Apps 101 - Apple App Distribution

How do you make an iOS app available to the general public, restrict it to a business partner or just to your staff?

Building a good app is just the start, next there is getting it onto the devices of the people who want to use it and for that you need an App Store. Which store you use depends on the type of person you want to use your app.

Your app users will broadly fit into three groups

1. The unrestricted public
For this group you want as many people as possible to download your app.  They are anonymous to you at the point they download your app, although you could employ user accounts to get them to sign in once the app is installed.

2.  Restricted groups
A restricted group might be the staff from a specific partner company or customer.  At the point of download you already know who they are.

3. Your internal staff
This is for apps which are an internal business tools, restricted to just your company employees. 


Apple has multiple ways of distributing apps that meet all the requirements above. The first distribution method is one that most people are familiar with, the public App Store.

Public App Store

The public App Store is the one you see on your phone (shown here).  It launched in 2008 and kick-started the whole app industry.  It's got millions of apps on it covering all the categories you can think of from games to serious business tools.

You get your app listed there by signing up for the Apple developer program (for $99 a year), submitting your app to Apple for review and making it available in as many countries as you want to support.  Apps for iPhone, iPad, Mac, Apple Watch, Apple TV and iMessage are made available in this way.

Apple hosts your apps for free and handles any purchase payment processing for you (for a fee).  You choose what to charge for your app and can set the price to free, paid, have in-app purchases or sell subscriptions. 

There are a potential billion Apple iTunes account holders who can download or purchase your app.

Which distribution groups does it work for?
The public App Store is appropriate for unrestricted public apps that anybody can use.

Apple public App Store

If you want to distribute an app that is just for use by a partner company or customer then Apple has a business to business (B2B) app store delivered via the Volume Purchase Program.


Volume Purchase Program

The Volume Purchase Program (VPP) launched in 2011 to allow developers sell their apps in bulk.  That meant you could sell, say, a 100 copies of your app at a time to a large organisation.  Since then the VPP has been enhanced and now offers more distribution options.

The VPP has a lot of similarities with the public app store, again you need to sign up for the Apple developer program and submit your app for review by Apple.  When you submit your app you tick an additional box to allow VPP distribution and Apple will list it in both the public Apple Store and the VPP.

Again Apple hosts your apps in the VPP for free and handles all payment processing (for a cut).  In addition to single unit pricing, you can offer discounts on purchases of 20 or more copies if you wish to. 

Any company can apply to have access to the VPP and purchase apps in volume.  In fact, its actually a really good way for companies to buy Apps, Books and software for their staff without everybody needing their own iTunes account.

Apple has more details of the Volume Purchase programme here
https://www.apple.com/business/vpp/

 

Custom Business to Business apps for Specific Customers

VPP gets really useful for business apps when you restrict access to specific groups or companies. 

When submitting your app you tick "Available privately as a custom B2B app" and associate it with a customer's account. This stops your app appearing on the public App Store and restricts it to the VPP accounts you say can access it.

The app now only appears in your customers VPP Portal, where only they can log in and download it.

 

Invoicing

One additional feature of VPP is can set the price of your app to nothing and invoice for the service separately.

This lets us, for instance, build an app for you and put it onto the VPP store, give access to one of your customers and handle all service charges via normal invoices, instead of Apple payments.

 

Distribution

Apps in the VPP can be installed via one time install links or distributed via Mobile Device Management (MDM).

 

 

Enterprise Distribution

Finally there are apps that should be made available just to internal employees.

For security reasons these shouldn't be listed on either the public App Store or in the Volume Purchase Program.  Instead they should be distributed securely only via internal networks.

Apple allows this via an enhanced development tier called Enterprise.  This enhanced tier means you can skip submitting your apps to Apple for review and instead, certify (sign) them yourself. Signing up to be an Enterprise developer is slightly more onerous that the standard developer level. In addition to the normal checks you have to agree not to set up a rival publicly accessible app store and only make apps for internal employees.

The Apple Developer Enterprise programme costs $299 a year.  Details of the programme are available here.

https://developer.apple.com/enterprise/

You can distribute your enterprise apps by either putting them in your own internal app store or via Mobile Device Management (MDM).

 

Summary

You’ve got three options with Apple to distribute your apps.  The correct one to use depends on the app's audience.

App Audience Distribution By Signed By Payment Options
Public App Store Apple Free, Paid, In-App Purchase, Subscription
Partner or Customer Volume Purchase Program Apple Free, Paid, In-App Purchase, Subscription, Invoiced
Internal Staff Enterprise Self Signed Not Applicable

 

Do you have any further questions about the three options? Do you want to know the distribution options for Android apps?  If so get in touch with us and we’ll try to help you out.

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About Simon Hemington

Simon sets the business and creative direction for The Boffin Lab.

He has over 20 years industry experience having worked for both small technology companies and giant multi-nationals. He built his first websites around 1996 and since then has been involved in making systems both big and small.

His guiding principle is always to make things that work as well as they look.

Outside of the lab Simon is a keen cyclist and triathlete.  If you spot him at a race please say hi and get ready to talk tech.

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Simon Hemington