UPDATE, Jun 2013: Apple finally made it possible to easily transfer apps between accounts. Just go to the app in iTunes Connect and choose “Transfer App”.
The short version: It’s not possible.
The backstory: In July of 2012 I started my current job at KURIER.at after they acquired the services of a company I used to work for. Among them film.at, one of Austria’s biggest movie platforms, for which I built the iOS app.
Obviously we wanted to transfer all the existing apps to the Apple account of KURIER.at. Reports stated that Apple does not allow this, but I had hope since those where over a year old and our current scenario seemed like a very common one. So I contacted Apple.
The process took a few weeks and was very time consuming. First I had to find the right department to contact and then I needed to prove my identity by becoming team agent of the KURIER.at Apple account. Once I had done so, they finally sent me a form with some questions regarding the acquisition. I was even contacted by phone a few times after answering those but their final answer was: No, our system does not support that.
That answer was obviously very frustrating considering the time and energy I spent and it seemed like something they could have told me after my first request. Anyways, Apple’s only proposed solution to our problem was to delete the app from the other company’s account and republish it with ours.
Using this approach would lead to the circumstance that all users would have to re-download the app in order to get updates – something that’s in our own interest in order to retain the existing userbase. This method is obviously not very satisfying and I even have the data to back it up.
I wrote my first app Lei’wand, which was basically a small version of film.at, together with a friend as an university project in 2008. We used the university’s Apple account to publish it to the App Store where it immediately went to No. 1 spot of the Austrian free app charts without any marketing. This success lead to me getting hired to do the film.at app later on.
In the first half of 2011 the university chose to not renew their Apple developer account and the app disappeared from the App Store. We wanted to keep the app around and got the university’s permission to republish it with our account as long as we kept their copyright notice. We did so and put banners in the old version to indicate that a new one is available in the App Store and that users need to re-download it.
But not many users did that. I am not allowed to reveal actual numbers but after over a month of the new version being available in store only 22 % of the app’s visits came from it. A year later, nearly half of the visits still amounted to the old version that was not freely available anymore. That means that a lot of people did not bother to re-download the app despite them seeing a banner that asked them to do so every time they used the app.
That shows clearly that Apple’s proposed solution of deleting and republishing an app is not a smart way. Often services don’t get acquired for their technology but for their userbase and if it can’t be retained easily it diminishes the worth of the service.
Luckily we came to an agreement with the previous owner and are keeping the apps on their account. However, I do think that this is something that Apple clearly should address.