Distribute iOS apps without an Apple-ID

Maybe you've encountered this situation yourself: there is a productivity app you want everybody in your company or department to use. Think of “Evernote”, for instance, or Toggl or Microsoft Office. Traditionally, everybody had to download the apps individually from the Apple App Store using their iPhone (whether company-owned or private) and their personal Apple ID. But this very quickly becomes difficult to organize and keep organized – assuming that staff levels fluctuate over time and people forget their passwords every now and then. It could turn out to be quite chaotic, in particular for your IT support staff! Having employees install apps themselves as well as provide their own Apple ID brings with it several problems:

  • Not every employee will succeed in installing the app
  • Some won’t have the time to do so and therefore won't ever install/use the app at all.
  • They may not want to use their personal Apple ID to download the app even if the app is free.
  • They likewise may not want to create another Apple ID – yet another personal account. They would then also have to re-purchase the other apps they had been working with earlier because they would be using a new/different Apple ID.

In short: It's a big hassle!

Why Apple IDs are problematic

To install any iOS app on an iPhone, you need an Apple ID since the app license (even if the app itself is free) is tied to an Apple ID. This also means that if you use several devices with the same Apple ID, you only need to buy an app once. According to Apple, regular Apple IDs are for personal use only. Apple IDs can’t be managed centrally. Either the company creates separate Apple IDs for each employee, or everybody generates their own Apple ID. (Note: There are now Managed Apple IDs, part of Apple's Education Deployment Program. But this does not apply as yet to corporate use.) Creating Apple IDs takes time. Managing them produces more problems if employees have (what are basically) admin rights to it – after all, you generally need your Apple ID password to download an app. Some companies create only a handful of Apple IDs and have multiple employees use the same one. But that means that a FaceTime call would ring on more than one device or an iMessage would find the wrong recipient. Since iOS 10, it is also possible to use an iPhone to see all other devices that use the same Apple ID and to remove them. In addition, Apple restricts the number of devices that can be used with the same Apple ID. There is, however, a solution:

Buy apps in bulk with Apple’s Volume Purchase Program

Apple’s Volume Purchase Program (VPP) lets companies buy app licenses in bulk for all their employees and continues to expand to ever more countries. When VPP for Business was conceived in 2011, a company could buy licenses in the form of redeemable codes and then distribute these codes to its employees. But that meant everyone still had to use an Apple ID on their device to redeem the code. It was just a regular app license as if they had bought the app themselves. This also meant the app license could not be revoked if the person left the company.

Distribute the app to the device, not the user!

The most recent version of the Volume Purchase Program, though, finally solves the Apple ID problem. With VPP, you can now buy app licenses in bulk and then send them directly to the devices. This is completely user-independent and does not require an Apple ID on the target iPhone or iPad. Even better: All app licenses can be managed through a fully-featured Mobile Device Management (MDM) and therefore can be withdrawn by IT administration without needing any information from the user of the device. Apple calls this Managed Distribution. Technically, you can choose between what they call User Assignment or Device Assignment. So you could also choose to send the license to a user. The advantage of this would be that one license could be active on multiple devices owned by the same employee. But User Assignment, of course, also means giving the app license to the user with all the Apple ID-related problems described above. So we thoroughly recommend sending licences to devices instead of users.

How would you go about distributing iOS apps?

You need to register for Apple’s VPP for Business and you need good mobile device management software.

Volume Purchase Program for Business

You can enrol in VPP by using this link: https://deploy.apple.com/qforms/open/register/enroll1/avs?program=vpp You have to create an Apple ID, but this one is just for purchasing apps as a business. Therefore, it requires more information than would be needed if registering for a personal Apple ID. Once that is done, the VPP is really just a portal. In order to connect your VPP account to your device management tool, you need to generate a token. This can be found under "Settings" - "Apps and Books".

Mobile Device Management

You need an MDM to register all company iPhones and iPads, and also for distributing apps. In Relution, there is a menu item called “Volume Purchase Program” that allows for easy uploading of the token you received from the VPP portal.

Factory reset of supervised iPad Air 2

Once that is done, Apple knows that Relution is authorized to distribute app licenses purchased via VPP. You can then simply buy the licences through the Volume Purchase Program and authorize the relevant device listed in your device management.

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