Opinion: Event Technology Just Took a Giant Step Forward (With a Little Help from Apple)

Apple's shift away from the White Label Event App model represents big opportunities

At DoubleDutch, we've long known that the White Label Event App model (siloed, disposable apps for each customer) was not ideal. It was bad for attendees, overly complex for our customers, and inefficient and inelegant as a way to deploy software.

We also knew that the right model looked more like Slack or Gmail -- a single, secure app that contained all customer networks, safely partitioned between groups and teams, yet still deeply customized for each account. The benefits of this architecture are many: simpler app discovery leading to higher adoption / engagement, the ability to deliver cross-event functionality, the opportunity to efficiently roll out feature updates (or security patches), and the chance to deliver year round value, just to name a few.

But what we couldn't figure out was how to get there. The White Label Event App model had become the industry standard, and we knew it would be difficult for us to break this convention alone.

As it turned out, we didn't have to. 

Apple did it for us.

Coming out of WWDC, Apple has announced some sweeping changes to how they will manage their App Store; changes that will profoundly impact how live events deploy mobile event technology.

Here is the net: Apple is now pushing mobile event app vendors away from the White Label Event App model towards a Slack- or Gmail-like model: a single, secure, vendor-branded app that lives in the App Store containing all of the accounts and event instances within a single app (we'll call this the "Universal App" model).

In effect, Apple has just killed the White Label Event App.

So what does this mean for the industry? 

Here is my take after years of reflection and taking a clear-eyed look at the limitations of the White Label Event App model: The death of the White Label Event App is a much-needed change that only Apple could force, and one that will benefit event attendees, event owners, and the best event technology vendors. 

What We Know

Here is what we know based on several conversations with a worldwide developer relations leader from Apple (note: This reflects our best effort to accurately relay information from our conversations with Apple, but should not be taken as an official Apple statement.):

Apple is requiring event app vendors to move to a Universal App model, in which all accounts and events would exist within a single, vendor-branded, container app.

Apple's App Store guideline changes are being pushed from the highest levels of Apple.

This change will impact many verticals and industries in which white label vendors have emerged, not just conference apps.

This will be a controlled and gradual migration with no hard end date for existing apps. Apple will work with vendors on a timeline to transition to the new model.

Apple has no plans to remove existing event apps from the store. But there will be a date that Apple blocks updates to existing apps, as well as blocks new, White Label Event Apps.

Apple plans to enforce these changes universally. There will no longer be a way to distribute White Label Event apps via the iTunes store.

And here's what will not change:

The White Label Event App model will still be allowed for internal, enterprise distribution use cases.

Deeply branded experiences will still be possible starting at the sign up / login screen. It's only the app icon and app name that will not be brandable.

Fully custom apps with unique source code will still be permitted.

If you have a White Label Event App in the App Store already, it will likely be able to live on indefinitely (but without the ability to update to future versions beyond a date TBD).

The End of the Beginning

I am convinced that the move towards a Universal App is the most exciting development for event tech since the iPhone itself.

The move to a Universal App model will enable powerful functionality that simply wasn't possible in a siloed White Label App Model: functionality that has to do with persistent networks and messaging, deep customization and personalization options, and improved security and authentication. Again, Slack or Gmail are the perfect models for what is possible here: deeply customized and secure experiences within a single container app. 

At DoubleDutch, we've been preparing for this moment for a while now. Stay tuned for many exciting product announcements in the near future.

And before we mourn the loss of custom app icons, remember this; modern marketing has never been about customizing an app icon or app name. It's about delivering mass personalization by listening to behavioral signals and responding appropriately. In the world of events, we call this Live Engagement Marketing, and the principles of LEM will only be strengthened by the higher adoption and longer engagement of a Universal App world.

If I still haven't convinced you, consider this:

There is no longer an option to use a White Label, custom-branded event app, at least not through Apple.

Will events go back to paper? Commission a custom and expensive app for every event? Perhaps in some cases.

But the Universal App will be the path for most modern event owners and designers that deliver event programs at scale. It will be up to vendors like DoubleDutch to enable deeply branded experiences beyond the app icon, and to deliver the transformational features and functionality enabled by Universal Event Apps. 

For event tech watchers, consumers, and vendors, this is certainly an important moment.

It's the end of the beginning. 

Apple has effectively killed the White Label Event App, and frankly, good riddance. The live event ecosystem should thank them for it.

Better days lie ahead for attendees, event owners, and event tech vendors as the industry moves to a more elegant, modern, and scalable model.

Buckle up, the next six months will be exciting.

Lawrence Coburn is CEO of DoubleDutch, a provider of live engagement marketing solutions that drive attendee interaction at conferences, trade shows, and conventions. This article was adapted from a post that originally appeared on Coburn's LinkedIn page.

For an alternative interpretation of what the new Apple guidelines mean to the future of meeting apps, head here.