Since Apple’s February 2014 acquisition of Burstly (makers of the popular mobile-app testing platform TestFlight) beta testing of iOS apps has become a bit more difficult. iOS developers wanting to use TestFlight must now run their apps through Apple’s app approval process, which can cause delays of up to several days. For iOS developers under tight deadlines or who don’t feel like waiting, there are alternatives. Some options are part of a larger mobile app management program, others are paid services, and some are free. Here’s a rundown of some popular alternatives to TestFlight:
In-House and MDM Solutions
DIY anyone? Organizations with sufficient resources can forego using third-party services by building their own app store. Internal app stores have the benefits of fast beta testing and the ease of having management and processes all in-house and not dependent on third parties. However, they’re expensive to build and maintain, and personnel/management costs and security can outweigh the benefits. Normally, this option would only be considered by large organizations with a lot of apps to maintain.
Other heavy duty options are the Mobile Device Management (MDM) platforms. MDM tools encapsulate many services for the administration of mobile devices and are appealing to organizations of all sizes. However, as beta testing is not the primary focus of Mobile Device Management, they are only a high-value option if you use their other services too. Among the MDM companies that offer beta testing are AppBlade and AirWatch.
Paid Beta Distribution Services
There are mobile beta testing services that you can pay for and some of them are good options.
HockeyApp is HockeyKit on steroids, a complete package offering beta distribution, live crash reporting, and in-app user feedback tools. Simple installation makes HockeyApp a compelling choice.
If you have the need to closely manage your beta distributions, AppBlade might be for you. It provides a full beta distribution feature set while providing the ability to encrypt app data, force updates, and install/wipe applications remotely.
Enterprises and small developer groups can make use of Appaloosa, a third-party app store that has distributed a quarter million apps to nearly 3,000 stores. An easy store setup process keeps things simple, while push notifications, strong analytics, provisioning support and group-based version targeting provide the sophistication an enterprise requires.
Applause, formerly Apphance, automatically keeps testers armed with the latest app build, eliminating useless feedback on older code. A wide array of testing services including in-the-wild testing gives this complete suite a powerful edge.
For Indies, small groups and even enterprises, free beta distribution services are an extremely compelling option if they do all that you need them to.
If you’re into the idea of global crowd-testing try Ubertesters. Experienced testers from more than 80 countries test your app on numerous kinds of devices in real-world conditions. Free for a small number of projects, it can be used by in-house QA teams and external beta testers and includes team management, in-app bug reporting, over-the-air build distribution, and bug tracking support.
Check out BirdFlight as another free crowd-testing alternative. A diversity of external experts and focus groups from varying backgrounds test your apps; find bugs and usability issues; and offer advice, tips, and suggestions for improvement. BirdFlight also provides team management capabilities.
For developers with their own servers looking for a simple, free solution, HockeyKit is a great way to go. An optional client library provides for in-app updates through this open-source version of HockeyApp.
My personal choice is Fabric.io, a free mobile development service from Twitter that includes a beta distribution service. This is great for individuals as well as enterprises. Fabric features “kits” that assist with account creation, SDK configuration, powerful analytics, conversion marketing, and more that are easily set up with a few lines of code. Think “beta distribution meets revenue generation” and you’ll get the point of Fabric.
Fabric was developed by the same team that built Crashlytics and now powers more than 5 billion app sessions daily. So not only can you distribute your beta, but you get analytics integrated into the beta distribution. Called Beta by Crashlytics, the service gets testers up and running immediately after receiving an email invite. There’s even a dashboard where you can see a real-time view of your app’s health and fix the most critical crashes.
Out of the options available, Fabric.io is my default because of its accessibility and versatility, but the right solution for a particular app depends on the size of your organization, your distribution size, urgency, budget and other factors. Out of the numerous TestFlight alternatives available for iOS app developers, there is going to be one that will suit your needs. In addition, both the paid and free services are continuing to evolve, which means developers can expect a wide variety of powerful services to choose from both now and in the future.
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