Beta testing isn’t specific to iOS development. In fact, it was very much popularized with web apps. It has similar benefits such as building early interest, collecting feedback, and generally making the app much more stable before launch.
Running a beta program for iOS apps also has distinct challenges. In the past, I’ve covered smarter ways to deal with having to distribute apps using tools like Hockey. Earlier in the process though, the focus is on gathering testers. Compared to web apps, much more than just an e-mail address is required for iOS beta testers. Important tester details include knowing their unique device identifiers (UDID’s), iOS version, and device type. Without this information, it becomes difficult to understand if a tester can run an app on their device. Worse, it’s simply not possible to include a tester in the beta program without having the UDID at a minimum.
Using Forms to Collect Tester Details
Unfortunately, iOS developers still haven’t recognized that there are better ways to collect this info from testers. I see this happen both with indie developers and with large, established companies alike. They are still having UDID’s sent to them via screenshots in e-mail and are then manually typing them into their developer account. At the same time, they have no clue if these testers can really even help them, meaning their precious device slots are being used for no reason at all.
Well, there are some really easy ways to improve this process but the main one I want to focus on for now, is building an iOS-specific beta sign-up form. The form should include basic tester information, such as name, e-mail, Twitter handle, etc., as well as device-specific details, such as UDID, operating system version, and device model. I recommend creating these forms in tools like Google Docs, Wufoo, or even Survey Monkey. Some may want to roll their own version but the key is funneling this information into an easily manageable single source (e.g., spreadsheet, database, etc.).
Over the past couple of years, I’ve continued to evolve my iOS beta forms but one by Xavier Veyrat of Hot Apps Factory recently caught my eye. With Rise Alarm, I had integrated my beta signup into my micro-site itself and added some new questions, including if the beta tester was going to be committed to testing the app. Hot Apps Factory took their form a step further though with their App Cooker beta sign-up form. It was extremely well-designed and also had significantly more questions for beta testers. Beyond the basics, it asked testers about other platforms of interest and even requested an acknowledgement from them that they wouldn’t share screenshots during the beta.
Short versus Long Forms
Forms don’t necessarily need to be long or exceptionally detailed. They might just include the basics mentioned above and a link to a UDID app (e.g., I recommend UDID Tool) to assist testers with grabbing theirs.
It’s true that longer forms may drop the number of testers who perform a signup. But it also has a benefit of filtering those who obviously are not excited or committed to providing helpful feedback.
Remember, that each device testing slot is highly valuable, since at least for the time being, Apple is still limiting each account to 100 total devices. Even two amazing testers are much more important than twenty unengaged ones. Those who take the time to complete all fields will likely fall into the former grouping. In any case, provided these forms submit into some sort of backend with reporting (e.g., Google Forms go into Google Spreadsheets), you’ll be able to quickly compare all the testers and select the ones you want based on their answers and device specifications.
When to Launch
The right time to surface the beta sign-up form can vary. But it’s a good idea to get it online 2-3 weeks before you’re ready for a beta. You may want to share it through social media channels or even give it a more prominent place in the navigation on the app website. When to launch, as well as the length of the form, is somewhat dependent on the amount of submissions you’re wanting.
No matter how many you receive, you can be rest assured that using a beta sign-up form is going to simplify this process, reduce errors (no more typing UDID’s!), and help you manage testers better throughout the entire beta program.