Beta testing iPhone apps has been described by some developers I know as the least fun part of the whole process. That’s something TestFlight aims to help improve upon. The service provides free, over-the-air app beta distribution, and it’s now available to all.
I’ve helped a few developers test out beta apps in the past, and the whole experience felt surprisingly low tech. Basically, you send a developer your unique device identifier (UDID), and then they send back an application .ipa file and a provisioning file for you to install on your device once they’ve added your iPhone to their list of testers. Apple requires that only registered devices can run pre-release apps, as a way of preventing people from simply distributing apps directly to customers without going through the App Store.
TestFlight acts as a go-between, facilitating the process for both beta testers and developers alike. It removes the need for developers to send out their files manually to each beta participant, and makes it much easier for beta testers, too. Instead of having to manually install apps using iTunes, TestFlight allows you to install beta apps right from the site’s dashboard in mobile Safari, once you sign up for a free account. You still have to send your UDID to the developer, but once it’s in the system, other devs can contact you and add you to their beta pools as well. To be a tester, you have to have at least iOS 4.0 installed on your device, since that’s when Apple introduced its wireless app installation protocols.
TestFlight is free for developers, too, and the easy-to-use interface ensures that users will face far fewer barriers to entry in terms of testing. The service also allows devs to separate testers into different groups, and assign different versions of each beta to those groups. That means you can show your investors only stable builds, while providing each and every bleeding edge version to your QA team. TestFlight also offers recruitment tools, which allow you to publicize your beta and find testers via tweeted and emailed registration links, and can push out notifications to tester devices when new builds are available.
It may not be the only over-the-air beta testing solution for iOS apps, but it is one of the slickest and most comprehensive, and the fact that it’s free definitely doesn’t hurt.
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