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Pump Up the Volume

If you’re an iOS developer or part of a team that creates iOS apps, you know how difficult it can be to distribute those apps to devices outside the App Store.  For review and testing, Ad Hoc distribution can be a headache, even with wonderful services like TestFlight and Hockey.

But final distribution can be painful as well, especially if you’re distributing apps to clients outside the App Store. I understand why Apple wants you to use their store, but a lot of our clients are enterprises and businesses that do not want their apps publicly available.

You can use Enterprise distribution if your client has an Enterprise license, assuming they also have a solid IT team who can make sure everything runs smoothly.  But smaller teams often don’t have these licenses. Many of us have tried using something like TestFlight, but Ad Hoc distribution is just not meant for anything other than testing and review.

So what is a developer to do? That’s where Apple’s Volume Purchase Program comes to the rescue!  Never heard of the VPP? You’re not alone.  It's become apparent to us through MeetUps and other discussions that a lot of developers and companies are simply not aware of the program and what it can do for them.

From our perspective, we’ve really come to see it as the way to distribute any production-ready app if you’re not publicly available and you don’t have an Enterprise license. Here’s how Apple views the VPP:

Whether you have ten employees or ten thousand, the Volume Purchase Program makes it simple to find, buy, and distribute the iOS apps...your business needs.
The Volume Purchase Program also provides a way to get custom B2B apps built by third-party developers to meet the unique needs of your business.

The program has actually been around for a few years, but it initially required a minimum charge of $9.99 per app per user.  That just wasn’t an option for a company like us, though $9.99 per would be great for one of those clients with ten thousand users! ;)

So last year at WWDC 2012, Rick and I were very excited when Apple announced that they were removing the minimum charge. It took us a while, but we’re finally rolling out apps for clients using the Volume Purchase Program. It's not hard, per se. You follow a similar process for submitting to the App Store, using iTunes Connect, where you select the Custom B2B App checkmark to specify it for VPP.

We did encounter some snags the first few times, however, and I’m outlining them below so that hopefully it becomes easier for anyone else out there trying it out.

  • You MUST specify VPP customers—You cannot just upload an app and handle distribution yourself. You are the developer, and you must specify who your customers are in order to distribute the app. We tried to make ourselves our own customer but Apple was pretty strict about keeping that separation.

  • Your customers need special VPP accounts—They need to be Apple IDs created specifically for VPP.  According to Apple:

For a custom B2B app, you must enter at least one Apple ID that was created for use with the Volume Purchase Program (the Apple ID is usually an email address). This app will only be available to the Volume Purchase Program Apple IDs you specify here (you can add as many as you would like).

For our usage, we asked our client for an e-mail address from their domain so we could manage their end of VPP for them. It’s not difficult, but many clients just want the app. They don’t want to have to manage anything on iTunes to get it.

  • You go through the same review process—Prep your customers with the same speech you give regarding App Store submissions (ie, Yes it takes this long. No there's nothing you can do to speed it up)! This also means you have to have your icons, screenshots and information ready when you submit.

  • You have to set up everything under Contracts, Tax and Banking—This was the most confounding for us. We set everything up, our apps were uploaded, reviewed, and approved, yet we could not see them on our customer’s dashboard. It was only after doing some research when we realized we had to complete that entire section, even though the app was free. Once that was done, the app was available.

  • You generate Excel spreadsheets filled with redemption codes—Seems a little 1995 to us, but that’s how you distribute redemption codes. The client specifies how many apps they want to “purchase”, and the service generates a spreadsheet with all the requested codes. Archaic? A bit. But guess what? No more UDIDs!

Like a lot of what we do, this isn't rocket science. Hopefully you're reading this and thinking, "Duh, it all makes sense to me." More than anything, we hope more of our colleagues become aware of this really cool alternative for app distribution.