This article is part of our guide: What is Apple Business Manager?

Custom Apps is a great way to distribute your app outside the App Store. Private distribution is common in businesses who have prepared an app for employee or partner use. If building a private app store is one of your goals, then you need to learn more about Custom Apps on iOS.

Prerequisites

When reaching the distribution stage on iOS, your business should have an Apple Developer Account. This account allows developers to manage their app’s lifecyle, from beta test to distribution. Also, you will need to have an active Apple Business Manager account.

So let’s recap everything you need to understand how to deploy Custom Apps on iOS:

How to enable Custom Apps?

In order to benefit from having a Custom App within your organization, you need to follow these steps:

  • Sign in to Apple Business Manager – you should have the rights to change your organization settings
  • Go to Settings > Organization Settings > Enrollment Information > Custom Apps. Choose to Enable.

Apple Business Manager Custom Apps

Once Custom Apps are enabled, you will need to keep note of your Organization ID to make apps available to your environment. To find this information, go to Settings, and find it in Device Management Settings under Organization Settings.

How to publish apps as Custom Apps?

If you are familiar with App Store Connect distribution, then the next part will be easy to you. You need to submit an app to Apple for Apple for review.

However, under “App Distribution Methods”, you can make your Private.

It should read:

Private — Available as a custom app on Apple Business Manager or Apple School Manager

 

From the dropdown, you will need to select “Organization ID” and enter the code from the previous section and add it to the ID field.

 

Private app distribution as Custom App

Click Save and you’re done! You can now complete the process by submitting your app for review.

When your app is approved, it will be made available under your Apple Business Manager console. While the app is available on Apple Business Manager, it isn’t distributed to anyone yet!

How to distribute Custom Apps?

To distribute Custom Apps to your business users, you must select a distribution method which depends on your target use case:

  • deploying to unmanaged or partner devices: you will make use of redemption codes. Think of redemption codes as coupons. You will give a coupon to download your private app to each target user. When the user makes use of his individual coupon, he will be able to download the app privately from Apple.
  • deploying to managed devices, your own employees or BYOD: you will leverage an EMM/MDM solution in conjunction with Apple’s Volume Purchase Program (VPP). In this case, the EMM/MDM solution will handle licence assignments automatically for you.

Distribution with Redemption Codes

To distribute your Custom App to users, you will need to generate redemption codes.

  1. Log in to Apple Business Manager
  2. Click on Custom Apps. Select the one you want to deploy – it needs to be approved beforehand
  3. Select Redemption Codes from the Licence Type dropdown
  4. Enter the number of Redemption Codes to generate a spreadsheet of private codes to share with your userbase.

Please note:

  • You should generate way more Redemption Codes than users. As Redemption Codes can only be used once per device, a user with two iOS devices will require two redemption codes.
  • Apple does not provide any distribution method for these Redemption Codes. You should find a solution to avoid sending each user an individual licence codes.
  • App updates are managed by Apple’s App Store update features. So….you’re never quite sure exactly when it is going to get to the user’s device 🙂

Distribution with EMM/MDM

When distributing via EMM/MDM, it is still a licence-based distribution model, but this time with Apple’s Volume Purchase Program (VPP).

  1. Make sure you have an EMM/MDM solution in place.
  2. Log in to Apple Business Manager
  3. Under Settings, go to Apps & Books. Under Server Tokens, download your file.
  4. Upload your file to your EMM/MDM console

Apple Business Manager server token

This token will enable the EMM/MDM solution to fetch available apps, fetch licences on-the-fly for users you will make the app available to. Appaloosa is one of the solutions enabling admins to distribute apps with this method.

How to update Custom Apps?

Once you have deployed your first Custom App version, you might be in a position to deploy app updates.

To publish iOS app updates, you will need to go through Apple’s review again using App Store Connect. Once you have passed the first review, further reviews are approved faster. Apple states that app updates review are typically under 2 days.

Once the app is approved by Apple, updates are deployed to your users according to the distribution method you chose earlier:

  • when using Redemption Codes, app updates are deployed automatically by the Apple App Store installed on the user’s device. Even if automated updates are enabled by the end-users, this doesn’t necessarily mean it will be fast. It won’t certainly be instantaneous.
  • when using VPP in pair with an EMM/MDM, app updates are pushed automatically and instantly, as the MDM server sends push installation requests directly to the user’s device.

How to remove Custom Apps from a user’s device?

Unfortunately if you deploy using Redemption Codes, there’s no feature or API available to prevent a user from using your app even if he isn’t authorised to do so. This is why you should consider using an EMM/MDM and VPP instead if removing an app remotely is one of your key requirements. Alternatively, your app could feature a log in screen or some extra security features preventing a user from using your app further.

With the help of a proper EMM/MDM solution such as Appaloosa, Custom Apps can be remotely wiped from a user’s device if the user has left the business or if a device has been lost or stolen.

Next in our guide: Apple Business Manager & Appaloosa