When TestFlight hit the market in 2011, it revolutionized beta app distribution. It eliminated the hassle associated with distributing and managing beta builds and simplified the process on the tester’s side. Apple was quick to recognize the value beta testing with TestFlight adds to developers and was quick to acquire the service and integrate it into App Store Connect.
In this post, we will take a look at TestFlight’s beta testing features and how you can make the most out of them. We will also discuss the strengths and limitations of the platform, and some tips for setting up effective beta tests.
TestFlight’s Take on Beta Testing
For iOS apps, there really isn’t any practical alternative to TestFlight for beta testing. While there are several distribution platforms that do support iOS apps, Apple’s 100 UDIDs limit for ad-hoc builds puts a huge barrier to their adoption. Fortunately, Apple has been rapidly iterating on TestFlight and adding more powerful features since they acquired the service.
Apple adopts a very simple approach to managing builds and beta testers that adds little constraints on how beta tests can be carried out. TestFlight allows you to add either internal or external testers, organize them into groups, and assign groups to a build for testing. You can test up to 100 apps and unlimited builds simultaneously, however, builds are then available to your testers for 90 days before they expire.
Limited to 25 testers.
Add testers from your App Store Connect team.
Requires “admin”, “app manager”, “developer”, “marketer”, or “technical” role
No beta app review required.
Since this track is meant for internal QA testing, internal testers must be members of your App Store Connect team. Beta builds pushed to internal testers do not require a beta app review and they are notified immediately. While this might be the biggest advantage of internal testers, the 25 tester limit will prevent you from depending on it for beta testing or even dogfooding.
Limited to 10,000 testers.
Add testers via email or public opt-in link.
Subject to beta app review.
Although beta programs with more than 10,000 beta testers are not unheard of, it is still a generous limit that will be more than enough in most cases. You can add external testers via their email, and organize them into groups for easier management.
Additionally, TestFlight has enabled open beta testing through a public opt-in link. You can assign different builds to test for each group, however, builds assigned to external testers have to go through a beta review process that can take up to 48 hours. This delay is usually easy to accommodate, but you should keep it in mind when planning your beta releases. This is especially important if you are maintaining a rapid release cycle that can get disrupted by these small delays.
Setting Up Effective Beta Tests
Although this might not work for all types of apps, it is good practice to dogfood your app internally before you start external beta testing. This will help you squash any major bugs that remain while helping you see things from your users’ perspective.
Adding your team to the internal tester list would be perfect to send them nightly dogfood builds, but for many teams, the 25 seat limit might not be enough. One option is to use ad-hoc build distribution to push the app to your team. This also has a limit, but it is a much more useful 100 UDID cap.
If even that is not enough, then your only remaining option is to add your team as an external testing group. It will certainly take your whole team, but maintaining a nightly cadence will become practically impossible.
Closed Beta Testing
Now that you’ve made sure your app is ready, it is time to put your app in the hand of beta testers. It is always recommended to start out with a small number of trusted or technical users, and gradually increase the number of testers as you iterate.
Starting small allows you to get rid of the major issues before you put your app in the hands of more potential customers. Additionally, with a manageable tester sample, you will be in a better position to engage testers and collect detailed qualitative feedback without being overwhelmed.
The next step is adding more beta testers to unlock quantitative data and understand how they interact with your app. The more beta testers you involve at this stage, the better, but you still shouldn’t let them all in at once to avoid overwhelming your infrastructure. Additionally, adding testers in waves gives you continuous access to fresh eyes that can better judge your app’s out-of-the-box and onboarding experience.
Finally, make use of TestFlight’s groups to organize and segment your testers. This will give your data added depth and can reveal insights that are specific to certain segments of your users. Additionally, you can use TestFlight’s ability to test multiple builds simultaneously to A/B test different variations of your app with different groups.
Open Beta Testing
When you’ve iterated enough on your app and feel confident in your app’s quality, opening access to your beta test can serve as a final safety net and give you a better idea of how your app will perform on launch.
Opening access to your beta test provides the best indication of how your app is going to perform in a public release. More importantly, they are a great opportunity to get early adopters, collect testimonials, and start building a community around your app. To avoid exceeding your team’s capacity, TestFlight allows you to set a maximum number of beta testers to enroll in your beta test.
Open beta tests can be immensely useful to your marketing team, allowing them to test their marketing messages and the effectiveness of their marketing channels. They can additionally be used by your customer support team to identify the common issues and queries that face your users and prepare FAQs for them.
Pros and Cons of TestFlight
TestFlight is integrated into App Store Connect and adds minimal overhead to your process.
TestFlight eliminates the need to add testers’ UDIDs and manage provisioning profiles.
The only platform for iOS that is not restricted to 100 devices for beta testing.
A/B test unlimited builds simultaneously.
For builds that introduce any major changes, Apple’s beta app review can take up to 48 hours.
Internal testers are limited to 25 testers, which can be somewhat restrictive.
Phased releases are not supported for beta builds.
TestFlight does not provide a feedback channel other than email.
How Can Instabug Help?
Instabug is the top beta testing tool for bug reporting and user feedback in mobile apps. It provides the most useful metadata on the market, exceptional customer support, and an in-app communication channel to chat with your beta testers.
Bug and Crash Reporting
With each report, you automatically receive comprehensive data to help fix issues faster, including steps to reproduce errors, network request and console logs, and environment details. For bug reporting, your beta testers can also send screen recordings and annotate screenshots to provide further context.
In-App Surveys and Feature Request Management
Collect user feedback from your beta testers right inside your app to minimize interruptions and boost participation rates. Get powerful insights to enhance your product roadmap with surveys that you can target at specific tester segments and feature request voting to understand user pain points and desires.
Beta testing has been repeatedly proven to provide a lot of benefits to your app development process. TestFlight has fundamentally changed how mobile app beta testing is done and continues to be a powerful tool to this day. With its innovative solution and simplified approach to beta testing, it has made beta testing much more accessible to teams of all sizes. And with the service integrated into App Store Connect, your app’s beta test is only a few clicks away.