Not every app on the App Store is made for everyone and not every app can be found on the App Store. Private app distribution is a common practice and is required for a multitude of reasons, the most common being having custom apps for specific organizations like businesses or schools. Another common reason is testing out the app in a controlled environment in-house instead of having a larger scale beta test or public release.
If you have a custom app meant to be privately distributed, you'll need to learn about private app distribution. Private distribution isn't just a preference, it's a requirement for certain apps. It is actually against Apple’s App Store Review guidelines to have these custom B2B or private apps publicly on the App Store. According to Apple, an app should only be distributed on the App Store if it’s intended for use by a “wide variety of external customers around the world.” This makes knowing how to distribute your app privately all the more important.
Private app distribution using App Store Connect
The basic method of privately distributing an app is using what's called Custom App distribution. This is done through either the Apple Business Manager or Apple School Manager depending on the intended use of the app. If you’re interested in how to submit your app to the App Store, check out the full guide.
Otherwise, let's go over what you will need for private app distribution.
- Have an app
- Have an Apple developer account
- Subscribe to either Apple Business Manager or Apple School Manager
Enable Custom Apps
Now, the first thing we will want to do is enable having a Custom App in the organization of your choice. To do this follow these steps:
- Sign in to Apple School Manager or Apple Business Manager (make sure you have permissions on your account).
- From the sidebar menu, select Settings then select Enrollment Information under Organization Settings. Now, select Enable then in the Custom Apps row.
Now that you have enabled Custom Apps, you'll need to use your Organization ID in order to distribute your app privately. To find your Organization ID, go to Settings, then select Device Management Settings under Organization Settings.
Distribute app privately
If you’ve distributed an app before using App Store Connect, then the rest of this tutorial will be familiar to you.
To start, go to App Store Connect and log into your developer account.
From My Apps, select the app you want to distribute privately. This will show you the app’s page on App Store Connect.
From the sidebar, select Pricing and Availability.
Navigate to App Distribution Methods and select Private — Available as a custom app on Apple Business Manager or Apple School Manager.
You will then be prompted for further details. From the Type dropdown menu, select Organization ID. Enter the Organization ID you got from the previous section and add your Organization Name.
All that's left is to select Save to apply your settings.
And you’re all done! You can now submit your custom app for review when you're ready.
Once your app is approved, it will be available to users that are a part of your specified organization.
Redemption codes for direct distribution
To directly distribute your custom app to people, you will need to generate redemption codes.
- Go back to Apple Business Manager.
- From the sidebar, select Custom Apps. You should find the app we just published privately (it'll need to be approved first).
- From the License Type dropdown menu, select Redemption Codes.
- Enter the number of redemption codes you want for your custom app and select Get.
- Select the Download button to get a spreadsheet of all the private codes required to share your custom app directly.
Users can use these codes to download the app directly without it being available to the public.
Private app distribution has many benefits, but if this isn't quite what you're looking for check out our full guide on how to submit your app to the App Store. You may be also wondering how to upload your Android app to the Google Play Store, you can find our full guide here.
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