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 App Business Manager or Apple School Manager. This depends obviously 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).
- At the bottom of the sidebar click Settings, then click Enrollment Information below Organization Settings, then in the row with Custom Apps, click Enable.
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 click Device Management Settings below Organization Settings.
Distribute app privately
If you’ve distributed an app before using App Store Connect, then the rest of this tutorial will be more 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.
In the sidebar to the left, click on 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 given an option for fields to enter. From the Type dropdown selection, click on Organization ID. Using the Organization ID you got from the previous section of this guide, add it to the ID field. Then, add the Organization Name.
Click Save in the upper right corner of the page.
And you’re all done! You can now submit your custom app for review whenever you want.
When your app is approved, it will be available only 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.
- In the sidebar, click on Custom Apps. You should find the app we just published privately (it’ll need to be approved first).
- From the License Type dropdown, select Redemption Codes.
- Enter the number of redemption codes you want for your custom app and click on Get.
- Click Download under Redemption Codes to get a spreadsheet of all the private codes to share your custom app directly.
Users can use this link 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.