Distributing B2B Apps using the App Store and Private Distribution

August 27, 2019 Code Authority

Introduction

You’ve been tasked with bringing a client’s idea for a custom B2B app to life. After months of hard work, dozens of conference calls and nearly as many beta builds, your client has signed off on the final build and you’ve submitted it to Apple for review. You’re thrilled to have finally shipped their app and are ready to move on to the next challenge when an email from Apple arrives in your inbox. Your application has been rejected.

No App Store For You

While you probably already knew that Apple’s App Store Review Guidelines prohibit certain categories of apps from appearing on the App Store, such as apps containing adult content or gambling, what you probably didn’t know was that Guideline 3.2.2 of the Apple Developer Agreement also prohibits many custom B2B apps from appearing in the App Store as well. Apple’s reasoning for this? An app should only be distributed on the App Store if it’s intended for use by a “wide variety of external customers around the world.”

So how do you go about distributing your custom B2B app when Apple won’t allow you to distribute it via the App Store and your client’s eyes glaze over when you start using words like “server,” “ad-hoc” or “provisioning profile?” The answer is a little-known option called Private Distribution.

Distributing Privately

Think of private distribution as a private app store hidden within the App Store. Distributing your app via private distribution allows you to utilize all of Apple’s existing infrastructure and all of the features of the App Store, such as automatic updates and app thinning. Best of all, your client can maintain strict control over who has access to their app without having to manage messy distribution certificates and provisioning profiles.

A caveat to private distribution is that apps distributed this way cannot be found or purchased on the App Store. Instead, purchasing and license acquisition is handled through a product called Apple Business Manager.

Utilizing Apple Business Manager, a client can choose to acquire licenses in the form of App Store redemption codes that users can redeem on their personal or business device. Additionally, licenses that can be acquired and assigned to devices managed by your preferred Mobile Device Management suite or Managed Apple IDs. For the purposes of this post, we’re going to focus on distributing an app using private distribution with App Store redemption codes.

How To Guide

Prerequisites

In order to be able to distribute your custom B2B app via private distribution, your app must have never been previously approved for sale on the App Store. If your app was previously approved for sale and you’d like to switch from public to private distribution, you’ll need to submit a new binary using a different bundle identifier. Next, even if you intend on not charging for your app, you’ll need to have accepted the iOS Paid Applications Agreement.

Enrolling in Apple Business Manager

If you’re still reading, it’s safe to assume that your app meets both the prerequisites required for private distribution. Now it’s time to enroll your business, or your client’s business, in Apple Business Manager. To enroll a business in Apple Business Manager, you’ll need to know some basic information about the business such as the business’ legal name, D-U-N-S Number and the contact information for an individual who Apple will call to confirm the business’ enrollment.

Enrolling in Apple Business Manager

Once submitted, verification normally takes a few days. Once your business has been verified, your verification contact should receive an email from Apple allowing them to set up a Managed Apple ID for the business’ administrator.

Enabling Custom Apps

You should now be able to log in to Apple Business Manager. Once logged in, you’ll want to navigate to the Enrollment Information section, which can be found under Settings. From there, you’ll want to click the ‘Enable’ button next to Custom Apps. This will enable the ability for your business to acquire and distribute licenses for your custom B2B app.

Enrollment Information

Next, you’ll want to make note of the Organization Name and Organization ID listed on the Enrollment Information page. You’ll need this information further on. Make sure to record your Organization Name exactly as it’s entered here.

Prepare Your App

Now that you’ve enrolled in Apple Business Manager and enabled custom apps, it’s time to prepare your app for private distribution! Log in to App Store Connect as you normally would and select your custom B2B app. Once your app is selected, click Pricing and Availability and then scroll down until you find the Distribution for Business and Education section.

Distribution for Business and Education

Now select the ‘Available privately as a custom app for business’ option and enter the Organization ID and Organization Name that you noted in the previous step. Finally, make sure you click Save.

Note: You can add or delete approved organizations at any time without having to submit a new binary.

Submit Your App

That’s it! Your custom B2B app is now ready for private distribution. When you’re ready, you can submit your app for review. There are no other changes that you need to make on App Store Connect.

Distributing Your App

Congratulations, your app has been approved for sale! But don’t look for it on the App Store because you won’t find it. The only people who can see your app are the organizations that you specified in the Distribution for Business and Education section of App Store Connect.

Acquiring Redemption Codes

To generate redemption codes for your custom B2B app, you’ll need to log back in to Apple Business Manager. Once logged in, click on Custom Apps and then select your app. Next you’ll want to change the License Type from Managed to Redemption Codes and then enter the number of redemption codes that you wish to generate. Finally, to generate your redemption codes, simply click the ‘Get’ button.

That’s it! You’ve just deployed your custom B2B app to the App Store using private distribution! Congratulations!

For assistance getting your application onto the App Store or for help developing your next mobile application project, contact our professional mobile app developers at Code Authority today for a free project estimate!

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