When it comes to digital transformation, enterprise app distribution is often overshadowed by development and employee training. However, while it sounds like a routine task, in the enterprise setting it literally makes a difference between a seamless deployment and a mounting pile of unresolved issues that seemingly come out of nowhere.
While both iOS and Android have services that promise to streamline the process, they are not one-fits-all solutions and may actually hinder the progress when used inappropriately. Using our expertise on the subject, we have compiled a detailed guide on the available options that should cover all main use cases backed by a list of the best practices relevant to any environment.
Keep reading or jump to what interests you most:
iOS App Distribution Options
Apple’s mobile software ecosystem is a great candidate for enterprise app deployment due to its robustness and consistency compared to Android. Despite its restrictive stand on iOS app distribution, there are still a number of options to choose from:
- App Store Deployment
- Apple Development Enterprise Program
- Ad-Hoc Distribution
Each distribution mode has its shortcomings and limitations. On top of that, factors like the scope of business operations, organization’s size, and even the mobile transformation maturity stage have to be factored in. Below is a detailed look at each of the options that will help you arrive at the informed decision.
App Store Deployment
The most reliable and trustworthy method for Apple custom app distribution is through their own service. Its most obvious advantage is accessibility: once the app is in the store, it is essentially within the reach from any iPhone. In addition, apps undergo an approval process, which minimizes the risk of security breaches. The store method is also among the most user-friendly ones, which is a critical point for large enterprises with large user audiences.
However, some of these advantages come with caveats. For instance, the approval process might be a drag and can inflate your deployment timeframes – not exactly a fit for flexible small-scale operations.
The store is also not exactly carved for tracking feedback and dealing with issues since comments on an open app can quickly get out of hand. Finally, Apple’s guidelines are not built with enterprise applications in mind, so you might need to redesign your app more than once before it is compliant with their requirements.
The bottom line: App Store is a great place to distribute a finished product as long as your needs aren’t very nuanced.
Apple Development Enterprise Program
This one is specifically designed for proprietary deployment in large organizations, for example, distribution of the custom enterprise resource planning system or team management app among the employees.
On the one hand, it checks all the necessary boxes for enterprise use cases – direct distribution, private access, reliance on internal secure systems, etc. However, it also has the largest number of hoops to jump through before you can get access to it.
Here’s how to distribute iOS app using the program:
- Have at least 100 employees
- Be a legal entity
- Restrict access to employees only
- Comply with privacy and security standards
- Undergo application and evaluation process
These conditions, coupled with a paid membership, can increase brand loyalty and foster corporate culture. However, for smaller businesses, they can be more of a hindrance.
The bottom line: this is a full-fledged solution for large entities with well-defined goals and sufficient resources.
How to Distribute iOS App Without App Store
If you are still in the exploratory mode of your enterprise mobility transformation, or simply want to distribute an iOS app without the developer account, you might want to avoid ready-made options altogether.
The alternative would be to distribute binaries of your app directly to employees, who would then install them onto their phones manually. The obvious downside of this is that you would need to go through the registration process in the Apple Member Center and add the UDID of devices to the app’s code.
This is clearly the least user-friendly of the iOS app distribution options and would only work for small audiences. On top of that, it does not permit seamless updates, so it is really only suitable for beta-testing or experimental deployment rather than regular enterprise usage. And, of course, the feedback has to be arranged separately.
The bottom line: this is a great option for those looking into how to distribute enterprise iOS app in house without messing with the corporate registration process or paid membership.
Android App Distribution Options
Android’s main competitive advantage over Apple is its openness, which makes some of the deployment methods less troublesome. Nevertheless, Android enterprise app distribution falls in three categories similar to those mentioned above:
- Google Play Store
- Self-Hosted APKs
- Dedicated Programs and Services
Android App Distribution through Google Play
To enterprises, Google offers a variation of their Play Store. This variant can be customized to include specific apps and create a software ecosystem to optimize business operations and employee productivity.
Hosting on Google’s store comes with all the expected advantages like protection from typical mobile vulnerabilities and malware and compatibility with OS features. Not only that, it offers granular control over users, permissions, and app features and serves as an infrastructure for the delivery of updates. As can be seen, this is a good fit for apps with well-established development processes managed by dedicated teams.
Android Beta App Distribution
In the true spirit of openness, Android permits more than one mode of distribution for betas. First, they can be deployed through the Play Store. This mode comes in three flavors:
- Internal: The app is distributed to specific team members
- Closed: The beta is available to selected audiences
- Open: The beta is available to everyone brave enough to try
It is also possible to distribute the app directly as an APK file. This mode of Android enterprise app distribution is simpler than on iOS, as it does not include registration. On the other hand, it requires enabling the installation from unknown sources, which is questionable in terms of mobile security. In other words, it is convenient for some use cases but probably not a full-scale enterprise deployment.
Finally, if you are hesitant about using Google’s store, you can choose from a variety of Android beta app distribution services. TestFlight app for Android is among the most recognized names but there are actually a lot to choose from:
These platforms enable OTA updates and provide essential information on app performance. They also serve as a communication channel with users, tracking issues and crash reports, which is indispensable for usability testing. In other words, it is a middle ground between full store experience and ad-hoc enterprise deployment.
Enterprise App Deployment Best Practices
Android and iOS both have their sets of recommendations for enterprise app distribution. Some of them are specific to their respective deployment environments while others are equally relevant for any mobile development project. In broad terms, they can be condensed into the following elements:
Follow the best practices for mobile security and use recommended privacy settings to ensure the integrity of sensitive data. This applies equally to the application code itself as well as the distribution method, so be sure to choose the right option.
Settle on the deployment mode early on and build your development around it. Once you are set, do not change the setup to maintain a steady pace of the development process. What looks like a trivial correction may cost hundreds of hours down the line.
Keep the size of the distributed software as lean as possible to narrow down the list of potential sources of issues. The simpler the structure, the fewer problems with testing can be expected.
A good way to keep the distribution process predictable is to create a checklist of the required steps. This is especially important for multiple deployment environments and can help to identify areas for improvement.
Assign permissions and roles to developer team accounts to distribute responsibilities among the team members. This will simplify the introduction of new members to the process and minimize errors.
Whenever possible, automation should be implemented to deal with routine tasks, be it development or deployment. The solutions may range from a single script for small-scale apps to fully functional suites with task runners and dependency managers used by enterprise app distribution companies.
Setting up a continuous integration server will provide consistent distribution of apps across their respective environments, so you can zero in on specific issues.
Before proceeding with the first deployment to users, do a test run for the quality assurance team to identify any problems and minimize their impact and improve user experience.
App distribution is an integral part of the organization’s digital transformation strategy. Done wrong, it can bring the development process to a grinding halt. At the same time, a neatly organized deployment mechanism can make the procedure seamless and even assist the improvement process through communication and team coordination.
Fortunately, there are many ready-made tools available to developers that are scalable, convenient, and reliable. So, once you settle on the right distribution option for your purposes, a dev team with relevant skills in the field will help you meet your goals.