According to a new report, some iPhone and iPad developers are choosing to publish their apps to TestFlight, which is Apple’s service for over-the-air installation and testing of iOS apps, and leave it at that. Users, assuming they know where to look, can download and use these pieces of software via the TestFlight app, which is available for free on the App Store.
Protocol reports that some developers are publishing apps to TestFlight to avoid “Apple’s stringent guidelines for the App Store.” These are typically tiny apps that don’t offer enough functionally or utility to be considered by Apple for inclusion on the App Store. “The App Store forces every app to try to become a multinational conglomerate, but TestFlight lets them stay mom-and-pop stores,” writes Protocol’s David Pierce.
Building an app outside the App Store has been possible for years, of course. Developers have long posted code to GitHub, which anyone with a developer account could compile in XCode and install on their phone. Apple’s had testing systems for years, too, but they used to require email addresses or device IDs to work. Now, as Apple has simplified the system, anyone with an app can just share a TestFlight link and have thousands of strangers sign up.
Apple takes no commission for apps distributed through TestFlight.
The only problem here is that those developers aren’t using TestFlight the way it was intended: to test apps with internal or external beta testers before they’re submitted to Apple. Although using TestFlight as an underground App Store sounds like an awesome idea on paper, in reality there are too many restrictions for it to become a viable business model.
For instance, a TestFlight app can be used by no more than 10,000 people at once. More importantly, apps on TestFlight are in beta and have yet to be screened by Apple. Which means that people who are in fact willing to jump through hoops to get a specific app through TestFlight are inevitably going to deal with a lot of bugs.
The original TestFlight service was developed by Benjamin Satterfield and Trystan Kosmynka. In February 2014, Apple acquired their startup Burstly, which is behind TestFlight. The following month, the Mac maker terminated support for TestFlight for Android. In September that year, Apple released TestFlight as its own app on the App Store.