TestFlight is a new tool for mobile developers which is being billed as an application that fixes the somewhat painful process of beta testing iOS 4 (iPhone, iPod Touch, iPad) applications. And it does so without requiring the use of iTunes, manual syncing, private APIs (application programming interfaces) or jailbreaking.

Is that even possible?

Ad Hoc Beta Testing Made Easy

According to one of TestFlight's first users, programmer and designer at Panic.com Neven Mrgan, it delivers.

As anyone who's ever beta tested iOS applications, you know the process is time-consuming and, let's be honest, somewhat difficult to manage. Using a distribution method called "ad hoc," a developer has to email a .ipa file and .mobileprovision file to an app tester who then has to drag these files to iTunes and sync their device with their computer.

The problem with this method is that it's slow, and more importantly, there's no easy way to update the beta app once it's installed on the device. You have to remove the original app from iTunes then install the newer version, following the above steps all over again.

What TestFlight Does

With TestFlight, the traditional testing process is improved as it lets developers update ad hoc builds over the air, with just a tap. Incredibly, it does so without needing a jailbroken iPhone, access to private APIs or any other naughty behavior.

Unfortunately, because it circumvents the standard testing procedure Apple has in place, the native TestFlight app was removed from the iTunes App Store.

However, TestFlight found a workaround: it's now in beta testing as a Web-based application. It still offers one-tap updates, too.  As Neven wrote in August, the native app "is not strictly required for the update system to work, but it makes it a bit sleeker - it can collect new users' UDIDs and send out push notifications when updates are available."

In Beta Now

According to Josh Kerr, co-founder of an e-Signatures iPhone app called Zosh, the new beta of TestFlight does indeed work. He was given access to the beta earlier this month after blogging about how skeptical he was of the application's ability to deliver on its promises.

To use the app, Kerr explains, the process involves the following steps:

  • Invite users via the TestFlight website to become beta testers for your app.
  • They enter their UDID directly into the TestFlight website.
  • You copy and paste the UDID's right into the Apple developer portal and generate a certificate for the beta.
  • Install the certificate, create a build and then upload the new build to the test flight website.
  • Testflight will notify your testers that the build is ready and then let them install directly from the web.

After trying TestFlight, Kerr concluded that it "certainly simplifies a lot of the headaches associated with performing an iPhone app beta," he wrote via blog post. "There are still some annoying manual steps (like copying the UDID's,)," he says, "but TestFlight organizes most of that work so that you can focus on the product."

We're quoting Kerr's review because we don't have our hands on an invite ourselves, but we're trusting his words. After all, Zosh was a winner of a DEMOgod award at the DEMO Spring 2010 conference, which means the company has some smart developers working there.

If you're interested in beta testing TestFlight yourself, there's a signup form on the app's homepage.