As a consumer, finding apps is really simple—go to the App Store. However, it isn’t always so straightforward for businesses. There are multiple ways for a company to let its employees access apps that help them do their jobs more efficiently and effectively. Each method has its own advantages and disadvantages.
Use App Store self-service
Cloud-based solutions give employees access to the systems and data they need to be productive when they’re on the go. Let’s say that a company wants to deploy a cloud-based solution like Box.net or Salesforce.com. Since these and other cloud-based business solutions have apps in the App Store, the company can direct their workers to download those apps from the App Store. They can even send out e-mails with direct links to the App Store listing. The advantage of this approach is that it is really simple, but it is dependent on the apps being publically available. In addition, each employee must have an iTunes account.
Use enterprise app distribution
Some organizations want to develop and deploy their own in-house applications (e.g., customer databases, sales order entry, executive dashboards, employee directories, requisition requests, help desk requests, daily cafeteria menu, etc.). However, distributing these through the public App Store is not necessarily appropriate. With the release of iOS 4.0, Apple gave enterprises the ability to set up internal enterprise app catalogs with over-the-air deployment and app installation. The app catalog itself can be deployed over the air via the iOS Device Management APIs. However, the user must still select them to be installed.
This capability is very powerful, but Apple has very strict controls over whom they give enterprise certificates to. In order to have the capability to deploy in-house apps over the air, Apple used to require that companies have at least 500 employees. However, in recent months Apple has quietly dropped that requirement.
Use ad hoc app distribution
For companies that already have a standard iPhone developer account and want to use it to deploy in-house apps to a relatively small number of users, Ad Hoc distribution is the only way to go. The limitations of Ad Hoc deployments are that they require the UDID (Universal Device IDentifier) to be signed into each custom application, they are limited to deployment to 100 devices, and they cannot be installed over-the-air, requiring a physical cabled connection using either iTunes or the iPhone Configuration Utility.
Over-the-air deployment of in-house applications for enterprise app distribution has been a long-awaited feature that was only added in iOS 4.0. In the future, Apple might consider enabling the ability to centrally deploy enterprise apps and install them on iOS devices without requiring any user involvement. Thankfully, Apple did listen to customers and allowed the enterprise certificate program to be granted to companies with less than 500 employees. Let’s hope that they continue to enhance and simplify in-house app deployment.