TestFlight is a popular platform for iOS developers looking to test their apps, allowing users to quickly and easily download and install beta builds on their iOS devices. It's a feature that many developers and users have long been surprised Apple itself doesn't offer--and Apple appears to agree, as the company confirmed to Macworld on Friday that it had purchased TestFlight's owner, Burstly.
"Apple buys smaller technology companies from time to time, and we generally do not discuss our purpose or plans," said Apple spokesperson Kristin Huguet in an email.
The acquisition, which has apparently already gone through, was first reported by TechCrunch.
Burstly, which acquired TestFlight in 2011, has other products too, such as SkyRocket, a mobile advertising solution which Apple could leverage to help bolster the rather mediocre performance of its iAd network. But given TestFlight's popularity in the iOS app development community, it would seem to be the jewel of the acquisition. Especially given that many developers consider Apple's own beta-testing offerings to be lackluster.
"Although it's unclear what exactly Apple will do with [TestFlight], it could be a sign that the company is working on improvement to its distribution process that could help developers better manage their betas and track the deployment of their apps," developer (and frequent Macworld contributor) Marco Tabini told me.
Snowman founder Ryan Cash agrees. "I think this a good thing for developers," he told Macworld in an email. "I've always wondered why Apple didn't have a mechanism like this in place for developers to distribute their apps during beta testing. There's a lot of room for improvement and I hope it's a sign that Apple is going to invest more energy into helping developers manage more of the 'behind the scenes stuff.'"
Moreover, the insights gleaned from beta-testing, which are often collected from testers in the form of analytics and other data, could be extremely helpful to Cupertino in terms of figuring out how people use apps.
"Other companies have established a presence in that space," said Tabini, "and are using it as an opportunity to collect anonymous (and not-so-anonymous) data about App Store usage."
Cash concurred, saying "I'd love to see an improved iTunes Connect, and perhaps even App Store analytics one day."
In many cases, Apple shuts down a product or service once it's acquired, though that doesn't yet seem to have happened in the case of TestFlight. However, TechCrunch reports that the company did announce earlier this week that it would no longer be supporting Android, and also recently discontinued the private beta of its FlightPath analytics system. In both cases, the announcements flew under the radar.
Of course, this is just one of many companies that Apple's acquired over recent months, including several focused on public transportation and mapping, as well as the one-man shop behind the SnappyCam iOS app, and a personal assistant app.
And, if Apple does decide to shutter TestFlight, developers still have recourse: competitors like HockeyApp will no doubt be only too happy to fill the void.