Apple @ Work: Apple is building a feature to install non-App Store apps on macOS; here’s what it shows about Apple’s intentions with Apple Business Essentials

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When I learned about the public release of Apple Business Essentials, one of the questions I asked was if anything was new compared to the beta period. One key thing that Apple is adding is the ability to install apps, not from the Mac App Store. Apple said this was one of the most requested features from the beta period, and they plan to deliver it later this summer.

About Apple @ Work: Bradley Chambers managed an enterprise IT network from 2009 to 2021. Through his experience deploying and managing firewalls, switches, a mobile device management system, enterprise-grade Wi-Fi, 100s of Macs, and 100s of iPads, Bradley will highlight ways in which Apple IT managers deploy Apple devices, build networks to support them, train users, stories from the trenches of IT management, and ways Apple could improve its products for IT departments.

When it comes to iPad and iPhone management, app installation is tied to the App Store. Yes, you can install custom apps, but there’s not a concept for sideloading apps on iOS, so it’s never come up as a potential feature. As Mac device management has become more commonplace, a frequent use case for Apple admins is installing applications not available in the Mac App Store. Let’s be frank, most of your critical applications on macOS are not in the Mac App Store. Even when there is a version in the Mac App Store, many admins would prefer to use the direct version from the manufacturer for faster updates and more control. Apps like Zoom, Microsoft Office, Slack, Adobe Creative Cloud, and others are common applications that enterprise Apple users have that IT needs to install, update, and manage.

Many MDM vendors now offer non-App Store app management on macOS, but it was noticeably absent in the MDM inside of Apple Business Essentials. Built on top of FleetSmith, Apple Business Essentials can easily manage up to 500 devices. FleetSmith was known for this feature (even though it was removed when Apple acquired it), so it was strange that it was missing from ABE in the beta period. Customers asked, and Apple has agreed that it’s an important feature. It’s coming to Apple Business Essentials later this summer.

What’s the significance of Apple endorsing non-App Store apps?

Apple is against sideloading on iOS and seems to be in continuous court battles with various countries regarding it. On the Mac side, non-App Store apps were the only way to install apps for decades. Customers need this feature, as many apps cannot work with App Store Sandbox rules.

Apple building a first-party way for small businesses to install critical applications is essential to the main enemy: unmanaged Macs at work. That’s the key takeaway I have from Apple building a first-party non-App Store installation solutions – Apple is committed to giving more reasons to manage Macs at work. The more functionality is built into Apple Business Essentials, the more small businesses they can convince to onboard their entire fleet (even if it is only a few Macs). This intention is good for other MDM vendors like Mosyle, Kandji, and Jamf. Like I said, the competitor for Apple is unmanaged Macs in the workplace

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