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Apple program lets businesses buy apps in bulk

Joel Mathis | Jan. 26, 2012
When Alaska Airlines started distributing iPads to its pilots last year, the company also gave them $10 iTunes gift cards.

"Users don't have to go out and buy and app and get reimbursed," says Mark Jordan, senior product manager for Sybase; that company's Afaria software helps IT departments distribute mobile software. "Now IT departments can go out, buy 100 licenses, and just apply them."

The other benefit: Organizations can purchase custom business-to-business (B2B) apps from third-party developers without exposing those apps to the consumer public on the App Store.

That's "the unheralded thing about the program," says Stuart Williams, founder of app developer Pervasent. "It's custom enterprise apps delivered, not through the App Store, but kind of next to it."

"It allows developers to have more enterprised-focused programs without going on the public App Store," Sybase's Jordan says. "A lot of enterprises don't want to have that app on the public App Store. It can be specific for that enterprise."

Alaska Airlines' Freeman says that customized apps give businesses an element of quality control: Updates to an app happen only when the IT department approves it. That removes the risk that a pilot will find himself in the air, suddenly unable to use a chart made for a previous version of the app.

"In a perfect world," Freeman says, "all of our apps would be internal, just to give us operational security, to never face an app suddenly not working."

The limits

VPP does have its limitations. Jeppesen's Kiley and Pervasent's Williams say they hope Apple will soon open VPP to customers beyond the United States.

"We have a global customer base," Kiley says. "Expanding the program is going to be important to support our business."

For years, Apple has famously focused on the consumer end of the market. But as more and more of those consumers bring their iPhones and iPads to work, IT departments are increasingly needing to take advantage of those devices; VPP gives Apple a way to help with that and thereby make inroads into the enterprise market.

"For a long time IT has acted as a gatekeeper; not everybody is comfortable with the trend toward the consumerization" of IT, says Carl Howe, research director for Yankee Group. "What a lot of businesses have discovered is that an awful lot of consumer technology is easier, cheaper to buy, and suits their needs. Apple's (VPP) program simply recognizes, 'Hey, let's not make it any harder than it needs to be for these guys.'"


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