Apple Policies Affecting Custom Apps for Schools and Colleges

Jan 3, 2019

Thousands of schools and school districts are engaging with students and parents with a customized, branded mobile app for messaging, calendars, and information access. In 2017, Apple cracked down on unauthorized and cloned apps in the App Store, and as a side effect, software companies are no longer able to publish template-based apps on a customer’s behalf. Instead, the school district must now have their own Apple Developer Account in order to get their app published in the public App Store. Therefore, this is a good time to review what the options are for getting your own app published.

Apple Developer Program Membership

App Store First of all, you can still get your own app in the App Store! While many vendors have discontinued offering this service, at Appazur we have extended our app publishing system to work with customer accounts. There’s just a new first step where we support you through the process of signing up for an Apple Program Membership. In the USA, non-profit schools can get a free Developer Account; in Canada the cost is just $119/year. With your own account, your app will be listed with your school district as the “Seller”, which is great for assuring parents that they are downloading approved software.

Other Options

Apple tightly controls the App Store with strict rules, and they review every app submission. If your app is only going to target your own community, is there a way to distribute your app without going through the App Store? You cannot publish apps for iOS without going through Apple in some way, but there are an array of alternate distribution methods for specific situations. Here, we will discuss the possibilities in an attempt to clear up any confusion.

Progressive Web Apps

Some vendors are giving up and recommending a Progressive Web App to their customers. A Progressive Web App (PWA) is a website that can be launched from an icon, and used, just like an app. PWA’s have been gaining more and more app-like capabilities, like push notifications, but much more so on Android than on iOS. With $265 billion dollars of annual revenue, Apple would really like to ensure that users continue to get their apps via the App Store! Key capabilities that a PWA does not have on iOS are:

  • Push notifications (essential for communication apps!).
  • Certain Single Sign On integrations.
  • Ability to sync with your Calendar app.
  • Background calendar updates.
  • Distribution via the App Store (instead, user must visit a web site, then “Share”, then “Add to Home Screen”).

Also on iOS, a PWA has a limited ability to store information for offline use, and the PWA will have to be re-downloaded if it is not used for a while.

At this time, therefore, this is not going to meet the needs of most schools and colleges. A native iOS app is essential.

Adhoc Distribution

Apple supports “adhoc” distribution, but this is designed for testing rather than distribution to end users. We use this so that you can try out a new app on a real device before publishing. However, we need to register in advance each device that may install the app, only a limited number of devices can be registered, and the apps expire after 12 months. Therefore this is not practical for distributing apps to your community.

Microsoft’s App Center Distribution, formerly known as HockeyApp, streamlines this distribution method but does not overcome the restrictions.

Developer Enterprise Program

Another route is the Apple Developer Enterprise Program. If you’d like to create an app for use only by staff, we recommend this approach. For an additional annual fee of $299, you can distribute your own app via a website or your device management system.

This program is not for distributing apps to parents and students. Apple clearly states: “Enroll in the Apple Developer Enterprise Program only if you intend to distribute proprietary apps to employees within your organization.”

If you use this for distributing apps to staff, there are additional steps involved. Your app will not be available via the Apple App Store, but rather through a web link. Then, when the app is downloaded and first launched, a pop-up will appear asking the user if they trust the distributor of the app.

To see if you have installed any Enterprise apps, check this setting on your iOS device:

Settings > General > Profiles and Device Management

Apple School Manager / Volume Purchase Program

If you provide iPads for your students, your school district may be already purchasing apps via Apple’s Volume Purchase Program (VPP), and distributing apps via Apple School Manager or another Mobile Device Management (MDM) system. However, this approach does not support getting your school app to parents’ or students’ unmanaged personal devices (BYOD). Note that Apple is discontinuing the redemption code method of distribution.

Custom Apps for Business

Apple Distribution Options Apple Business Manager, also known as the B2B App Store, allows custom apps to be distributed privately. However, Apple Business Manager, is not applicable for distributing apps to an educational community.

Conclusion

If you’d like to have a customized, branded app that your school community can be proud of, you can! Appazur can help you sign up for an Apple Developer Program Membership. Let’s get started!