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

How to distribute my In-House iOS app?

There are a variety of reasons why apps are developed: free, paid, in-app purchases, made for internal use, developed for clients & others. While Apple has created an efficient ecosystem, new and even existing developers can sometimes struggle when trying to understand how distribution programs and platforms work.

In this article, we will share the different ways to distribute apps on iOS, whether it is for testing or production. If you are looking for information about apps deployment with Apple Business Manager, this article will hopefully bring some context about app distribution.

What’s the right program for my objective?

If you are interested into getting all the details about iOS developer programs and code-signing options, please visit our great article The complete guide to private mobile app distribution on iOS. It features a comparison table with all the available options.

If you just want the executive summary, here’s a rundown of your available options for an iOS enterprise deployment.

Deployment method App Hosting Distribution
Ad-hoc (developer program) Your own server, TestFlight or EMM/MDM App developers must know each target devices’ UDID before deployment
In-house (enterprise developer program) Your own server or EMM/MDM Apple doesn’t allow new enterprise developer accounts to be registered.
Works for all devices without UDID registration.
Only authorised for distribution to direct employees or contractors.
Is replaced for new applications by Apple Business Manager.
App Store (developer program) Public App Store For all devices with an Apple ID. Not suitable (and rejected during review) for private applications.
Custom Apps (developer program) Apple Business Manager Via redemption codes or via EMM/MDM.

Let’s dive into each method with a bit more detail.

Ad-Hoc Deployment

If you are in a position to share an app for a private beta or small deployment, you should look into Apple’s ad-hoc distribution method. When you are deploying with ad-hoc, developers can use various ways to distribute their apps:

  • the app can be hosted on a web server or CMS and the link is shared with testers
  • it can be attached to an email
  • it can be distributed with Apple’s own Testflight
  • or deployed with a EMM or MDM

While this method is available to any Apple Developer Program member and relatively easy to use, it has a few limitations:

  • Developers will need to include their target devices’ UDIDs before they deploy their app. Only devices which UDID is known will be able to install the app. Unknown devices will prompt an error to users trying to install.
  • ad-hoc certificates expire every 3 months, so developers need to resign and distribute their apps quickly before it expires on user’s devices.

This deployment method is valid if you are conducting beta tests or are deploying an app temporarily. Ad-hoc signed apps can also be distributed via an EMM or MDM, but it doesn’t simplify what’s required for their management. However Appaloosa allows admins to collect UDIDs directly from users if they were not included in the original device list.

In-house, or Enterprise

This option became available years ago to allow businesses to distribute apps to staff without having to deal with the difficult ad-hoc’s UDID process or Apple’s app review.

The Enterprise program allows business developers to sign their apps and distribute on any device without knowing the device or submitting the app to Apple’s App Store. The business is responsible to whom it distributes the app, and Apple states that such apps can only be distributed within their own organization – ie not partners and certainly not the general public.

Apps that are signed for enterprise distribution can be similarly deployed via a web server or an EMM/MDM solution. Appaloosa is a cloud-based solution that supports the distribution of in-house applications. It allows admins to upload their apps and define users and groups it should be restricted to. However, apps expire after a year and need to be re-signed then redeployed.

Please note that this program’s eligibility has become even more restrictive in the past years. While Apple openly suggests that companies are expected to have at least 100 employees to qualify, we see that Apple is encouraging new business applications of any size to enroll in Apple Business Manager instead. Lucky businesses who already have an enterprise program subscription can keep it as long as they keep it active.

To conclude on this method, there are three limitations:

  • Apps expire, even if they have a longer lifespan than ad-hoc
  • Apps can only be distributed within your own organization
  • To our knowledge, there’s a very slim chance for new enterprise program applications to be approved.

Custom apps with Apple Business Manager

When enrolling in Apple Business Manager, you will be creating your own private app store for Apple devices, including iOS. This means that you will be able to make apps available for your business. However instead of signing those apps with ad-hoc or in-house certificates, they will be submitted to Apple for review but published to your private app store instead of the public App Store. This means that there is an approval process, however guidelines are less strict than the public App Store since your apps will not be made for general consumption. For instance, a sign-up form will not be required for your app.

The immediate benefit of Custom apps is that they do not expire. But you will need an EMM/MDM solution to properly manage apps licencing and distribution. Appaloosa provides an integration with Apple Business Manager and helps with app licence management and app distribution.

Next in our guide: How to deploy Custom Apps on iOS?