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Apple Developer Enterprise Program & Distribution Models

Gokulkrishnan Sivasubramaniam
apple developer enterprise

Are you an Enterprise or Enterprise app builder trying to understand the advantages and applications of the Apple Developer Enterprise Program? Would you like to know how you can distribute apps built using this platform? You have come to the right place as we have some high level knowledge that is bound to help you in your pathway.

Apple Developer Enterprise Program

Apple Developer Enterprise Program allows enterprise/companies to build and distribute apps for their internal employees. Apple allows Company/Government organization to register for enterprise program make use of In-house distribution. Pre-requisites to register vary based on type of organization and it can be identified in enterprise developer program enrollment page by selecting specific entity type.

With this program, enterprises are allowed to publish their apps in their own distribution environment, but not in AppStore. This takes away the dependency or the delay of Apple team reviewing your app before publishing it for end-users. 

Given the advantage of open distribution, enterprises must be aware and to avoid publishing the enterprise app for non-employees or general public. In such cases, Apple may terminate the account observing such violations. This is because with enterprise apps we can use private frameworks to access required device/user data, which is generally restricted as per Apple review guidelines.

Enterprise App Distribution Methods

Apps built with Apple Developer Enterprise Program are not eligible for uploading to AppStore or TestFlight. However, they can be distributed via the following methods

  1. Over the Air (OTA) link-based distribution
  2. Mobile Device Management (MDM) based distribution
  3. 3rd party enterprise store distribution

OTA Based Distribution

Application ipa file can be uploaded to secure server along with meta-data setting and be made available via a specific link where users can use it to download and install the app. To generate an OTA link for your app, follow the steps provided in iOS OTA app distribution guide. This is a recommended and the fastest way to implement over MDM distribution.

Some of common release propagation approaches with OTA links are:

  1. Sharing app link over enterprise email to a defined group of employees/users. This can either be for testing purpose or for final production release.
  2. Generated OTA links can be embedded in enterprise/company internal website making it available for employees.

MDM Based Distribution

If the enterprise/company got an existing Mobile Device Management solution, then the enterprise app can be published to target devices that are being managed by the MDM. Configuration and distribution steps with MDM varies based on the MDM being used. Using MDM based approach provides an advantage of pushing application directly into end-user device without expecting any end-user action. If enterprise would like to buy new MDM to manage their devices, here are some popular MDM solutions for reference - AirWatch, MobileIron.

3rd Party Enterprise Store Distribution

Once the application binary is ready for distribution, the same can be uploaded to the 3rd party app stores and made available for designated users. Enterprise can sign-up with one of the 3rd party distribution management software to manage their enterprise apps for their employees. Some of popular enterprise build management options are Hockey, Diawi, Firebase App Distribution, Applivery, AppHost etc.

Note:
Apps distributed via Enterprise account must be completely owned & managed by the Enterprise. So, it is a recommended practice to control the app publishing with authentication especially when using OTA link approach. MDMs and 3rd party stores are expected to have their own authentication setup.

Re-Distribution

Enterprise apps will work only if the associated certificate and profile are valid. Enterprise apps are expected to re-distribute in certain specific interval because of below circumstances.

  • Expired Certificates
  • Expired Provision Profiles

Currently enterprise certificate is set to expire every 3 years and provision profiles are set to expire every year. So, the maximum possible lifetime for an enterprise-built app binary is 3 years given that you are using MDM distribution, which supports pushing new provision profile without updating the app every year.

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