As Apple’s focus has continued to become more consumer-centric over the years, it’s been easy to forget that the company and its devices are still working to penetrate major companies—the “enterprise market” or “enterprise,” as the business world is often called. While we were at WWDC last week, we spoke with quite a few iOS application developers who repeated a common challenge they were facing: they’ve been struggling to develop and market truly enterprise-scale applications for iOS devices.
While the App Store does a great job of delivering iOS apps to average consumers, Apple’s focus on consumer sales has created a new and different set of challenges for businesses. Some of the most daunting involve businesses that hope to deploy third-party apps on a large number of corporate iPad or iPhone devices, and app developers who would like to be able to sell their apps to such organizations.
Although Apple does offer an Enterprise Developer Program, this program only allows organizations to develop and deploy their own apps and distribute them in-house, effectively bypassing the App Store for their own employees. This program does not address the requirements of third-party developers who would like to develop and sell business apps to large organizations, leaving a large gap between the individual consumer and the Fortune 500 business that has the manpower and will to build its own in-house apps.
Many developers have recently been looking to sell business-grade apps, particularly since the iPad has become a natural fit to everything from field sales to medical analysis and records management. There are already a number of higher-end apps on the App Store that perform professional, business-grade tasks, but sadly many of these have not seen the wide adoption that developers would hope for. This, the developers tell us, is due largely to the way the App Store manages developer-customer relationships.
The crux of the problem is that the App Store is designed to sell software to individual iOS device users, not to larger corporate entities who may actually own or control such devices. Downloading an app from the App Store requires an individual Apple ID and password, both of which must be entered on the individual device or in iTunes in order to purchase and authorize the app.
This system unnecessarily frustrates a corporate IT department that wants to purchase and deploy a third-party app from the App Store for hundreds of employees. Right now, the App Store expects each employee to download the app with his or her own Apple ID. In the case of paid apps, this means the user is required to pay for the app from their own account and then presumably be reimbursed by the company somehow. Alternatives such as having employees set up secondary Apple IDs with corporate credit cards may be an option in some organizations—and one that’s going to create issues down the line—but the real issue is that there’s no concept of corporate application licensing within the walls of Apple’s App Store.
The use of a single “corporate” App Store account doesn’t solve this problem either; in this case you’re effectively buying one copy of the app for use by multiple end users. Apple’s terms are generous in allowing family members living in the same household to share apps, but this magnanimity clearly would not extend to a corporation of dozens or hundreds of employees sharing a single purchased copy of an app. While consumers deserve the flexibility to install their apps on whatever devices they own, businesses that are willing to pay for multiple licenses for productivity apps should be able to do so, and their users should be able to have those apps install automatically without needing to make individual purchases and installation decisions.
We have spoken with a number of developers who have been wresting with these issues from their side, since this effectively makes it difficult to develop and sell apps designed with the enterprise in mind. How do you sell an app to an organization that has to effectively make each of their employees purchase the app themselves?
For developers who are building iOS apps as front ends to a service, many have taken the approach of giving the app away on the App Store as a free download and then building some kind of server-side licensing control to ensure that they get paid for the appropriate numbers of users or copies of the app that are being used. This allows corporate employees to go find and download the app on their own devices as end users, and then enter the necessary credentials to connect to the online service, such as a database or document-sharing server.
Unfortunately, since Apple wants its 30% revenue cut, such approaches run afoul of App Store policies, and some developers have found their apps are getting rejected by the App Store for this reason alone. Some developers have succeeded in getting their apps approved despite this restriction—generally, companies with existing online services to which they are adding an iOS app. This includes developers who have built traditional web-based services as well as those who are already releasing apps for other mobile platforms such as Android and BlackBerry. In this scenario, the developer is charging for access to an existing online service rather than merely for use of the iOS application.
However, even these solutions are limited to apps that access shared online services. For apps with corporate appeal that don’t have any kind of online interaction, there’s ultimately no solution available for developers to easily sell into businesses except to rely on those organizations using the consumer-based App Store purchasing model. In addition to making it difficult for large organizations to provide such apps to their employees, this also makes it difficult for developers to provide bulk purchase incentives; most software licensing models provide discounts for the purchase of licenses in larger quantities, yet on the App Store there is no concept of a quantity purchase since apps are sold to end users who have individual, separate Apple IDs, and not to organizations.
The growth of the App Store has been astounding, and clearly, Apple’s initial focus on consumer solutions has yielded tremendous dividends. Now it’s time to give third-party enterprise app developers the additional support they need to turn iOS devices into ubiquitous business tools. Over the past two years, Apple has clearly been positioning its iOS devices for corporate use, improving Exchange ActiveSync support and providing advanced device management and policy controls through iOS and Mac tools. But while the Enterprise iOS Developer Program is helping companies to build and distribute their own in-house apps, there’s a large gap between what companies can do themselves and what third-party developers can do for small, medium, and large enterprises. If the iOS platform is going to be taken seriously in the corporate world for anything beyond its core, built-in features, enabling developers to distribute their apps on an enterprise scale would be a great next step in the right direction.