If you work in the technology space, then you probably have dealt with beta applications (or enterprise installed applications) on iOS before. It's generally a pain to register your device, download the application, and then manage those beta apps on your device. With TestFlight, Apple's venture into the beta distribution service, you can more easily do all of these things from a user standpoint. If you happen to get invited by your company or another developer to join a TestFlight beta team, we'll take a look at the process that you should expect to download and install betas onto your devices.
Downloading the TestFlight application
The TestFlight application is available to all iOS 8 users via the iTunes App Store. Once it's downloaded, open the application, and sign in with your Apple ID credentials to get started.
When you first launch the application, and have no invitations to join a beta testing program, the application will appear empty. Let's continue on and see how accepting a beta invitation can populate the application and give you the ability to install apps.
Accepting an invitation to join a beta
Whenever someone gives you an invitation to join a beta testing program via the Apple TestFlight service, you'll receive an email from the inviting developer/organization that includes an "Open in TestFlight" button (Figure A).
The TestFlight invite email contains a link to add the application to your TestFlight application and Apple ID.
Clicking on this link will open the TestFlight application installed on your device (or, if you don't have TestFlight installed, it will prompt you to do so). If you're already signed into your Apple ID in TestFlight, the beta application will automatically be added to your account.
With TestFlight, you no longer have to give developers access to your Unique Device Identifier (UDID); instead, Apple manages everything for the developer, and lets you — as a tester — download the application on any of your devices (and even new devices when you get them, without having to go through the provisioning process again).
With TestFlight, you can also be assured that the developers of the beta applications won't use unauthorized APIs to steal your device information, because developers have to go through a similar review process for beta apps as they do for official iTunes Store applications. In this review process (which happens before downloads are available to beta testers), Apple ensures that no unauthorized APIs are used and that the app conforms to the App Store rules.
Installing beta apps from TestFlight
Once you've accepted an invitation from a developer to be a part of a TestFlight beta testing program, you'll see the app you accepted appear inside of the TestFlight application on any of the devices where you're signed into the same Apple ID.
To install the latest version of an application, select an app to install, then tap on the "Install" button. Once it's installed, the "Install" button turns into an "Open" button (Figure B). Just like with the iTunes App Store, the beta version of the application will be placed on your home screen — and after downloading, it will be installed and able to run on your device just like any iTunes App Store app.
The beta install process in TestFlight is similar to what you might have come to expect from the iTunes App Store.
As you can see, TestFlight makes it easier for both developers and testers to be able to install beta builds of applications on devices. It also makes it more secure, without having to give a developer your UDID of your iOS device.
More about beta apps
Here are some tips and tricks for managing beta apps:
- When installing beta applications from TestFlight, the app icon on the home screen will include a small orange circular tag that indicates the app was installed from TestFlight
- Whenever a new version of a build is available, the TestFlight application will deliver a push notification to your device to let you know you can update the existing version
- When an update is available, you'll be able to install the new version by selecting "Update" beside of the app name inside of the TestFlight application
- Tapping on an application in TestFlight will give you detailed notes from the developers, showing you what to focus your testing on and any additional build notes that are relevant to the current version of the application (always check these notes before installing beta builds onto your device)
- Remember, only download beta applications onto your devices if you have a trusted relationship with a developer or company
- If you no longer wish to participate in a particular app beta, just navigate into the application in TestFlight, and tap the "Unsubscribe" button
What other suggestions do you have for working with beta apps? Share your experience in the discussion thread below.
Cory Bohon is an indie developer, creating both iOS and OS X applications at Cocoa App (his own company), MartianCraft, and for various other clients. As a part of full disclosure, he does not write about any software that he has created or has helped to create through these outlets.
Cory Bohon is an indie developer specializing in iOS and OS X development. He runs a software company called Cocoa App and is also a developer at MartianCraft. He was introduced to technology at an early age and has been writing about his favorite technology part-time since 2007. He runs a development blog named ObjDev when he isn’t writing about consumer tech.