Apple VPP makes it easier to buy iOS business apps

The Apple Volume Purchasing Program lets organizations buy public iOS business apps for employees who use iPhones and iPads for work.

Many tools can help IT install applications on mobile devices, but few can help IT render payment for commercial applications downloaded from public app stores. For organizations with iPhones and iPads, this is where Apple's Volume Purchasing Program comes in.

The Apple Volume Purchasing Program (VPP) lets employers buy mobile app licenses in bulk. Instead of pushing software and profiles out to devices, IT can push licenses to devices while pulling apps right from Apple's App Store.

Apple VPP goes where MAM can't

Historically, IT pushed mobile applications to employees' smartphones. But in today's consumer-driven world, users typically pull public mobile applications from Apple's App Store, Google Play and other app stores. Mobile application management (MAM) tools can create enterprise app stores, which can follow a similar model or, in some cases, push in-house enterprise apps directly to users. But in-house apps aren't enough. Most mobile employees need public apps to work effectively.

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Although MAM systems vary, many can present users with lists of recommended or required public apps and redirect them to the appropriate public app store. But who pays for that software -- and how?

One option is for employees to purchase their own apps. Another option is for organizations to reimburse employees. But expensing app purchases consumes resources and may even discourage users from installing IT-vetted, safe and reliable apps. For iOS devices, the Apple VPP presents a better alternative.

Getting started with the Apple Volume Purchasing Program

To enroll in the Apple VPP, which is free, all you have to do is supply a business name, postal address, phone number and Data Universal Numbering System number (which is the nine-digit industry standard identifier for all registered businesses, provided by Bradstreet and Dun). You must also give a company email address that is not already registered as an Apple ID for another purpose (for example, to enroll in Apple's Developer Program).

Once your organization is registered, IT staff can log in to the company's Volume Purchasing Program account, search for App Store apps and directly purchase a specified number of licenses. After payment is rendered by corporate credit card, Apple emails an order confirmation and spreadsheet containing redemption codes and URLs.

IT administrators can allocate volume-purchased software and licenses to employees in four ways:

  • IT can simply email redemption URLs directly to users, which allows them to download and install the app.
  • IT can post redemption URLs on an enterprise-hosted webpage accessible only to authorized users.
  • Workgroup administrators can use the Apple Configurator utility to push redemption codes to local USB-connected iPhones or iPads. (Note that this method is viable only for small workgroups of 30 or so devices.)
  • Enterprise administrators can use MAM or mobile device management (MDM) to push redemption codes over the air to remotely managed iPhones and iPads. In this case, admins import the spreadsheet Apple supplies to the MAM or MDM tool and then may allocate codes based on policies (e.g., all users get a code for iWork, but only the sales team gets codes for RocketSales).

The fine print of Apple VPP

It is important to understand that each redemption code works just once. A code is not a license that an organization can allocate and then later reclaim for use by someone else. If an employee leaves the company, redeemed codes continue to be affiliated with that user's individual Apple ID. Furthermore, nothing stops unauthorized individuals with access to the codes from redeeming them. On the other hand, when employees move to a new device, they can reinstall the purchased app.

The Volume Purchasing Program may not address every app purchasing need, but it's a relatively straightforward way to help workers make more effective use of their iPhones and iPads. Unfortunately, at this time, Google offers nothing comparable for Android, but we'll likely see other app stores offer similar tools to encourage development of sophisticated mobile business apps.

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