As a rule, iOS apps are sold through the App Store. However, depending on the needs of the target groups, there are various additional or adapted options for distributing an app on Apple devices. If the users of an app are employees of an organization or pupils or students, the applications can also be distributed differently. In this case you have two options:
Sideloading: With the Apple Developer Enterprise Program, which is also used to create certificates and provisioning profiles, developers can distribute an app via a company’s own portal or simply via a URL (in-house app).
Custom App Deployment: Custom applications can be distributed / licensed with the Apple Business Manager (ABM) via MDM or with redemption codes via the public app store. The Apple School Manager (ASM) is available here for schoolchildren and students.
The popular sideloading via in-house distribution (Apple Developer Enterprise Program) is subject to various strict guidelines from Apple and is actually only intended for cases that cannot be solved by distributing custom apps. The Apple Developer Enterprise Program is aimed exclusively at companies who want to distribute apps to their employees within the company. Distribution to partners, customers or other addressees is prohibited by Apple’s general terms and conditions.
In addition, an enterprise (“in-house”) distribution certificate expires after 3 years. Afterwards it is no longer possible for the employees of a company to download the app distributed / created with it or to use the app that has already been loaded. The distribution certificate must be actively renewed at Apple.
Another limitation: App developers can create up to 3 “in-house” distribution certificates per enterprise account and use the same certificate for distributing multiple apps. Because Apple wants to push developers to use custom apps, it can be assumed that this type of distribution certificate will be restricted.
Despite these restrictions, there are still areas that are not only organizationally, but also technically only possible with an enterprise distribution certificate. The creation of enterprise apps for the Apple Watch via custom app is (currently) not possible and a good reason for applying for enterprise distribution certificates from Apple.
In 2019, Apple announced Custom Apps as the new standard internal sales channel at its Annual Developer Conference (WWDC). The method enables app developers to distribute their apps “privately” via the Apple AppStore. This means that only specially activated “customers” from a certain organization (ABM) or student institutions (ASM) can see and obtain the app. The app developer can store the associated organization IDs in AppStore Connect.
The technology for this type of customer-specific app distribution is not new; rather, Apple regulations have been softened and sold to app developers as a new process. The news is that since 2019 companies have been able to look after themselves as their own customers. That was previously forbidden.
Similar to the apps with an enterprise certificate, the distribution can also take place via an MDM system. If an app is to be made available on an unmanaged device, a redemption code can be generated via ABM / ASM, which can be used by the user like an iTunes voucher.
The distribution of custom apps is therefore less restrictive than with enterprise apps and is equally possible for partners, customers, franchisees, partner companies but also for internal employees.
In contrast to enterprise apps, which in the simplest case are offered for download on an internal web server, the distribution takes place internally via the Apple AppStore. This also means that the apps are subjected to the classic test process here. This is to ensure that these apps also comply with the guidelines of the App Store. However, there have been reports that the checking process allows “more exceptions” here than in the consumer area.
One advantage of custom apps is that they facilitate collaboration with third-party developers in the business environment. A developer can now provide an application for a customer organization or for his own organization. However, custom apps have not yet allowed in-app purchases either – a deficiency that runs like a red thread through the Apple ecosystem. To this day, Apple has not offered any solutions for the processing of subscriptions for professional users in a business context, neither for provision as a custom app nor as a purchase option in the ABM / ASM. (mb)