Apple Trips Up Enterprise iPhone Apps

Apple's confusing iOS Developer Enterprise Program shows a lack of enterprise understanding.

Apple has come a long way, secretly courting the enterprise to adopt iPhones and iPads, but a closer look at its iOS Developer Enterprise Program shows that Apple still has much to learn about the needs of companies.

Apple's iOS Developer Enterprise Program ($299 per year) lets developers create iOS apps that can be distributed to employees. These apps do not appear on the App Store. But the program has a history of stymieing iPhone and iPad apps from entering the enterprise.

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The problem stems from the licensing verbiage.

Up until six weeks ago, no company with less than 500 employees could qualify for the iOS Developer Enterprise Program. They could not develop and deploy an iPhone or iPad app in an efficient manner. Of course, there were workarounds that probably violated Apple's policies, such as using the beta program to get an app into the hands of employees who weren't actually "testing" the app.

Apple quietly ended the employee-count requirement six weeks ago. Now, any size company can qualify for the iOS Developer Enterprise Program.

The program, however, still has quirks that continue to confound enterprise app developers. For instance, the iOS Developer Enterprise Program only allows apps to be given to employees and contractors, not to suppliers, customers or other trading partners. Supply chain management apps? Forget it.

The apps also must be customized to a particular company. This means companies can't grab an off-the-shelf app and deploy it throughout their enterprise under the iOS Developer Enterprise Program. The rationale, Apple doesn't want an enterprise app store selling generic enterprise apps that compete with its own App Store.

So why can't companies simply grab a generic enterprise app from the App Store? They can, of course, and plenty of enterprise apps line the App Store's shelves, such as QuickOffice ($10). However, since these apps aren't sold under the iOS Developer Enterprise Program, a company can't buy them in bulk. Nor can they be deployed and managed well.

"Someone actually told me, 'I've got employees buying a $20 app with their credit cards on the App Store, expensing it, and then it costs $25 to process the expense report,'" says Cimarron Buser, vice president of products and marketing at Apperian, which offers an enterprise app developer platform for the iPhone and iPad.

One workaround is to do mashups of, say, Salesforce.com's iPhone app in order to satisfy the "customization" criteria, Buser says.

On the upside, Apple doesn't inspect and scrutinize apps in the iOS Developer Enterprise Program like it does with apps on the App Store, Buser says. The enterprise app, though, has to meet ambiguous rules, such as apps can't be bandwidth hogs or tap GPS for emergency purposes.

Then there's the Apple kill switch. Since every iOS app, including mission-critical enterprise ones, has a profile and signed certificate, Apple can pull the certificate and kill any app it has a problem with, Buser says. It's highly unlikely Apple would exercise the kill switch, says Buser, Apple would probably just opt not to renew the app next year.

Either way, companies need to know what they're getting into as iPhones, iPads, and iOS apps drive deeper into the enterprise.

Tom Kaneshige covers Apple and Networking for CIO.com. Follow Tom on Twitter @kaneshige. Follow everything from CIO.com on Twitter @CIOonline. Email Tom at tkaneshige@cio.com.

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