Android has long offered a powerful public beta testing option so developers can squash bugs before they release their apps to everyone. Apple will finally offer something similar with the expansion of its acquisition TestFlight in iOS 8. Apple has always insisted users get near-perfect experiences, but for free with the September iOS 8 release, develelopers will be able to ask early adopters to volunteer to endure and log bugs in exchange for getting to test out cutting-edge features.
Last December, our columnist MG Siegler told Apple to offer a beta App Store full of pre-release products, or at least some kind of beta testing program with demographic targeting. TestFlight for iOS 8 answers his call.
The Apple-run program will compete with the popular beta testing suite Hockey, and Twitter-owned Crashlytics’ new testing tool. Until now, developers could technically only add a few hundred devices as testers, which was way too small of a number to do any quantifiably significant beta testing.
In a bit of a backfire, Apple’s longstanding lack of a native beta system forced developers to go around it and use these third-party systems or misuse the iOS developer enterprise program. That put these beta apps outside its regulation, which could lead to malicious devs scamming users or just generally terrible UX. By bringing wide-scale beta testing in-house, Apple can now keep an eye on it.
Several large developers like Facebook and Twitter have been eagerly taking advantage of Android beta testing so that bugs don’t get pushed to their hundreds of millions of mobile users. But they had no such option on iOS, and sources tell me this was a big pain point for engineering teams at these giants.
With TestFlight, developers will be able to admit a subset of their users to a beta program for their app. These users will get pre-release versions of the app, and developers can track metrics about the tests within TestFlight.
Apple was brief in its announcement of TestFlight’s intergration into iOS 8. It’s likely to port over much of TestFlight’s existing functionality, including over-the-air updates, powerful permissioning and management for teams, large scale public beta support, and deep statistics about usage and problems.
The move is a big milestone in Apple becoming a more open company. Until now, it’s always demanded a squeaky-clean user experience. No betas. But in fact, that stance degraded the quality of the experience for everyone because apps would ship with bugs because they couldn’t do wide enough pre-release testing. It seems Apple is finally ready to treat its users as adults. If they want to throw themselves into a shaky beta, it’s finally their choice.