Apple Acquires TestFlight-Maker: What Does It Mean For App Developers?

By | February 25, 2015

TestFlight, a widely popular third-party beta-testing platform, was snapped up by Apple almost exactly a year back, for an undisclosed amount. The deal was expected to have several positive implications for iOS app developers.

Last year, the announcement of Apple taking over Burstly, the makers of popular beta testing platform TestFlight, was made official. From March 21, support and crash reporting for Android applications were stopped on TestFlight, and new users were requested to not upload new SDKs in their builds. The acquisition of TestFlight was expected to make the task of mobile app testing, often a sore point for iOS developers, a lot easier and quicker. Here’s what developers should know about the implications of the arrival of TestFlight exclusively on Apple:

 

  1. Platform support – As things stand now, TestFlight will be supporting only the iOS 8 platform. Android support, as already mentioned, has already been terminated – and unlike HockeyApp, Mac app developers won’t be able to test their applications on TestFlight either. There has been no mention yet about which, if at all any, older versions of the iOS platform will be supported.
  2. No need for UDIDs – iPhone app development experts will no longer have to deal with the hassles of ad hoc distribution of their applications. TestFlight does away with the need for setting up provisioning profiles to mention the devices that any particular app has been optimized for. Confusions over finding out and listing the UDID of each iOS device would also go away. Developers would be able to get on iTunes Connect, find out the Apple ID of testers, and send along an invite (via email) to test their apps. All that the testers now have to do is install the app on their devices.
  3. Two groups of testers – The testers mentioned in the previous point would be called ‘beta testers’, in TestFlight terminology. In addition, the app testing platform will also have a group of ‘internal testers’, who will have accounts in iTunes Connect, and operate from there. They will be able to check out new builds as soon as the latter are uploaded, unlike ‘beta testers’ – who can view builds only after they have received the thumbs-up from Apple. In essence, this means more options for iOS developers.
  4. Option to manage testers into separate Groups – The more the number of testers checking a new app, the less becomes the chances of any bug in it remaining undetected. After the Apple-Burstly deal, TestFlight has announced a new Groups feature. Mobile app developers will be able to customize their interactions with each group of testers (i.e., send out different sets of instructions, check different app features, etc.). Collecting feedback and implementing suggestions will become easier and a lot more systematic. The burden on individual app testers will decrease as well.
  5. End of the road for TestFlightApp.com – This was pretty much widely expected. The acquisition deal is all done and dusted, and the old version TestFlight on Apple will be making way for the new version. The website on which the old TestFlight was hosted – TestFlightApp.com – will shut down from tomorrow (February 26). A point of concern for many iOS app developers might be the fact that apps present on the older TestFlight will not be auto-imported to the current version of the beta-testing platform. Way to work around this? Setting up the applications all over again in iTunes Connect.
  6. More testers for each developer – This is probably the biggest highlight of the new TestFlight, after being acquired by Apple Inc. Previously, a developer could ask for the Apple IDs of a maximum of 100 beta testers, and send invites to test their app. That number has now swelled to 1000 – which makes a) the overall testing procedure for each iOS app more thorough, and b) the creation of TestFlight Groups all the more necessary. Apart from this, each app developer will be able to have as many as 25 internal testers. Clearly, Apple is bidding to rev up the quality of apps at the App Store further.
  7. Continuous Integration and Automatic Builds won’t be supported – For developers who do not create and submit their builds manually, it would be advisable to stick with HockeyApp (or any other beta testing tool that supports Continuous Integration). TestFlight will not be supporting automated builds, and each developer will have to manually create and upload their app builds on iTunes Connect.
  8. Size of the apps to be tested – iOS apps need to be smaller than 800 MB in size, for it being able to be tested by the TestFlight tool. With most iPhone app developers focusing on making small, fast applications, this cap is likely to be more than enough for most cases. What’s more – enterprise apps will also be supported on TestFlight. In case a larger application needs to be tested, the concerned developer will have to get in touch with the TestFlight staff via email.
  9. Validity period of builds – Each build uploaded on iTunes Connect by an app developer will remain valid for a maximum of 30 days. After that period expires, a new build has to be uploaded – failing which, the app will become inaccessible to the registered mobile app testers. Apple has also specified that the metadata of the apps (brief descriptions, features to be tested, etc.) will also have to be provided by the developers. The uploading process would, of course, be binary.
  10. Only the latest beta versions will be installable – At first, this might seem a perfectly logical option. Older builds automatically get marked as ‘inactive’, as soon as a new build is uploaded. The only problem with this is, developers would no longer be able to compare two different versions of an app build (say, the UI/UX designs), or find out when and how regressions were specified on old builds. In a nutshell, there is no option for installing older builds on TestFlight – something that might be, and is often, required by developers.
  11. Better crash reporting – But iOS application developers have to wait for a few months for that. Apple has bolstered the third-party app testing ecosystem with the acquisition of Test Flight, and the new crash reporting (scheduled to start ‘later this year’) will have symbolicalization. In other words, coders will be able to see exactly which program line their apps are crashing at. This will be a huge improvement over what is currently available from iTunes Connect – an overall crash log.
  12. FlightPath has been discontinued – This has been a big surprise to many app experts and developers. FlightPath was the much talked about mobile analytics tool of TestFlight, and things were looking up for it even last year – when it was phased into beta. With the closure of FlightPath, developers have lost a chance to check out the mobile analytics of their apps – which, in any case, is a relatively new sub-domain. At present, people looking for the FlightPath link are automatically redirected to the home page of TestFlight. Strangely, there has not been any official mention about stopping FlightPath.
  13. Better developer support – The standard of developer support that Apple provides is fairly good, and on the third-party app-testing platform, the support services are likely to be prompt, informed and useful. However, there are several mobile app developers who feel Apple (or TestFlight) has a lot of catching up to do, to match with the quality of developer support that its main rival, HockeyApp, provides. We will have to wait for some time (read: actual feedback from developers) to get a clearer idea on this.
  14. TestFlight will remain free – The acquisition of Burstly by Apple will not be having any effect on the pricing of TestFlight. It will remain a free beta testing platform, available over-the-air. The company does have plans to launch certain paid testing features and functionality later though. Developers will be able to upgrade to those, or stay with the free service – depending on their precise requirements.

The new TestFlight Groups will be replacing legacy distribution lists – which were a core part of the older version of the beta-testing platform. Developers, of course, have to keep in mind that Apple’s acquisition of TestFlight does not, in any way, lower the importance of the overall testing process at the App Store. What this deal promises is more systematic, streamlined testing of iOS apps – and the presence of even ‘better’ apps at the store.