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The Visual Builder Cloud Service Blog

  • October 9, 2019

Distributing Visual Builder iOS apps - What you need to know

Susan Duncan
Senior Principal Product Manager

Developing a mobile app in Visual Builder is straightforward As a hybrid development environment you can develop and test your app using simulators for both iOS and Android and create runtime artifacts.

But if you want to distribute an iOS app you need to think about your users and join the appropriate Apple Developer program. It is the program that provides the signing credentials you will need to sign and distribute your app. Apple provides a number of programs for the distribution of apps, but which is right for you?

For an Enterprise, the answer is likely to be either the Apple Developer Enterprise Program or the Apple Developer Program or both. Essentially the difference between them is that the Enterprise program’s primary function is the development and distribution of apps within an enterprise. The Developer program (sometimes called the Standard program) provides for the release of apps to the Apple App Store.

In both programs up to 100 devices (of each product family) can be registered per annum*. These are available when debugging using a Developer profile.  They are also used for testing using an Ad-hoc Distribution profile. This can be a restriction for larger development groups with distributed teams and 100+ devices. If a developer is using a developer profile in xCode and has a device attached to a MAC the device is automatically registered and the 100 limit can be quickly reached. Unfortunately deleting devices only removes them from the program once annually.

This restriction is somewhat offset by using the Enterprise program. In addition to Developer and Ad-hoc profiles, the Enterprise program provides for the creation of InHouse Distribution profiles. The advantage of using this type of profile is that it is not tied to registered devices or developers. An app built with this profile can be installed on any device (but restricted to your enterprise). So InHouse Distribution profiles can be utilized during development and testing.

If you have an AppleID you may have heard of Personal Team. If you’re developing using Xcode natively then it is possible to build and install your iOS app on your personal devices without membership of an Apple Developer program. But this is very restrictive both in respect of the limited number of features (eg no CloudKit, APNS), the number of apps you can install and the time they remain active on your device. If you are using Visual Builder you need membership of a developer program in order to access profiles and certificates to build and sign your apps.

So back to distribution. For an internal-only app you’re likely to choose the Enterprise program. With this program you can create InHouse Distribution profiles that allow your app to be distributed either manually or through your EMM/MDM solution with no restriction on the number of devices that the app will load on. Part of your Enterprise program agreement with Apple mandates that you only distribute your apps within your Enterprise. The Enterprise program provides no testing environment - your organization needs to have process in place to manage its membership of the program and the distribution of signing credentials as well as versioning and management of apps.

For an iOS app that is to be released to the public or B2B you have to use the Standard program. In fact you could also use it to distribute your app internally (B2Self). In addition to the Developer and AdHoc profiles for dev and testing, you build your app for store with an App Store Distribution profile. This version of the app is then uploaded to App Store Connect (note, it cannot be installed directly on a device). On upload your app is signed (again) and managed by Apple. To test this build you use the Standard program’s TestFlight feature: Designate internal and external ‘testers’ to download and install the app from store for testing for 90 days. 

For those B2B, B2Self or custom apps that need to be restricted to certain partners/customers you utilize the Apple Business Manager or Apple School Manager within App Store Connect. For internal users the benefit of using App Store Connect for distribution, rather than your Enterprise program, might be the automatic version and management that this program offers.

WWDC 2019 video on Distribution methods

This video, from WWDC 2019, is a good explanation of all the options I’ve described above, plus it discusses the options for distribution when you are developing for a Third Party. In short, you should be a member of the third party’s developer program. You should not develop the app using your own developer program credentials.

Armed with this information about the Apple Developer programs you should be able to continue the development and distribution of your Visual Builder iOS apps.

*Unless you have negotiated a different arrangement with Apple

Apple - Choosing a Membership

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