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With ‘unlisted apps,’ Apple makes another enterprise move

Apple’s decision to allow “unlisted apps” in its App Store marks a major departure from the company’s decade-plus approach for app distribution and management. And while it might help the company bolster its enterprise push, Apple could find itself facing even more competition from other mobile device management (MDM) players.

In a nutshell, Apple’s plan allows developers to distribute apps through the company’s App Store that don’t show up in search or when users browse the store. Instead, developers get a URL linking to their app that they can then share with users. (The apps still need to go through the App Store review process and beta or pre-release versions aren’t allowed — Apple already offers developers tools for beta apps to be shared for testing purposes.) Apple also stressed that unlisted apps should be useful only to a limited number of people.

The likely beneficiaries of this option? Businesses and higher education who can use unlisted apps as a lightweight way to distribute software to employees, students, or business partners. The move to ease app distribution will probably be most useful for small to mid-size organizations.

Until now, Apple has relied on its MDM platform to provision and deploy apps. IT teams can either auto-install selected apps (both public and private, internal apps) or host an enterprise app store that allows users to browse and download apps to their Macs, iPhones, iPads, or Apple TVs.

MDM still offers important controls for app management. Chief among these is the ability to remove apps and securely delete corporate information (such as when an employee leaves the organization). Although Apple encourages developers to include a mechanism within any unlisted apps to prevent unauthorized use, doing so might not deliver the same security that can be applied using MDM.

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