Limiting an iOS App to Friends and Family

I sometimes see questions on forums from people who have developed an iOS app and want only friends and family to be able to install the app. Apple does not currently allow you to restrict an app to friends and family, but there are two alternatives that will allow you to effectively reach that goal.

Put the App on the App Store

The simplest solution is to just put your app on the App Store. Many of you think this is a bad idea, that putting your app on the App Store will allow anyone with an iOS device to install the app.

Technically you’re correct. When you put an app on the iOS App Store, anyone can install the app. But no one will know your app exists. The only people who will install your app are the people you tell about the app.

In early 2017 I released a free word game for iOS and Mac, LetterMiner. When I released the game I got a few dozen downloads on the iOS App Store due to the game being new. But then the downloads dried up. In almost three years, I have had fewer than 100 downloads of the iOS version. And I wanted people to play the game.

As long as you don’t publicize the app, your app will effectively be limited to your inner circle of friends and family. You may get a few outside downloads when you first release the app, but after that the downloads will trickle down to zero. There are so many apps on the App Store that people are not going to stumble upon your app by browsing the store.

Keep the App Perpetually in Beta

A more complicated solution is to keep your app perpetually in beta and add your family and friends as beta testers in TestFlight.

The advantage of TestFlight is that no outsiders will be able to install your app. The disadvantage is that you have to submit a new beta build every 90 days. That’s why I recommend putting your app on the App Store. Release your app once and as long as you avoid publicizing the app, you will reach your goal of limiting your iOS app to friends and family.