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12/29/2011
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iOS Developer Services Improve App Testing

Restrictions put in the developer license by Apple cause problems for many users, but outside services are popping up to break the limits.

The freedom to build better apps.

Those words are emblazoned across the home page of TestFlight, a free service that makes it easier for iOS app makers to test their apps across a range of iOS devices--while bypassing Apple's limit of 100 test devices.

Though 100 could be more than enough for small developers, it's not enough for larger corporations to test their apps as thoroughly as they'd like. Given the various devices and configurations, there are a number of things that can go unaccounted for with a new app.

Still, TestFlight has its fans. According to a Wall Street Journal report, Apple requires developers to register each device ahead of time. From there, developers have to send their testers app files through email or another means and the testers have to sync the files to their phones through iTunes. This has become too much trouble for many testers and they've dropped off over time.

TestFlight has made it easier for developers to distribute their apps. Developers set up TestFlight and upload their apps for distribution. From there, testers sign up and download the app easily for testing and the developer watches for feedback and usage analytics. Apple seems willing to tolerate it. It told the WSJ that TestFlight doesn't violate the developer agreement, even if it does steer developers to a path Apple didn't intend.

Armen, site owner of iSmashPhone.com (disclosure: the writer of this article covers news for iSmashPhone), who also does consulting for app developers, knows all about the process. He calls Apple's existing setup "impossible to manage" and says that TestFlight has made it easy for developers to manage. In fact, he has turned many developers on to the service while offering consultation, and many of them, as well as their testers, seem pleased with the outcome.

Since the early days of the iPhone, we've seen hackers and developers find ways to work around restrictions on Apple's popular handset. Whether it's to use apps not allowed into the App Store or features not normally permitted by Apple, or even to unlock a device to be used on a carrier other than it was intended. Much like jailbreaking, this is just one more way that developers and users work around Apple's rules and restrictions through a legal means. It's clever and it allows developers to be more sure of the products they are distributing. The more testers there are, the less of a chance there is for error later.

Another interesting option mentioned in the report is Pieceable Software's $60-a-month service that lets developers test versions of their apps that will run in a Web browser. However, it is designed more for demos of iOS apps than for testing, and can't be considered a substitute for testing on actual iOS devices. Apple already has been granting more developers the ability to sign up as enterprise users, but that costs $299 a year as opposed to the standard $99 license. Some developers have even gone as far as to obtain a second license, and while Apple has said it's not encouraged, it doesn't violate the developer agreement. Apple has many options available to make things easier for developers, from relaxing its limit to providing services similar to TestFlight's, or perhaps just letting TestFlight do the job.

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