An Apple Developer account gives you access to two things; development tools from Apple, and the ability to upload apps to the App Store or the Mac App store. It’s common knowledge that in order to get an Apple Developer account, you need to pay an annual $100 fee but this is needed only if you need to upload an app to one of Apple’s stores. If you’re looking to access the myriad of tools that Apple has for developers, a free account will do the trick.
In order to create a free Apple developer account, you need only use your regular Apple ID to sign into the Apple Developer portal.
Apple Developer account
Visit this link in your browser. You can do this on any device, it doesn’t necessarily have to be an Apple device. Click the Account option at the top right and sign in with your Apple account.
That’s really all that’s needed. Once you sign in, you will be taken to Apple’s Developer portal where you can access documentation and tools for developing iOS and macOS apps. You also get access to developer forums where you can talk to and seek help from other developers.
If you scroll a little further down, you will see a ‘Join the Apple Developer Program’, message. When you’re ready to distribute your apps, click this message.
The next page will show you the benefits of joining the developer program, go through them if you want or just click the Enroll button at the top. Follow the on-screen instructions until you arrive at the page to buy a subscription. Buy it if you’re ready to distribute your app. You should know that the purchase can take up to two days or 48 hours to complete so don’t leave this to the last minute before app distribution.
If you’re looking for a way to distribute apps to either the App Store or the Mac App Store with the free Apple Developer account, that isn’t possible. A free account gives you access to the tools, documentation, and forums, nothing else.
Apple lets you sign up as an individual or as a company. There doesn’t seem to be an option that offers students a discounted rate for a developer account. You will need the paid version to update your app however, you do not need it to continue distribution. Many developers end up abandoning their apps but the apps, while out-dated, are still available in their respective stores.