Developing Custom B2B iOS Applications

iOS Enterprise

There's a growing market opportunity for the iOS platform and it has nothing to do with what has traditionally helped it grab headlines: big business. Apple's iOS platform is increasingly gaining traction as the mobile platform of choice for large corporations in particular. Along with iPhones, iPod touches, and iPads, big corps also want to standardize on the suite of iOS applications they offer to their personnel. Enter Apple's Volume Purchase Program (VPP).

Ryan Faas has a thorough piece on how VPP gives Apple an advantage over Android and other mobile platforms. What it doesn't cover though, is how an iOS developer can actually place an iOS app into the program. Since we've answered this question for some of our customers, here's what you need to know.

1. Only custom B2B apps can be sold in the Volume Purchase Program.

While educational discounts can be toggled on an iOS app at any point, B2B apps cannot be sold in the App Store or to educational institutions. The reason is that this version of the application will never be on sale to consumers since it may be tailored specifically to a company.

2. There's no registration or signup required to participate in VPP.

To participate in the VPP, an iOS developer does not have to do any additional registration or signup. VPP is for purchasers only. Just ensure that all contracts are agreed to and banking information in place, which it likely already is.

3. Custom B2B apps can only be created during the initial setup.

If you've heard about VPP and visited "Rights and Pricing" for an app in iTunes Connect, the "Custom B2B" toggle will not be present. This option is solely available during the initial setup of the iOS application.

Custom B2B

4. VPP Apple IDs must be added in iTunes Connect.

In order to approve buyers, an Apple ID that is associated with the Volume Purchase Program must be added in the corresponding app listing in iTunes Connect. It's likely that some amount of discussion has occurred prior to a purchase, so you'll know the relevant VPP Apple ID to add.

Enterprise vs. B2B Applications

Customer B2B applications may sound similar to enterprise applications and Apple's iOS Enterprise Program. There are similarities since neither application goes into the App Store and both will be used inside the corporate walls. As it stands now, Apple's main distinction is that they consider enterprise applications built in-house where B2B applications involve engaging a third-party iOS developer or business partner.

A better distinction may instead come in the level of customizations required. From an iOS developer standpoint, the VPP does not make as much sense unless the purchaser is willing to buy the application with little to no changes. That is, apps in the VPP should largely be considered off-the-shelf software…take it or leave it. If a company wants considerable changes and customizations, they should instead contract an iOS developer and then use the enterprise program to distribute their applications.

Other Considerations

If the purchaser absolutely wants to use the Volume Purchase Program and will not engage in a direct contracting relationship, additional design and development costs should be captured in the price set per application (i.e., a significantly higher price). Depending on if any confidential or proprietary information is part of the application—no matter how small—it will be necessary to have a separate application listing per buyer.

Remember that unlike educational discounts, the Volume Purchase Program is really about the convenience of corporate buyers managing large amounts of application licenses. Despite what buyers or purchasers may think, the program is not about high volume discounts. So, there's no requirement to offer a lower price per application. Arguably, these kinds of customers should be charged a higher price, especially if they will be requiring or expecting more regular support. It would be advisable to discuss customizations required, support expectations, and similar items before a buyer proceeds with the VPP.

Ken Yarmosh is the Founder & CEO of Savvy Apps. He's the creator of more than 20 featured apps, including an Editor's Choice selection and Starbucks Pick of the Week. An O'Reilly author, Ken regularly speaks about application design & development, as well as the future of technology at outlets ranging from Bloomberg TV to Google.

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