Although installing an apk on an Android device is not a complicated task, not long ago mass testing with lots of people was not trivial. The best choice was maybe TestFlight, but still it required an extra app to function. Google changed this situation by introducing the alpha- and beta-testing features to the Play Developer Console about a year ago. The group- or community-based testing capabilities outsourced distribution to the Play Store, making the process more integrated into the system and more easy to use at the same time. No wonder a lot of businesses use it, from huge companies like Facebook and Twitter to small teams that are just starting out.
This post will show you how to use the aforementioned method. I work on Ready, a beautiful next-generation contact list for Android phones. The app just hit the Play Store last week in beta mode, so I’ll use it to illustrate the tutorial.
Setup is pretty straightforward – you’ll have to fill in the details of your app on the Play Developer Console just like you would with a release. One thing to take care of though, chose the ‘upload apk into Beta’ option instead of submitting to production. After this is done, you can limit the access to the beta with the ‘Manage list of testers’ option: copy the address of the Google Group or the Google Plus Community you’ve created for these purposes. We chose the latter, you can visit it for reference here
As you might have noticed, an alpha option is also available, with the same capabilities and setup procedure as the beta. Be careful though: a user can be opted-in to both groups, resulting in Google Play always delivering the alpha version.
After publishing, all you have to do is send out invites and share it with your target audience. After joining the community, the users also have to opt-in to the beta on the provided link – you’ll have to pay attention to include it in your welcome message. A good trick is to write a welcome message in the community with the link and the description, and pin it, so it will be the first thing the members see. Creating a site with step-by-step explanation about how to join a beta is also a good idea, check this example.
There are a few things you should do, like check the feedback channels (email, community discussions, Hangouts messages, etc.) regularly, pay attention to your users and keep the community alive. Good to know the community members won’t be able to review the app publicly in Google Play.
After you’ve finished testing and feel confident about your app, you can publish it to production with only one click. You can use these testing programs to optimize your apps, help with roll out to new markets, and start building your community.
About the Author
Andras Kindler is a seasoned Android developer always on the lookout for new tech, working currently on Ready. Feel free to connect with him via Twitter (@andraskindler) or email (firstname.lastname@example.org) anytime.