Distributing Apps For Testing

When testing apps, I generally use a combination of 3 tools for distribution. It’s important to understand the strengths and weaknesses of the various available tools to easily onboard testers and gather feedback.

App Center

I’ll only be touching on App Center Distribute, none of the other features. I would say that it’s worthwhile to use Microsoft App Center for the distribution features alone. There are other valuable features in the App Center product which I will likely cover in future articles.

App Center Releases

App Center Distribute is overall a fantastic, robust tool for distribution. It’s great for small test groups and power users.

  • Audience:
    • Internal QA teams
    • Internal stakeholders
    • Small groups of external testers
    • iOS (and iPadOS – sigh) and Android
  • Pros:
    • Free, don’t need Apple’s blessing to push out changes
    • Android apps are extremely easy to manage
    • Multiple versions available to test at the same time (this is big)
  • Cons:
    • Uses iOS ad-hoc distribution. This means all devices you want to use to test need to be registered through Apple, and the app is packaged with a list of the registered devices and on install iOS checks to make sure the device you’re installing to is on the list. Even though you can register devices and re-package apps through App Center (really fastlane under the hood), it’s still a cumbersome process that involves manual steps from testers and admins/developers.
    • Android users need to toggle the “Allow installation of apps from unknown sources” option in settings.

TestFlight (iOS only)

TestFlight was once an independent startup working to tackle the problem of distributing apps for both Android and iOS. Apple purchased TestFlight in early 2014 and quickly removed Android support.

  • Audience:
    • iPhone/iPad users
    • Large test groups
    • Public beta testers
  • Pros:
    • Good end-user experience, simple to install test apps
  • Cons
    • Requires a separate TestFlight app
    • App approval required for beta testing
    • Can only test one version at a time
    • Builds expire after 90 days

Google Play Store (Android only)

The Google Play Store added testing distribution quite some time ago and has continued to mature the workflow.

  • Audience:
    • Android users
    • Large test groups
    • Public beta testers
  • Pros:
    • Test apps are installed through the Google Play Store (like production)
  • Cons:
    • Can only test one version at a time
    • This might be a personal thing, but I find the Google Play Publishing portal very cumbersome to use.

Conclusion

You mileage will vary with each of these tools. I recommend starting with App Center and shifting to TestFlight and the Google Play testing tracks as you move closer to a production release.