• Members of the Apple Developer Program have access to resources for developing and distributing software for Apple platforms.
  • Members can beta test apps with up to 10,000 users and list them on the App Store.
  • Members can also implement Apple’s app extensions, like Face ID and Touch ID.
  • Membership costs $99 USD per year, and Apple will take a 30% cut of all subsequent app sales.

Anyone who has considered developing software for an Apple platform has likely visited the Apple Developer website, which is filled to the brim with documentation, tutorials, tips and everything an aspiring iOS, macOS, watchOS or tvOS developer needs.

The sheer volume of content available on the Apple Developer website can make using it tricky. When you add to that a somewhat fuzzy boundary between the developer website and the actual Apple Developer Program, things can get even more confusing.

There’s a big difference between using the developer website to learn the basics of building software for Apple devices and being a member of the Apple Developer Program. This guide will clear up the distinctions.

What is the Apple Developer Program?

The Apple Developer Program is, in Apple’s words, the “code to customer” pipeline. Membership in the Apple Developer Program gives developers everything they need to build, test and deploy apps for its OSs.

There is a lot that comes with Apple Developer Program membership, including:

  • Access to beta builds of iOS, iPadOS, macOS, watchOS, tvOS and visionOS.
  • The ability to publicly beta test apps on up to 10,000 users with TestFlight.
  • Access to Apple’s myriad app extensions, including CloudKit, Face ID, Touch ID, HealthKit and WeatherKit.
  • Code-level support that gives developers access to an Apple developer who can help troubleshoot and streamline code.
  • Access to Apple Store Connect’s App Analytics program and other App Store management features.
  • The ability to publish apps on the Apple App Store or, if based in the EU, an alternative app marketplace or website.
  • An Apple-verified Developer ID for generating the certificates and profiles necessary to sign apps and unlock features.

Along with these benefits, which come with any standard membership in the Apple Developer Program, Apple also offers two other programs that fall under the Developer Program umbrella: the Enterprise Program and the MFi Program.

The Apple Developer Enterprise Program offers the benefits included in the standard Developer Program but adds the ability for enterprise customers to develop in-house proprietary apps for deployment on employee devices.

The MFi — or Made For iPod, iPhone, and iPad — Program is for companies that want to build Apple-certified hardware accessories. Apple considers any third-party device that connects electronically to an Apple device using MFi licensed technology to fall under the MFi Program; this doesn’t include most devices that use the USB-C port or standard Bluetooth profiles and non-electronic devices.

Note: Manufacturing a device that falls under the MFi program doesn’t require companies or individuals to enroll; however, products that aren’t MFi certified cannot claim to be Apple certified, nor will they be given access to the technical specifications necessary for building a fully compatible peripheral device.

Do Apple software developers have to join the Developer Program?

Strictly speaking, developers who want to build macOS, iOS, tvOS, watchOS or visionOS apps don’t have to become members of the Apple Developer Program. Not opting for a membership, though, comes with a lot of restrictions.

The Apple Developer Program benefits listed above are all off-limits to devs who aren’t members. Most critically, it means there’s no way for non-members to distribute or monetize their apps on the App Store.

According to an Apple Developer Program representative, non-members who sign up for access to the Apple developer website get access to Xcode, Apple’s development platform, and not much else — even an app built by a non-member is restricted to devices tied to its developer’s Apple ID.

SEE: Hiring Kit: iOS Developer (TechRepublic Premium)

If you’re new to Apple development or just interested in learning how to develop for Apple devices, there’s no real need to join the Developer Program. You can still build apps for all of Apple’s operating systems and install them on your personal devices, but that’s it — no extensions, no support, no beta OS builds and no App Store.

Enterprise customers who want to roll out in-house apps to their employees’ Apple devices are stuck as well — there’s nothing you can do without buying an Enterprise membership.

How much does the Apple Developer Program cost?

This is the unfortunate part: Joining the Apple Developer Program isn’t cheap.

An individual membership will cost you $99 USD per year, which is a steep price to pay if you aren’t sure you’ll be able to recoup that investment, which would largely come in the form of app purchases. Developers keep 70% of sales proceeds unless enrolled in the App Store Small Business Program, which allows them to keep 85%.

Enterprise Program membership is billed per organization and costs $299 USD per year.

It costs $99 USD to join the Apple MFi Program, but Apple will also claim royalties from every MFi device sold. Apple’s MFi FAQ documentation states the royalties associated with MFi accessories are covered by an NDA and are only made available after an application for the MFi License has been approved.

TechRepublic contacted Apple for more information about the pricing associated with the Apple MFi Program and received this response:

All publicly-available information about the MFi Program is available on our website: https://mfi.apple.com/en/faqs. Unfortunately, we are not able to provide further details about the MFi Program beyond those provided on the website.

How do I join the Apple Developer Program?

The Apple Developer Program is open to developers around the world. Developers who want to pay the $99 USD fee for Developer Program membership can begin the process here.

Enterprise customers interested in deploying in-house apps can begin the Enterprise Program signup process here.

Hardware manufacturers can begin the MFi registration process here.

Those who want to simply experiment with building software for Apple devices can sign up for access to the Apple Developer website for free with an Apple ID, which grants access to Xcode.

Editor’s note: This article was updated by Fiona Jackson.

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