TestFlight: Apple expands the beta-testing software to macOS developers

TestFlight has been available on iOS for years, but now it's available for macs. It isn't necessarily a game changer.

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Image: Apple

For developers of iPhone and iPad software, Apple offers a service called TestFlight to help with user testing of apps in development. It allows for easier distribution of iOS software to a pool of testers, requiring only an email address and for the tester to install the free TestFlight app from the App Store.

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This week, Apple launched TestFlight in beta for macOS developers, allowing for the same easy distribution of test versions of software on the Mac as it offers on iOS.

"It's good to see Apple finally bringing more parity of developer tools to the Mac," said a longtime iOS and Mac developer I spoke to.

But bringing TestFlight to the Mac isn't as big a development as it might initially seem. TestFlight is necessary on iOS because of how difficult it is to sideload apps or to install them without going through the App Store on the iPhone. To distribute test versions of apps on iOS, developers need to enter a device-specific identifier in their app builds for each tester.

It's a cumbersome process, to say the least, and every time a tester changes devices the entire app needs to be updated. For small teams this is fine (and is often done for nightly builds), but for larger or public testing pools, it's simply not workable. TestFlight makes it as easy as entering an email address to add a user to a beta testing pool.

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On the Mac, however, it's easy to distribute beta apps to users because it's easy to install non-App Store apps. Thanks to open source software, it's also easy to automatically update those apps and get crash reports.

That means TestFlight has more limited utility on the Mac, particularly since Apple must manually approve every update to an app. For teams rapidly iterating their apps or looking to push an emergency fix a bug in a development environment, waiting for Apple to sign off on the update could be frustrating (like it is now on iOS).

Still, TestFlight for Mac does serve a purpose. It allows for testing of App Store-specific beta builds of software as well for testing of App Store functionality like subscriptions and in-app purchases. 

As noted by MacRumors, registered developers running macOS Monterey beta 5 or later will be able to test their own apps and those from other developers with the new TestFlight app.

Apple noted that in the beta version of TestFlight, VoiceOver is not yet fully functional, and it is not available to anyone not a registered developer yet.

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