Apple’s Custom App program: The what, why and how

Audrey Black

Nov 15, 2021

6 min read

What do you do when you have a custom-made or in-house application, and you want other people to be able to access it too? Well, you could try to get it published on the App Store. But what if you wanted only a handful of people or businesses to access the app? What would you do then? Clearly, publishing in the App Store is out of the picture. So, what next? Well, you can send the IPA file to the employee devices, provided the target audience is small. But what if the target audience spans to 100s and more? This is where Apple’s Custom App program (formerly B2B program) comes in handy.

By using Apple’s Custom App program in conjunction with the Volume Purchase Program, organizations can directly access the applications from the developers they know using an approved VPP account. The app developer needs to merely approve the Apple ID in question and the application will be accessible to the user.

Details please…..

Custom software is often designed to address specific needs within an organization(s) as opposed to standard software used by everybody, and as such, their distribution is highly regulated. This sometimes causes discrepancies in app deployment among the client base. With the launch of Apple’s Custom Apps program, this concern was significantly addressed. By enrolling in Apple Business Manager, Apple gives businesses the opportunity to have their own private app store which can be easily shared with others. The developers can add the VPP IDs of businesses while uploading the application to the custom store thereby imposing controlled access to their application.

This means that the developer can avail exclusivity while still maintaining the accessibility offered by the store apps as pre-approved users could easily view the app in the App Store and download it. Not only this, but Custom App deployment provides additional features like,

  • Security features to handle sensitive or private corporate data
  • Custom look and feel, tailored with the company logo or branding
  • Company specific features within the application for simplifying business process and workflow
  • Custom features for partners, clients, dealers or franchises
  • Specific configuration for the company’s IT environment

Apple Custom AppsApple Custom Apps

What are you waiting for? Let’s turn the gears and get it working!

Now that we have established the importance of Custom Apps for an enterprise, let’s take a look at how to actually get it done!

  1. Develop the application
    Develop a custom-tailored application for the customer base that meets all of their requirements. This stage of the process is the same in the case of regular applications and custom apps.
  2. Upload the App to the iTunes store
    Once the development stage is over, upload it to the iTunes Connect store. Make sure to check the “Custom B2B Application” box before uploading. Set a price for the application and enter the Apple IDs of the clients who will require access to the application.
  3. Apple reviews the App
    Once the application is uploaded, your job is pretty much done, and it is up to Apple to review and approve the app. This process, too, is similar to the review process for regular apps, and upon approval will be visible to the selected client base.

Wait, how do you get the App approved/reviewed by Apple?

Apple aims at providing a safe space for their users and an excellent opportunity for all developers to be successful with their App Store. For this, they have put forward a set of guidelines and carry off rigorous reviews by experts post which, the application gets published in the store. When you upload the application to the store, Apple automatically pushes the app to its review queue, and after the compliance checks, the app is set for deployment. Apple checks compliance in 5 major areas: safety, performance, business, design, and legal.

The App Store is constantly changing in its pursuit to improve and stay at the top of the game. What this means for the app developers is that they need to constantly and consistently work on their apps and keep them compliant with any additional guidelines.

Here are a few pointers to consider before submitting the app for review:

  • Thoroughly check the app for bugs and crashes.
  • Ensure that all information, including the contact details provided, are complete, accurate and up to date.
  • Include detailed explanations for the non-obvious features and in-app purchases. Also include supporting documents where appropriate.
  • Ensure you have followed all the App store guidelines.
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Double-check and distribute the apps!

Once the custom apps are up and running, they can be purchased with a valid VPP account (a valid VPP account refers to one that’s pre-approved by the developer).

Once purchased, these apps can be distributed using,

  1. An MDM solution
    With an MDM profile linked to the VPP account, the clients can distribute the apps from the MDM console. They can also invoke or revoke a user’s access to the application at any given time.
    P.S.- The organization retains the rights to the application.
  2. Redeemable code
    Alternatively, the clients can send out redeemable codes or links to these codes to distribute the application.
    Since the end-users use their Apple ID to download the application, they retain the rights to the application.

Sounds like a lot of work. Is it worth the effort??

Of course, it is worth the effort! Although getting Apple’s approval seems a bit tedious, in the end, it surely pays off.

In fact, despite what it looks like, the ‘extra effort’ needed, as it would seem, is practically non-existent as the process is very similar to uploading a regular application to the App Store. Granted, it is more complex than distributing the IPA files manually. But the safety and exclusivity offered by Apple make up for it. Besides, it is easier to keep track of the application licenses with Custom Apps. As the rule of thumb states, if the recipients of your application are internal, use IPA file distribution and if they are external use Apple’s Custom App program.

Audrey Black

Product Evangelist @ Hexnode. That’s just the thing. There is always more. More to the story. More room for forgiveness. And a whole lot more to learn and grow.

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