The Apple enterprise app store conundrum
The iOS App Store, introduced in 2008, revolutionized the entire process of buying and installing software on mobile devices, and has since been replicated across every major mobile platform. It's even come to personal computers, first with the Mac App store, and soon with Microsoft's Windows Store for Windows 8-style apps.
But Apple's consumer-focused approach to apps creates challenges for iPhones and iPads in education and business environments. The App Store works great for individual users, but it doesn't work well for enterprises.
The problem is that the entire App Store sales model was built on the sale of songs, not for the traditional licensing of software. A song bought by a user is connected to and paid through a user's iTunes account. It is designed to be played on that user's computer, iPod, iOS device, Apple TV, or burned to a CD. It is a user-centered paradigm. That paradigm applied to iOS apps means that every app is associated with a user's iTunes account (a.k.a. Apple ID) and may be installed and run only on devices associated with that user's account.
Enterprise software purchases are very different. The value in any piece of software isn't found in the application itself. It's found in the legal right to install and run that application (a.k.a. the software license). When businesses purchase software like Microsoft's Office or Adobe's Creative Suite, they buy the right (licenses) to install and use that software either on a specific number of PCs, for a specific number or users, or for everyone across an organization. This volume or site license process is how business, schools, and every other organization has purchased and used software for decades. In virtually all cases, the license is not linked to a specific individual and his or her PCs or other devices.
This creates an inherent disconnect when it comes to iPhones and iPads in the workplace. Users can purchase apps for business use, but they are still associated with their Apple ID and can run only on their devices. Businesses can reimburse users for the expense, but the ability to use the app remains with the employee. If he or she leaves the company, the app leaves as well.
Apple tried to refine the situation with its Volume Purchase Program (VPP), which is available for both businesses and schools. The program allows a business to make bulk purchases of apps. Apple delivers the right to download and install the app to enterprise customers as a spreadsheet of App Store redemption codes - the same type of codes imprinted on iTunes Store gift cards or delivered when you gift a song or app to someone. To distribute apps, an organization can simply email those codes to users. When users redeem them on their devices or through iTunes, they gain access to the app for download and installation on their iOS devices without needing to pay for it.
That would be a workable solution, except that there's a catch. When a user redeems a VPP code, the app becomes associated with his or her iTunes account in the same manner as if the user had bought the app or received as a gift - meaning it leaves the organization with the user just as if the user had bought it.
This creates a problem for app licensing, distribution, and management - not to mention budgeting and reconciling of expenses. It's a problem that has yet to be truly solved in BYOD (bring your own device) programs as much as in situations where users are issued corporate or school owned iOS devices.
Customers have taken control of the buying process, and gone are the days of the carefully crafted marketing message. That means you have to deliver relevant, quality content in the proper context of the customer's situation and device they are using -- and that's a huge challenge for most companies.
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