MX 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 interface that conforms to public specifications and standards. Zebra is modifying Zebra's tools and utilities for use with ZDM to provide as transparent a transitional experience as possible for customers and partners. And while everything has changed for MX under the covers, most customers need not even be aware of ZDM, and some could notice no changes at all.

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 API access permissions (i.e. "whitelists") and issue tokens for secure inter-app file and data sharing
  • Receive updates independent of the underlying OS image, for faster delivery of features and fixes

ZDM also performs:

  • 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

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 of device configuration while gradually converting to the new methods of staging, persistence, and data and file sharing being introduced. Zebra devices running Android 12 (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 embedded within an EMDK app.


Major Changes

Transition Timeline

(Dates subject to change without notice)

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Dates subject to change without notice

SEPTEMBER, 2021

  • Zebra ships devices running Android 11:
    • CC60x, EC30, EC50, ET51, L10, MC22, MC33x, MC33Ax, PS20, TC21, TC52, TC72, VC83, WT6300
  • 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 scheduled to ship additional devices running Android 11

DECEMBER, 2021

  • StageNow desktop and client support MX 11.2

DECEMBER, 2021

  • DataWedge supports Managed Configurations
  • Device Central supports Managed Configurations

JAN-MAR, 2022

  • StageNow desktop and client support JavaScript barcodes for device enrollment and staging
  • StageNow desktop supports conversion of XML barcodes to JavaScript
  • Zebra begins shipping devices running Android 12 (or later), which support only JavaScript or Managed Configurations for staging
  • SSM supports secure configuration deployment for apps
  • DataWedge available for installation and upgrade without a system update
  • EMDK supports JavaScript output for device configuration
  • OEMConfig gets a new schema
  • Enterprise Browser supports Managed Configurations
  • Enterprise Home Screen supports Managed Configuration
  • Enterprise Keyboard supports Managed Configurations
  • EMDK desktop tool generates JavaScript for device configuration from apps
  • Zebra Software Licensing supports Managed Configurations, and installation/upgrade without a system update

Dates subject to change without notice


New Services, Tool Versions

The following architectural changes are being phased in between now and mid-2022:

  • 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.

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.

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 seen tremendous growth. 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 dependencies.


What Comes Next?

Scoped Storage

Introduced with Android 10 (API level 29), scoped storage was originally intended to provide more user control over stored files and reduce the clutter that often occurs on external device storage over time. It limits apps targeting API 29 (and later) to an app-specific device folder and to media types it creates. In practical terms, scoped storage could limit or prevent an app from accessing device folders formerly available, including the /enterprise partition on Zebra devices. Enhancements delivered with Android 11 (API level 30) enforce greater protections on app and user data stored externally. For more information, see Scoped Storage in the FAQ.

From the Android Development Community:

Managed Configurations

Part of Zebra's process for modernizing its mobile OS strategy has been to evaluate the features currently in MX and to implement them as Managed Configurations whenever possible. Many hundreds of features can already be accessed through Zebra OEMConfig and though major EMM systems using Zebra's OEMConfig schema. This method will remain in place for the foreseeable future. Aside from OEMConfig, Zebra is enhancing its other apps–including DataWedge, Device Central and Workstation Connect–to be configurable through schema of their own.

Learn more about Zebra OEMConfig.


XML Phased Out

Legacy MX carried out its device configuration activities using Zebra-specific XML, which was generated by Zebra's StageNow and EMDK desktop tools. To help ease the transition away from XML, Zebra devices running Android 11 are able to process either XML or JavaScript for device and app configuration. The ability to generate JavaScript for device control will be added to EMDK and StageNow in early 2022, and XML will be deprecated and eventually discontinued from those tools. Devices with Android 12 (and later) will no longer support configuration through XML.

Learn more about Zebra's new device architecture.


MX Deprecations

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

Learn more about MX feature disposition.