How to distribute an iOS app to employees and customers

Guides

As more and more businesses look to iOS apps as a way to communicate with their customers, a question we’re asked very frequently during our work with Mag+ is this: having prepared an app and its content, how can it be shared with employees and customers – but not the world at large?

The answer is that, working within the structure provided by Apple, this is actually quite complicated. There are, however, three potential options that we are aware of, and they are outlined below.

Please note that, where we comment below on certain terms in Apple’s License Agreements, this article does not constitute and should not be considered legal advice.

1) In the App Store, with password-protected content

The standard iOS Developer Program allows you to build apps and publish them into the public App Store. The app might contain content that is free for all to download and view or, like this one, built for a charity, or might have content that you need to pay for, like this digital magazine.

The App Store also contains apps that contain a sign-in mechanism and where, having logged in, more content becomes available to the user. It is possible to create this functionality using Mag+ Multi Pro, which has an authentication API, and our Appthenticate user management service. Add the content that is intended for customers only to Mag+, mark it as “Subscription API”, and use Appthenticate to create accounts for your customers – they will then be able to log in and see the previously hidden material.

It is important to note that any app submitted to the App Store must meet Apple’s App Store Guidelines, and that, in particular, it is generally required for the app to provide content and functionality even to non-authenticated users. This might be, for example, in the form of a company brochure that can be made available to all.

2) As an Enterprise App

The Apple Enterprise Developer Program – entirely separate from the standard program linked above – allows members to build and sign apps that will run on their own devices without any need to publish through the public app store. It is perfect for apps that need to be run on employees’ devices, and in technical terms, could also be used to put an app on, say, the iPad of a customer.

However, the terms of the license agreement are quite restrictive. In particular, it says that members may:

(f) Allow Your Customers to use Your Internal Use Applications on Deployment Devices, but only
(i) on Your physical premises and/or on Your Permitted Entity’s physical premises, or (ii) in other locations, provided all such use is under the direct supervision and physical control of Your Employees or Permitted Users (e.g., a sales presentation to a Customer); 

 

Emphasis added. One could interpret this as allowing, for example, you to load a presentation app onto your iPad and show a customer at their offices, but not to allow them to download the presentation app remotely and unsupervised. As such, keeping within the limits of this license agreement significantly limits the use of an Enterprise app for sharing with customers.

Enterprise apps can be created using Mag+ Multi Pro. A login system such as Appthenticate can optionally be added to them for additional content control (eg, showing different content to different employees).

3) As an Ad-hoc Build

Finally, it’s worth noting one potential workaround that could be used to install an iOS app on a limited number of iOS devices without the need for an Enterprise license or publishing in the App Store.

The standard iOS Developer Program allows members to create apps and sign them for testing purposes as an “Ad Hoc” build. These can be installed onto a limited number of test devices only – see here for details.

There are two key limitations of this type of app. Firstly, a developer account may only register a limited number of devices (currently 100 iPads and 100 iPhones), and removing devices does not allow for new ones to be added until the end of the license year – so this really is a method suitable for limited use only.

Secondly, Apple’s License Agreement restricts to whom ad-hoc builds may be issued:

Subject to the terms and conditions of this Agreement, You may also distribute Your Applications for iOS, watchOS and tvOS to individuals within Your company, organization, educational institution, group, or who are otherwise affiliated with You for use on a limited number of Registered Devices (as specified on the Program web portal), if Your Application has been digitally signed using Your Apple Certificate as described in this Agreement.

Emphasis added. So in order to stay in compliance with Apple’s agreement, care would need to be taken to correctly interpret this limitation.

An Ad Hoc app can be created using any Mag+ service, from Single up to Multi Pro.

Help!

Still confused? This article provides just a brief overview of the options for employee and customer distribution, as we see them. If you’re considering building a Mag+ app, whether for internal or external use, we’re more than happy to help – please just drop us an email at hi@mndigital.co.