How to configure iOS apps with managed configs & custom attributes

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SimpleMDM|July 3, 2018
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In this article we explain the power of using custom attributes in conjunction with managed app configurations. We will walk through the process of setting up a managed app configuration and show how to configure the app settings dynamically with custom attributes.

What are Managed App Configurations? Custom attributes?

Some iOS apps have built in support for remote configuration, known as a managed app configuration. This powerful feature allows administrators to remotely configure specific settings within an app without physically touching the device. Each setting is configured using a key-value pair based on the design of the app, which is then passed to the app installed on devices.

The custom attributes feature in SimpleMDM allows admins to create configurations that are customized on a per-device or per-device group basis.

When custom attributes are used with managed app configurations, administrators can design configurations that vary between devices based on the device group they belong to or other device-specific qualities.

Prep work

Before starting the process of setting up a managed app configuration for an app, it is important to verify the following:

  • The app has been built by the developer to support managed configurations.

  • The app was installed on devices via SimpleMDM or is showing as “managed” in Apps tab of the Device Details page for your devices.

  • The specific configuration keys and the data types that the app accepts. This information should be obtained from the app developer. For instance, an app may accept the key “homePage” with a URL string as the value.

Setup: Managed App Configurations

In the first section of this walkthrough, we will create a managed app configuration for the Kiosk Pro Plus app. Using SimpleMDM, we will specify the URL for the app’s homepage. We will assume that the app has already been added to your App Catalog and installed to the devices via SimpleMDM.

The Kiosk Pro Plus documentation can be found on their website. We will be using the “homePage” key identifier. This allows us to set the URL for the app’s homepage.

In the SimpleMDM interface, navigate to Apps > Catalog. Then click the name of the app and select the Managed Configuration tab. To add a setting, click the “+” icon; this is where we will use the keys retrieved from the app documentation and assign them our values.

In the field shown under the Key column, enter “homePage” (without the quotation marks). The data type for this setting is a string, so leave the Value Type field set to “string”. Then enter the URL you want to use in the Value field.

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Once you are done editing, click “Save”. These changes will be immediately pushed to the apps installed on your managed devices; you should see the setting configured accordingly within the app.

Setup: Custom Attributes

Now that we have a functional Managed App Configuration, let’s configure SimpleMDM to display different URLs for a group of devices and for an individual device. To accomplish this, we will use the Custom Attributes feature. Custom attributes act as variables that allow you to set unique values at multiple levels of granularity:

  • Default level: this value is applied when no other value specified

  • Device Group level: takes precedence over default level

  • Device level: takes precedence over both default and group level values

To create a custom attribute, navigate to Configs > Attributes in the MDM interface, click “Add Attribute”, and assign the attribute a name that will be easily recognizable for later use. The default value is optional; it is the value that will be used if another value has not been specified elsewhere.

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When you are done, click “Save” and head back to the managed configuration section of the app. The syntax for assigning custom attributes uses the attribute name enclosed by double brackets, for example: {{homepage_url}}. Remove what was previously entered in the “Value” field and replace it with the attribute name using this syntax.

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At this point, we have told SimpleMDM that the value for this setting is variable rather than a static value, so now we just need to set the different values that will be inserted via this custom attribute and passed to devices.

To set the URL for a group of devices, go to Devices > Groups, click the group name, and click the Settings tab. Under the Custom Attributes section, you will see fields that correspond to the names of any attributes you have created thus far. Locate the “homepage_url” field and enter the actual URL you want to set as the app homepage. This will overrule what we have set as the default value for the attribute for all devices in this group.

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After saving your changes, you should see the devices in that group update accordingly within a few moments.

To set a different homepage for an individual device that will overrule both the default and group values, the process is similar to setting it at the group level. From the Devices list, click the device name to open the Device Details page and then switch to the Settings tab. Locate the attribute name, enter the new value, click Save.

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Check your device to confirm the app configuration was updated as expected.

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