

2Q 2023

  • OEMConfig schema for devices running Android 13

Dates subject to change without notice
Feature implemented


Why is Zebra Doing This?

Zebra's "Mobility Extensions" (MX) framework was introduced in 2015, and has served reliably to control and configure Zebra's Android devices while helping Zebra customers and partners to avoid the complexities of platform signing. A proprietary system was required then because early versions of Android lacked the ability to interface with many Zebra-device features and peripherals, and very few centralized management systems existed to aid in device deployment across an enterprise.

Since 2015, Android has advanced tremendously. Most of the interfaces Zebra first built are now part of the platform, accessible through public, non-proprietary methods such as Android Managed Configurations. This has allowed Zebra to shift its focus to platform innovation, value-added features and faster times to market. One such innovation was to decouple the application layer from the multiple proprietary underlying frameworks such as MX, allowing Zebra to develop its value-added solutions more reliably, in less time and with fewer inter-dependencies.