Google on Tuesday said it has expanded the Google Play Store to include a service called Google Play Private Channel.
To use the service, organizations need to have a Google Apps for Business, Education or Government domain. A Google Apps administrator must enable the Google Play Developer Console for employees already registered as Google Play apps publishers who will be publishing apps internally. The ability to download internal apps through the Google Play Private Channel also is controlled by Google Apps administrators for a given domain.
"Whether you've built a custom expense reporting app for employees or a conference room finder, the Google Play Private Channel is designed to make your organization's internal apps quick and easy for employees to find," said Google Play product manager Ellie Powers in a blog post.
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After apps have been uploaded using the Google Play Developer's Console, employees can access them through the Google Play Private Channel by logging in via their Google Apps accounts and Android devices. Logging in to Google Play through a Web browser won't work — at present, Private Channels are only visible on Android hardware.
Google advises IT administrators to be sure to create dedicated role accounts for publishing apps through the Private Channel, so that internal apps remain accessible in the event the app publisher ends up leaving the organization.
Companies can have just one channel. It must be named with the organization name entered into the Google Apps domain settings. Although Google does not presently provide a way to publish to specific corporate groups, the Google Play Developer Console does allow app availability to be limited by country or device model.
Al Hilwa, program director for applications development software at research firm IDC, characterized Google Play Private Channels as a welcome mechanism for enterprise app distribution. "Other platforms have put [out] various mechanisms to handle this and there are vendors who handle this in a cross-platform way," he said in an email. "Enterprises need a private, efficient and scalable way to roll out enterprise apps on mobile app stores as the mobile app model begins to take hold. Private Channels appears to be focused on this problem."