Apple Quietly Embraces The Business To Business App Market

Apple Quietly Embraces The Business To Business App Market

Business to business app development is likely to be a growing enterprise trend. Apple has a solution, even if it isn’t yet a perfect one.

According a study released earlier this month, Apple’s iOS is becoming the most popular platform for enterprise app development – with 53.2% of developers picking iOS for corporate app development compared to 37.4% of developers standing behind Android. RIM’s BlackBerry, the old guard of enterprise mobility, came in a distant fourth behind Windows Phone with only 2% of developers supporting it.

That’s great news for Apple and the iPhone and iPad in business and enterprise environments. Apple even makes enterprise distribution possible outside of the App Store. Mobile App Management (MAM) and enterprise app store solutions provide efficient and effective distribution and update methods for enterprise apps.

Business to business (B2B) apps and solutions, however, present a different kind of challenge – one for which Apple has a solution, even if it isn’t a perfect solution.

Business to business app development is almost certain to emerge as a major part of the app economy in the coming years. As more and more companies embrace mobile solutions and collaborate with their business partners or business customers, many of those interactions will be completed using devices like the iPhone and iPad. Even face-to-face interactions will be facilitated by mobile apps.

One recent example of this trend is the surge of pharmaceutical reps using iPads when meeting with doctors, which we reported last week. That interaction is essentially a business to business encounter that is facilitated by the iPad. Such interactions almost certainly revolve around custom apps that may be developed in-house or may be developed and customized by an outside app development firm or developed by market or industry partners.

Even electronic health record systems are a business to business solution and they are likely to be customized to the needs of a specific provider or practice.

An even better example is Appropos – a company that develops business to business catalog systems for retail distributors. The company’s robust solution, which includes custom catalog development, wholesale to retail ordering , basic mobile management, and content distribution, is a perfect example of business to business technologies.

The tricky situation with business to business apps is that they don’t easily fit into Apple’s traditional definition as commercial public apps designed for App Store sales/distribution or as enterprise apps developed, vetted, and distributed within a single company.

While it is possible to work around this using Apple’s existing enterprise app development program, it isn’t a seamless solution. Generally business customers need to be considered part of the developer’s enterprise or need their own enterprise developer program membership. Neither is exactly ideal.

Although Apple has kept fairly quiet about it, the company has developed a business to business app distribution option that leverages the existing Volume Purchase Program (VPP) for businesses. The system is pretty straight forward.

  • Create B2B apps (and customize them to specific customer or partner organizations if desired or needed)
  • Identify customers for the app and set a price point
  • Upload the app using iTunes Connect (the same tool used for selling commercial apps)
  • Customer organizations enroll in Apple’s VPP program and purchase the apps through iTunes Connect
  • Customer organizations distribute the apps as they would any VPP purchase including using Apple Configurator, an enterprise app store, or a mobile management solution with app management capabilities

The system isn’t perfect and one fly in the ointment is that Apple’s typical App Store policies are still enforced – including App Store review.
While the system isn’t perfect and may not be appropriate for every business to business partnership, it is a step in the right direction. It shows that Apple acknowledges that business to business app sales are going to be a key part of enterprise and business app development and iOS use in the coming months and years.

Related
  • davester13

    “According a study released earlier this month, Apple’s iOS is becoming the most popular platform for enterprise app development – with 53.2% of developers picking iOS for corporate app development compared to 37.4% of developers standing behind Android. RIM’s BlackBerry, the old guard of enterprise mobility, came in a distant fourth behind Windows Phone with only 2% of developers supporting it.”

    Um, this is fairly misleading. Apple has been the most popular platform for enterprise app development [at least, for mobile devices] for quite some time. For enterprise app development, Windows (desktop) is still the king.

  • Bill French

    Dave(ster13), as worded in the article, you are correct. However, I suspect the writer intended “Apple’s iOS is becoming the most popular platform for enterprise app development [for mobile devices]. I suspect this would be more accurate and likely to be more truthful.

  • Bill French

    Ryan,

    I was surprised there wasn’t a mention in this article of Apple’s wholly-owned subsidiary, FileMaker, Inc.

    Above all, FileMaker Pro (and FileMaker Go) represent [arguably] the most ideal approach to creating discrete business-to-business apps. It provides a development framework and an iOS deloyment approach that is far more streamlined than native apps written in XCode. And FileMaker Go apps can be deployed through an enterprise app store or through any web or network service.

    With hundreds of enterprise app requirements on the horizon, how will businesses cope with a shortage of experienced XCode developers? In my view, custom XCode B2B apps is a significant friction to deploying apps for internal and external use.

    Runtime app frameworks provide a unique alternative.

    A runtime app is a native app that interprets instructions provided in the form of scripts, configuration attributes, or other data elements. The app acts as a solution framework that can provide specific application features.

    FileMaker Go is a runtime framework that makes it possible to run very complex [custom] apps utilizing organizational data and content. The apps are built using Filemaker Pro on the desktop and the resulting runtime app definition is executed on iOS devices within the native app framework known as Filemaker Go.

    Runtime frameworks tend to offer the most promising avenue for B2B enterprise app solutions. The adoption of this approach will be rapid because there are so few alternatives available for businesses to quickly become mobile-enabled in cost-effective ways. And most B2B enterprise apps are data-centric and FileMaker is a first and foremost a database environment. And best of all, the only code required is whatever the runtime framework needs to execute the app. As such, the deployment packages are relatively small and can typically be handled over 3G networks; even Edge networks.

    Microstrategy for iPhone and iPad is a BI run-time framework designed to completely avoid code – apps are assembled like Legos(TM) in a reporting model. FileMaker apps are built in a similar fashion, although, scripts are necessary for more complex apps. But the overall FileMaker Pro development environment is visual and very easy to work with. FileMaker Pro is cross-platform as well; it supports Mac OS and Windows, making it ideal for building and testing mobile enterprise B2B solutions.

About the author

Ryan FaasRyan Faas is a technology journalist and consultant living in upstate New York who has written extensively about Apple, business and enterprise IT, and the mobile industry. In addition to writing for Cult of Mac, he is a contributor to Computerworld, InformIT, and Peachpit Press. In a previous existence he was a healthcare IT director as well as a systems and network administrator. Follow Ryan on Twitter and Google +

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