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Firebase App Distribution vs Testflight

Rhys working on a laptop

Perhaps the most important part of software development is acquiring feedback from users. There are multiple efficient ways to do this for mobile app development. Two of the most prevalent are Firebase App Distribution and Testflight. Here are the pros and cons of each and what we use them for.

Testflight

Testflight is Apple’s solution to distribute iOS apps to users that are willing to test your app. Being from Apple it was always going to be a streamlined, painless process, however there are still a couple drawbacks. Here are the main advantages:

  • No provisioning profile steps for testers - this means it’s super easy to manage users.
  • Easy bug reporting/screenshot sharing features for testers built in.
  • Easy to open up to the whole community with the public sharing link.
  • No extra sign up.
  • If you’re happy after the testers have finished you’re able to submit to the App Store straight away.

The main disadvantages are as follows:

  • Need a (Beta) Apple review before new builds can be distributed - this is usually fairly quick but can take up to a week which can be frustrating.
  • Testers need to download the Testflight App.
  • Limited number of testers - although this is fairly large at 10,000 users, larger companies could potentially need a fair few more.
  • Not cross platform - this is included as Firebase App distribution is cross platform.

Firebase App Distribution

Firebase is Google’s suite of products catering to app development. App Distribution makes up part of this. It’s fairly easy to set up and useful for various reasons. Here are the main advantages:

  • Test cross platform - meaning you can upload your Android APK and your iOS build to the same service and distribute them to the appropriate users.
  • There’s no limit to the number of users that can test the app.
  • Easy to implement if you already use Firebase analytics
  • Simpler to compare and manage different beta versions

The main disadvantages are:

  • Painful provisioning profile updating for new users - meaning you’ll have to update the iOS provisioning profile for each new user in order for the user to install your app.
  • Users have to create an account.
  • Extra Firebase libraries added to the project.
  • Not as seamless an experience as testflight.

Use cases

We use both Firebase App Distribution and Testflight to gather user feedback, our internal policy is to use Firebase App Distribution when the app uses a staging or dev API as opposed to a live one. It’s an extra layer of security to ensure that we don’t accidentally publish an app that uses the wrong API.

You may be in a similar situation or you may prefer one over the other, both are tangible solutions to gather user feedback.


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