WhatsApp Debuts An Official Android Beta Testing Program

WhatsApp has now launched an official Android beta testing program. The move could expand the Facebook-owned company’s ability to reach a broader range of testers by making it easier to sign up to trial new versions of the WhatsApp software. Meanwhile, on WhatsApp’s side, it should be simpler to distribute new releases and features as they become available.

Of course, WhatsApp already had a testing program of its own in place. The company would host beta builds of its APK file directly on its own website. At times, this standalone APK outside the Google Play store would see small changes, but other times it would receive notable new features first – like voice calling support or integration with Google Drive for backup, for example.

But only WhatsApp’s most devoted end users participated in this beta, as they would have to track the WhatsApp website or the APK Mirror site to stay informed about new builds. Plus, because the app was distributed via a website, it required users to open up the security settings on their devices to allow for apps installed from “untrusted sources.”

The move to relocate the beta testing program was first spotted by the blog Android Police, which also noted that users will no longer have to join a Google+ community or Google Group in order to test the app’s latest versions going forward.

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Instead, WhatsApp beta testers can visit the Google Play store’s official testing page to sign up for the program.

Google Play has long supported the ability for app developers to run official alpha and beta testing programs via its app store, which is different from Apple’s approach with iTunes. There, testers can download pre-release versions of apps via Apple-owned TestFlight or another third-party distribution program. Google Play makes rolling out test builds a part of its store’s platform itself.

By moving to offer an official Google Play-powered beta testing program, WhatsApp will be able to reach a larger group of potential users for its trial software and will be able to try out its new features and fixes across a more diverse group of participants. That’s important not only because it will allow for better and broader feedback, but it could also speed up the time to launch when it comes to rolling out features to the public version of its software. That could keep it more competitive with apps from smaller and more nimble startups, like Telegram.

WhatsApp Messenger is today a massively popular mobile application, ranked as the #14 free app on the Google Play store in the U.S., and holding a #1 ranking in over 50 countries worldwide.

Interested users can sign up for WhatsApp’s beta program here. 

Representatives for WhatsApp were not available for comment on the changes, but we will update if more details are provided.

Update, 6 PM ET: A spokesperson from WhatsApp confirmed the program, but didn’t share additional details.