5 things you need to know about Apple's Volume Purchase Program

Apple's Volume Purchase Program gives IT administrators purchase and deployment controls for iOS and Mac apps. Here are five things enterprises need to know about Apple VPP and the new IT-friendly features expected in iOS 9.

Apple's Volume Purchasing Program lets businesses bulk purchase and deploy apps on Apple devices.
Credit: Apple / Thinkstock

Apple hopes to bolster its position in the enterprise mobility management (EMM) market in September with its new iOS 9 software, which packs key features and overdue enhancements for IT administrators. Apple's Volume Purchase Program (VPP), a specialized App Store and service that lets businesses purchase software licenses in bulk and then distribute apps to multiple users, will soon give admins more options to install, update and remove business apps.

Organizations will also be able to assign apps to specific devices, so IT could send an app to a user's corporate iPhone and not her personal iPad, for example. Apple is removing the requirement for every employee in an organization to have their own Apple ID, so admins will no longer have to worry about staff installing the same business apps on multiple devices. Enterprises will still be able to use the old model when it makes sense or if they don't mind if employees have the same apps on their iPhones, iPads and Macs. However, the new managed-distribution option lets IT departments pick the paths that work best for their organizations.

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Apple first launched VPP in 2010, and the program has since evolved from long spreadsheets of code designed to be used for one-time app purchases into something much more modern and IT-friendly. Here are five things enterprises need to know about the program, along with details on how it can help them find, purchase and distribute enterprise apps across organizations small and large.

What is Apple VPP, and are there eligibility requirements?

Apple VPP is an App Store and framework that lets businesses purchase bulk licenses for iOS and Mac apps so that they can then be distributed to multiple users. It is one of the three primary components of Apple's Deployment Programs, and it gives IT more enterprise-application distribution and management options.

Any business is eligible to enroll in the program, and it is available in 26 countries. Interested organizations must provide a valid email address, phone number, work address and have a Dun & Bradstreet (D&B) number that matches the corporate information they provide during the enrollment process. (There is no cost for a business to register with D&B, and the approval process usually takes less than five days.) The individual involved in the enrollment process must also provide documentation that proves they can act as an agent for the program on behalf of their company. Apple will make a determination fairly quickly after it reviews the information and verifies it against the D&B database. 

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"If you have all the paperwork that you need upfront it will take … a week or two to get through this," says Tad Johnson, commercial marketing manager at JAMF Software, a mobile device management vendor for Apple products. "Once you get past the internal authorization piece, the paperwork with Apple is pretty quick."

Program members get access to a custom App Store with thousands of paid apps in categories such as business, productivity, finance and travel. Some books from Apple's iBooks Store are available for purchase through the program, as well. 

How much does it cost to enroll in Apple's VPP? 

It's free for a business to join Apple VPP, but companies must pay licensing fees for all of the apps they purchase.

How do you make bulk app purchases using Apple VPP? 

After Apple approves an organization's VPP enrollment request, it can create multiple administrator accounts that give individuals the authority to purchase apps on behalf of their organizations. Apple puts no limit on the number of VPP administrator accounts businesses can have. The VPP store lets approved administrators search for apps, specify how many licenses they want to purchase, choose the distribution type, and finally, place orders using VPP credit or corporate credit cards on file. 

What is the difference between VPP managed distribution and redeemable codes?

Managed distribution allows VPP administrators to assign, update, revoke and reassign apps or books through their mobile device management (MDM) providers, assuming those providers support the VPP program. "Your MDM server becomes linked with Apple so when you purchase an app your MDM server receives inventory information and you can then assign that app to one of your employees" or a specific device of their choosing, says Adam Codega, an IT specialist at Swipely, a business analytics company and Apple VPP member.

"Managed distribution makes it much easier for organizations who are doing this in large scale," says Johnson. "Now an IT administrator can purchase apps in bulk … and they can make an assignment of which users in their organizations are going to get what collection of apps."

To take advantage of the managed distribution model, businesses must integrate their MDM solutions with the VPP store via a token that's renewed once a year. IT admins typically invite users to participate by sending email or push notifications, via MDM servers, to users' devices. Administrators can also revoke and reassign VPP licenses as employees leave the organization or no longer need specific apps.

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VPP redeemable codes are the "equivalent of sending your staff gift cards," says Codega. Employees can enter these codes in the App Store to "purchase" and download apps, but the codes are single use, which means an employer cannot reassign the license to another employee or device.

What are the new VPP features or enhancements in iOS 9?

When iOS 9 is released next month, VPP members will be able to assign apps to specific devices instead of employees. "When you're assigning to a device, that eliminates that requirement to have an Apple ID," says Johnson.

However, VPP members that want to use this new distribution model will need to ensure all the devices within their organizations (including those owned by employees) are updated to the latest version of iOS, and their MDM providers also need to update for the new software, according to Johnson.

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