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7/14/2011
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Apple Offers App Volume Purchasing To Businesses

iOS developers now have the opportunity to sell custom business apps to enterprises.

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Apple is making it easier for businesses to buy off-the-shelf and custom apps that run on iOS. The company on Wednesday introduced an App Store Volume Purchase Program (VPP) for businesses to address their purchasing needs.

The business VPP represents an expansion of the Volume Purchasing Program introduced last August for schools. That program allows educational institutions to acquire apps by purchasing Volume Vouchers, fixed value cards offered in denominations of $100, $500, $1,000, $5,000, or $10,000 that be redeemed only by an authorized Program Manager or Program Facilitator. Purchases of 20 or more apps by educational institutions are eligible for volume discounts, offered at the discretion of the developer selling the app in question.

The business VPP program requires an administrator to enroll and create a VPP account. To enroll, potential program participants need a valid Dun & Bradstreet number, a business email account not hosted by a free email provider like Hotmail, Gmail, or Yahoo Mail, and a street address matching the company's Dun & Bradstreet database listing. Presumably, Google Apps for Business customers with their own email domain will not be rejected as Gmail users.

Once this information is verified by Apple, the administrator can use the resulting Apple ID only for VPP purchases; he or she cannot be use it for purchases from the iTunes Store or purchases from Apple's website.

Apps sold through the business VPP do not qualify for volume discounts; custom B2B apps, described below, must be sold for at least $9.99, a requirement that developers impoverished by consumer app price pressure may applaud. As with consumer app purchases, Apple takes a 30% cut of sales revenue.

Business apps for the iPhone or iPad sold through the VPP can be managed via Apple's VPP program website. The administrator will be presented with a redemption code, in a downloadable purchase history spreadsheet, for each purchased app. The code can be distributed in a URL to users via email, posted to a corporate intranet, or sent to a third-party mobile device management service. Use of these codes is reflected in the administrator's spreadsheet.

Apple's VPP also provides developers with a way to sell custom B2B apps. Custom apps, developed for specific business customers, are submitted to Apple and reviewed like consumer apps in the iTunes App Store or business apps offered through the VPP website. Developers that offer custom B2B apps for sale to specific customers through iTunes Connect cannot sell the same app through the iTunes App Store; however, a developer could presumably offer an identical or substantially similar app through iTunes under a distinct app identifier, assuming that doing so would not violate any contractual terms.

Apple recommends that developers implement an authentication mechanism in custom B2B apps. "Custom B2B apps by themselves are not secured by Apple, and the security of data within the app is the responsibility of the developer," the company says in its VPP program FAQs.

Apple's programs for schools and businesses may help resolve some of the issues related to the company's consumer-oriented app distribution model, but not all of them. For example, schools that distribute apps to students still surrender ownership of the apps they pay for. As Apple notes, "Ownership resides with the owner of the iTunes library where the code was redeemed." For public schools, this may be deemed a questionable use of tax dollars.

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