iPad Apps: Is Apple Courting the Enterprise?

Apple's new volume purchase program for business seeks to solve a major problem of iOS app distribution. Just beware of the wording: Custom B2B apps in the program must go through an Apple app review process.

Tue, July 19, 2011

CIO — In an amazing about-face for a company that has traditionally focused solely on the consumer market, Apple (AAPL) is showing signs of courting the enterprise. Apple's latest overture is a volume purchasing program and portal for custom iOS business-to-business apps.

The program, though, comes with a caveat: Apple gets to review business apps.

Last week, Apple introduced its App Store Volume Purchase Program for Business. The program lets a company buy a business app in bulk via a credit card. Apps come in the form of App Store redeem codes that the company emails to employees.

The volume purchase program complements Apple's existing iOS Developer Enterprise Program ($300 per year) for allowing companies to create in-house business apps for the iPhone and iPad. Apple's volume purchase program isn't live yet, but it shouldn't be too long because it's really an extension of an existing volume purchasing program aimed at the education market.

For years, Apple has forsaken the enterprise, so what's behind the turnaround? Answer: The iPad's surprisingly rapid rise in companies. Apple has claimed that three out of four of the Fortune 500 are testing or deploying iPads. Indeed, iPads have been found on the job at some of the most unusual places.

Apple CEO Steve Jobs also sees the iPad becoming much more than a consumer-friendly media device—perhaps replacing laptops in the near future. In order to do this, development, distribution and management of enterprise iOS apps must be part of the equation.

Apple's volume purchase program is a good first step toward this goal: No company cares to process thousands of expense reports that have a few dollars worth of iPad apps.

"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,'" Cimarron Buser, vice president at Apperian, an enterprise app developer platform vendor, told CIO.com.

But Apple still has far to go on the enterprise front. CIOs must make sense out of thousands of iPad apps available to employees, mandating some and recommending others. Drafting user policies on iPad apps took a lot longer than expected at one major law firm.

The volume purchase program also has a few holes. For starters, a company can't use the program for apps that are free, simply because free apps don't have a redeem code option. Without the program, a company may run into app management and record-keeping issues. After all, what's preventing anyone from downloading a free app?

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