If you attended MIX 11 or watched it on Channel 9, you might have seen Todd Brix’s session titled “Making Money with your Applications on Windows Phone.” In this session, Todd talked about all the great things Windows Phone users and developers can expect with the new Marketplace and App Hub in the Mango timeframe. I just want to focus on two items that will be of great significance to companies and organizations that are looking to build, and privately distribute Windows Phone apps to their employees, partners and customers.
The Beta Distribution Service allows developers to distribute pre-certified apps to an access-controlled set of beta users. How does it work?
- The developer selects a list of up to 100 testers. This number is subject to change based on feedback we get.
- Developer sends an email to the designated testers that includes a private deeplink that points to the app in the Marketplace. This allows only the testers to access and download the content since the app is not discoverable in the Marketplace via Search.
- Only testers selected in the App Hub based on their Windows Live ID can test the app and provide feedback for 90 days. Yes, the app will “time bomb” after 90 days.
- The beta cannot be updated. If you have multiple updates based on testing feedback, you must resubmit them like the first beta and send updated deeplinks to testers.
- Testers won’t have to unlock their phone in order to beta test the apps.
- Since there’s no certification requirement, there’s no latency between when you publish a beta app and when your private list of testers can access and download your content.
- The cost of the beta app must be free.
Takeaway: No matter who you’re building apps and games for, the Beta Distribution Service will allow you to create higher quality content since you can now include beta testing in your development cycle.
The Private Distribution Service allows developers to privately distribute certified apps to a targeted group of users. How does it work?
- The app must be certified by Microsoft before distributing.
- Developer sends an email to the targeted group of users that includes a private deeplink that points to the app in the Marketplace. Keep in mind that the app is not discoverable in the Marketplace via Search by the general public.
- A private app can be updated and pushed to the targeted group of users.
- There are no limits on the number of users or the duration of time that those users can use the app. This works just like the public Marketplace rules we have today.
- There is no access enforcement based list of targeted users. In other words, if an employee at a company shares the deeplink with a fellow coworker, that new person can download the content. By including appropriate authentication and authorization mechanisms in published apps, you can prevent unwanted users from being able to do anything with the app.
- Private apps can be free or paid
- These private apps can be published to the public Marketplace at any time.
Takeaway: This enables the private distribution of released apps to a small or large community of users. You could use this as an extension of your application beta testing cycle if you want to send out a release candidate to a broader group of testers than the 100 allowed via the Beta Distribution Service. It’s also a great way to privately send your app to magazines, blogs, and other media channels to be publicly reviewed.
What does this mean for the enterprise? Those of you who have worked with or administered enterprise software distribution systems, will quickly recognize that the Private Distribution Service doesn’t allow an administrator to push out and restrict software usage to specific organizational groups or roles. It also doesn’t allow an administrator to uninstall specific apps from the phones of specific users or groups either. Lastly, it doesn’t map to an enterprise LDAP service like Active Directory. You’re probably thinking System Center and this is definitely not that.
That being said, the Private Distribution Service overcomes the single-biggest blocker that company executives have expressed to me as a reason why they might not create and publish apps for Windows Phone. They don’t want their private corporate apps publicly viewable and/or accessible by the broad general public searching for apps in the public Marketplace. When they build B2C apps to reach their own customers, this is no problem, but when they build line-of-business apps meant just for their employees or partners, they don’t want these apps to be discoverable.
This means IT departments will be able to build undiscoverable Windows Phone apps for private internal use by the users they designate. Some of the administrative issues around software distribution can be alleviated by having a corporate IT authority publish Beta and Private apps via a single Windows Live ID. That publishing administrator can then map users, groups or roles to existing or new Windows Live IDs of employees that need to use the app. That administrator will be able maintain the application lifecycle through beta testing, publishing, updating and decommissioning. As I alluded to earlier in the post, once a designated employee has access to the app, her ability to run and access data and various parts of the app can be controlled by on-premise or cloud-based authentication and authorization mechanisms. This includes things like passing Domain credentials or using claims-based auth. Your data-in-transit is protected by SSL and your data-at-rest in Isolated Storage is protected by AES encryption.
We’ll be seeing a new Windows Phone, App Hub, and Marketplace before the end of 2011. Its line-of-business credentials include encryption, private software distribution, server auth mechanisms, the ability to call SOAP and REST web services, socket support, multitasking, background agents, and a local SQL database just to name a few.
You’ll soon be looking at the most enterprise-ready smartphone on the market.