BetaBuilder for iOS Apps
Do you need an easy way to distribute beta versions of your iPhone or iPad app? BetaBuilder for iOS is a tool for easing the pain of the iOS ad-hoc beta process.
For the past few years, we’ve had to go through the same song and dance: gather device IDs, create ad-hoc builds and then try to explain to users how to install them via iTunes. This can be trying for even technical users and non-technical users can get totally flummoxed. Let’s not even talk about people on Windows where the files often unzip in strange ways, leaving them totally confused.
Thankfully, Apple has made incremental improvements to this process over time. iOS 4.0 brings Web-based, wireless distribution of ad-hoc apps and the ability to embed provisioning profiles right into the IPA bundle. Your beta users can now install the software without ever using iTunes at all!
The only problem is that it’s not really documented, at least not in an end-to-end manner. On top of that, while Xcode can help you create some of the files needed for distribution, it doesn’t seem to go all the way.
I wanted to use this method to distribute my beta apps but I found myself creating the required XML and HTML files over and over again. There had to be a better way.
Enter BetaBuilder – a simple MacOS X app takes your archived IPA file and creates the required manifest and HTML files for wireless distribution. It even zips up a copy of the app for folks on 3.x that need to install via iTunes.
Just drag and drop your IPA file to create the required HTML and manifest files.
BetaBuilder for iOS is available via two methods:
If you want to support the project, feel free to purchase it from the Mac App Store. It would be nice to be able to fund future development. If you don’t think it’s worth the $2 or if you simply don’t want to pay for whatever reason, the source is available and you should feel free to use it.
Isn’t BetaBuilder for iOS just like TestFlight / TestFlightApp?
TestFlight is a very cool looking Web app for handling iOS betas. They do use the same method to wirelessly improve ad-hoc distribution and they also go much further. From what I’ve seen, it’s a great service.
BetaBuilder doesn’t aim to compete with TestFlight – it’s supposed to just handle the creation of the manifest files. So why continue with BetaBuilder given that TestFlight does the same thing plus a lot more? I have a few reasons:
- Right now TestFlight is free for most developers. Maybe it will always be that way but maybe not (I have no idea what they’re planning). Anyway, BetaBuilder is either $2 or downloadable as source.
- It looks like TestFlight charges money for ‘enterprise’ accounts. BetaBuilder has no distinction, you’re free to use it any way you see fit with any type of developer account.
- Sometimes you don’t want to or can’t distribute your apps on another Web site. There may be privacy issues, confidentiality or regulatory hurdles. BetaBuilder allows you to bring all of the beta process in-house.
- BetaBuilder’s source code is available – feel free to tweak it to your needs.
I’m sure TestFlight is going to be a big success – people seem to love it. BetaBuilder is a partial alternative for those that just need a simple tool to help with ad-hoc beta publishing.
How does this work? Here’s the step-by-step:
1. Create your provisioning profile for an ad-hoc build with whatever devices you want to allow.
2. Configure and build your IPA using ‘Archive’ (Xcode 4) and then ‘Share’. This will produce a .ipa file with the provisioning profiles embedded.
3. Drag and drop that IPA on top of the BetaBuilder icon – the data should pre-populate into the app.
4. Enter the URL where the app will be published – this needs to match where the app will live online.
5. Click the button to generate the files – upload and go!
To use this app, you still need to sign your app using Xcode and have an available Web server to publish the generated files.
This app does not subvert the ad-hoc publishing process – it works within the existing framework of tools and options.
BetaBuilder allows you to use custom HTML if you’d like change the look and feel of the generated files. Just create your own template in the Application Support directory.