In December, we shared information about one of iOS’s best-kept secrets: ad hoc distribution for mobile apps. The feature, intended for developers and enterprise use, was introduced in iOS 4.0 to allow developers to distribute mobile apps over-the-air to end users. In an enterprise scenario, the end users would be the company employees, but for consumer applications, the obvious target is beta testers.
Previously, beta testers had to download the test app to their computer, unzip the files, drag the app to iTunes and then sync their iPhone with iTunes. With the ad hoc method, installing an app is as easy as clicking a link.
But as it turns out, Apple’s ad hoc method isn’t the only solution out there.
I was glad to see the original ReadWriteMobile post was shared on Hacker News, where it received a lot of commentary. But in reading through the discussion, I learned there were quite a few other methods for ad hoc distribution being used, too. Developers were talking about the differences and benefits of the other services and it occurred to me that the names being bandied about deserved repeating on a larger forum – that being here, on this website.
In case you missed the off-site discussion, you can follow it here on Hacker News.
As for the suggestions, we’ve listed them below, with links provided.
AppDrop is a program for OTA, one-click install testing introduced in November via AppMakr.com. To use the service, developers can use AppMakr’s UDID app to capture users’ unique phone ID, then AppDrop emails them a link to download the app. When clicked, the app installs over-the-air.
Like AppDrop, AppSendr also provides tools for OTA installs. This service provides a Web and command line app that lets developers share ad hoc builds with testers – and it’s free.
3. Using Bash Scripts to Automate OTA App Distribution
Developer Basil Shkara said he wrote some bash scripts a few months ago to automate the process. He detailed the entire project here on his blog, including the scripts themselves.
A service called TestFlight (now in beta) also allows developers to send out OTA installs to beta testers. We’ve covered the service in the past, here. TestFlight also helps to collect UDIDs and can send out push notifications when updates are available.
BetaBuilder is a Mac OS X tool designed to simplify creating and distributing beta releases of iOS apps. It’s available here on github. It’s similar to TestFlight, but not as comprehensive. However, it is free and the source is available. You can learn more about it here.
Hockey is an iOS developer framework from buzzworks.de that provides support for ad hoc OTA installations. It consists of a server and client framework and provides a Web interface for the beta testers. Hockey is available here on github. Read more about it here.
7. Apple’s Method
Last, but not least, is the official method provided by Apple in iOS 4.0 and up. As we’ve previously covered that in detail, you can refer to the older post here for more info on how you to set up your own ad hoc distro for beta testing purposes.