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TestFlight and the Importance of a Private Beta

The most important thing about the product is making sure it addresses the customer need.  I wanted to share my experience with one tool that made it easy to distribute and get feedback for an iOS app.  You should use this or similar tools for your application or you will run a risk of shipping a dud.

You can have the best architecture, you can have the sleekest styles and the coolest user interface, but if you can’t get the users to use your app – it’s not worth much.  To minimize the risk of shipping a dud because of wrong features or system incompatibility I highly recommend that you conduct a private beta using a tool like TestFlight.  If you are building an iOS app, TestFlight allows you to upload a build of your app and then invite your beta testers to try the app out.

  1. The first thing to do is to sign up for a TestFlight account.  Once you have set up an account you can start inviting members of your team.
  2. When your team joins you can gather their device identifiers (UDID).  You need the device identifiers because your private build is only going to be allowed to run on a few devices. 
  3. The testers then get a notification and sign up for TestFlight, upon joining they can connect their device and supply their UDID.
  4. After your beta testers have uploaded their UDIDs you will need to go back to the Apple developer portal and upload the new UDIDs so that you can create a profile that includes the new devices.
  5. In XCode -> Preference -> Accounts -> View Details you will need to referesh the profile so that you have a provisioning profile with the latest UDIDs.
  6. Next time you build and export an IPA it should be installable on the testers devices.  Upload the IPA file to TestFlight and notify beta testers about the new build. 
  7. Testers then follow the link from the e-mail or from the TestFlight website to get the latest build and it downloads directly to their phone.

You can see that the process is a little bit involved, but I believe that’s the best you can do with the current iOS distribution architecture.  There are a few things that will happen as a result of the private beta: some people will not install your app, some people will install it and encounter problems, some people will install it and ask for features, some people will install it and want to know when they can get the final version.

All of those events are useful:

  • If no one goes through the trouble of installing your app, you are probably not addressing an existing business need – it’s time to get back to talking to customers and learning more about their problem space.
  • When customers encounter problems it means that your testing needs to expand and you might need to add coverage on systems and devices you haven’t tried before.
  • Feature requests are good too, it means that people were interested enough to try it out but need something else for a complete solution.
  • If your customers ask you when they can get the final version you’ve hit the jackpot – your app will actually help someone.

Do not skip the private beta.  You do not want to spend marketing dollars or time before you got some feedback on your app.  When you finally launch with good feedback you will have customer testimonials and the right feature set.  You can market your successes and your users will help you.


PS: if you have feedback I'd love to hear from  you on Twitter @mikebz
PPS: If you like this post you might also enjoy: "Don't hate on Startup Code" and "So you want to start a mobile app business"

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