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Why Apple’s “Unlisted App” Feature is a Boon for Businesses

November 7, 2022

Nithya Rachel Gokulkrishnan Sivasubramaniam

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Why Apple’s “Unlisted App” Feature is a Boon for Businesses

For many years, it has been challenging for organizations to get their internal business apps reviewed and approved by the Apple review team. But now, companies can publish their business apps as “unlisted” on the App Store without a hassle. 

In this blog post, let’s look at the benefits of the unlisted app distribution model to understand why this feature is a boon for most businesses. Let’s also explore the other common app distribution models and understand how to choose the right Apple program to distribute your app to the intended audience. 

Common App Distribution Models 

Apple allows the distribution of production applications in more ways than one. To build and distribute apps on the Apple platforms, you must enroll your organization in a membership program. The Apple Developer Program is suitable for most business needs. The Apple Developer Enterprise Program is ideal for large organizations that want to develop and distribute proprietary apps. Apple Business Manager is a free portal using which companies can manage volume purchase of apps & deploy on devices. Check out the chart below to understand the common app distribution models and the Apple accounts you need to publish the app to the intended audience. 

apple app distribution models-latest

Benefits of Unlisted App Distribution

Apple introduced the unlisted app feature in 2022 to simplify the limited audience app distribution process.

Discoverable only via a direct link

Unlisted apps are hidden apps on the App Store. These apps do not appear on App Store search results, recommendations, charts, or categories. Businesses can choose to unlist an app from the App Store and share a direct link only to their business audience so only they can download and install the app on their devices. Apple recommends implementing authentication mechanisms within the app to prevent unauthorized use.

No Apple Business Manager Account Signup Required

In the traditional private app distribution models, companies must sign up for an additional Apple Business Manager (ABM) account to manage company-owned devices or distribute the app to users of a region. But with the latest unlisted distribution app model, there are no such requirements.

In-App Purchases Are Possible

Apple Business Manager does not support in-app purchases. But in an unlisted app, users can make in-app purchases. 

Simplified App Review Process

Before the unlisted app feature, it was common for an organization to engage in conversation loops with the Apple review team, justifying how their app is for internal use at their company and not for general distribution. But now, an organization can purchase the Apple Developer Program to build the app and distribute it as unlisted on the App Store. The Apple developer program “Account Holder” must ensure compliance with App Store publishing guidelines and submit a form for review.

Other Ways of Distributing an App

General Public (Listed) App Distribution

This is the distribution model that most of us are familiar with. General public apps are the “listed apps” on Apple’s App Store. Users can search and find these apps on App Store or discover them on recommendations, charts, or categories. From a development and distribution point of view, app owners must purchase the Apple Developer Program and ensure compliance with the App Store publishing guidelines.

Private Distribution

In a private distribution model, your app does not appear on the iOS App Store. To distribute an app privately, you must purchase the Apple Developer Program and sign up for an Apple Business Manager account. You can buy and manage license volumes to install the app on company-owned managed devices or provide redemption codes to authorize user distributions.

Enterprise Self-Hosted Distribution

Large enterprises with full-scale IT teams can distribute apps to employees through this distribution model. However, the organization must purchase Apple Developer Enterprise Program to self-host their business app and distribute it to unlimited devices. Distribution outside of the organization is considered a contractual breach.

Quick Bites for Choosing a Distribution Model or Apple Program

  • For most businesses, the Apple Developer Program is sufficient.
  • Apple Small Business Program helps you enroll one or more of your existing/new developer programs and reduce commission rates on paid apps.
  • Apple Business Manager is a free suite to manage your volume purchase and distribution via Mobile Device Management (MDM) or Redeem code.
  • Apple Business Manager is not an MDM. Managed employees must be a part of your MDM, and MDM should be connected to the Apple Business Manager account to use the MDM distribution model.
  • AppStore redeem codes don’t need MDM. But they are limited to purchasing apps only in the App Store region to which Apple Business Manager is tied.
  • You can buy the Apple Developer Enterprise Program only if the eligibility criteria are met. Apple also mandates a continuous evaluation process.
  • You can use Private APIs on apps built with Apple Developer Enterprise Program, as these apps are not subjected to Apple’s review.

Quick Links to Learn More

Final Thoughts

According to a 2022 stat, 89% of Apple devices introduced over the last four years in the market use iOS 15. The “unlisted app” is a much-awaited feature as it allows business owners to get their business apps on employees’ devices without exhausting too much time and money. Whether on a construction site or a hotel lobby, a business app that allows employees to work from anywhere is paramount for your success. At Eleviant, we have developed and published unlisted apps for businesses. Talk to our experts to see how we can solve your unique business problems.

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