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Consistency and reliability make for better mobile apps, which is why many EMM vendors and developers teamed up to establish a standard approach for simplified app management.
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The consortium, known as the AppConfig Community, represents a big step forward for mobile application management and development. In the past, organizations relied primarily on proprietary software development kits or app wrapping tools to build configuration and management features into their apps to support enterprise mobility management (EMM) integration. As a result, developers would often have to build multiple versions of their apps to support different EMM tools, which not only made the development process more difficult -- it also added layers of complexity for IT administrators.
As iOS devices became dominant in the workplace, Apple expanded the native management and security features built into iOS. Google followed suit, adding business-friendly features to Android and setting up Android for Work. These changes allowed developers to build apps that were less dependent on SDK integration or app wrapping.
But developers still lacked a standard for creating apps that could take full advantage of the built-in features without tying them to a specific EMM tool. VMware AirWatch first tried to address the issue last year, forming the App Configuration for Enterprise group. One year later, in February 2016, the company joined forces with IBM, JAMF and MobileIron to found the AppConfig Community.
Since then, more than 60 companies -- including, most recently, BlackBerry -- have joined, committing to the community's tools and best practices in their own service offerings and development efforts, thereby opening the way to standardize apps across the iOS, Android and Windows platforms.
What does the AppConfig Community do?
At its outset, AppConfig focused on iOS apps, delivering a comprehensive set of best practices that took advantage of Apple's Managed App Configuration framework, which allows an iOS app to automatically receive configuration settings from an EMM service.
Having a variety of EMM products to choose from sounds like a good thing, but not for organizations that are still in the early stages of enterprise mobility.
AppConfig has since released a set of best practices for Android, leveraging features in Android 5.0 or later and taking advantage of Android for Work, and plans to focus on Windows mobile apps at some point in the future.
The AppConfig Community has also released an open XML schema for iOS configuration settings. Like the best practices, the schema makes use of Apple's Managed App Configuration framework to streamline app deployment and make it easier for developers to define configurations across all their business apps.
Developers start by creating an XML document based on the AppConfig schema -- which should contain all the app's configurable settings, with default values defined as needed -- then provide the document to the EMM tool, which uses the XML to access the app's settings and edit them. The EMM tool pushes the settings to an Apple property list, or PLIST, XML file on the device where the app is running so the app can consume the settings.
Building a community
The AppConfig Community is open to EMM providers, individual software vendors and organizations offering such services as mobile app development platforms, identity management or virtual private network gateways.
The companies participating in the community, including Box, Cisco, Oracle and Salesforce, aim to provide ways to easily deploy EMM-neutral apps with the following benefits:
- Development teams can more easily implement a set of controls without having to incorporate EMM-specific components and build multiple versions of an app.
- IT teams can more effectively configure and manage those apps, regardless of the EMM tools they're using, resulting in faster deployments and fewer support calls.
- End users' apps are delivered seamlessly and preconfigured.
Community members also have the opportunity to showcase their products on the AppConfig website, use the AppConfig trademarks and access other marketing resources.
Even without big-name players such as Microsoft or Citrix, the AppConfig Community represents a significant step for EMM vendors, and many organizations stand to gain from the collaboration.
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