Earlier today, TechCrunch reported that Apple had acquired TestFlight parent company Burstly. The news was later confirmed by an Apple spokesperson to re/code using the company's boilerplate for acquisitions.
The acquisition is interesting for a series of reasons that don't only involve TestFlight, as it's not immediately clear how Apple could integrate the services offered by Burstly and TestFlight into its existing developer tools and App Store. While TestFlight became popular for leveraging Apple's provisioning profile system to provide developers with a simpler way to manage installs of “beta” apps before App Store submission, Burstly offered a variety of tracking and analytics services that spanned mobile ads, user engagement, and In-App Purchases, among others.
Apple has long been criticized for a lack of proper analytics tools available to app developers, an area that Google, on the other hand, started addressing last year with additions to its Play Store.
Burstly's portfolio of tools wasn't limited to mobile ads, and the company acquired TestFlight in 2012 to unify its monetization services with a solution for developers to manage installations of unfinished apps. On the day of the acquisition, Burstly-TestFlight introduced TestFlight Live, a first attempt at combining technical app information (crash reports, checkpoints, etc) with revenue breakdowns in a single dashboard. From our post:
The real-time, mobile-friendly TestFlight Live can be checked out here, and, apparently, developers willing to implement it in their App Store apps will simply have to add one line of code to their existing software to start getting reports from TestFlight Live, which is a free service. TestFlight Live can track things such as crash reports — allowing developers to instantly understand what’s causing an app to crash, thus enabling them to start working on a fix right away — and user engagement in the form of “checkpoints” (milestones that users unlock using an app, such as “launched the Settings screen”), in-app purchases, device types, and OS versions. This system works in real-time, any minute of any day, as long as a TestFlight-enabled app can connect to the Internet. TestFlight Live has a separate dashboard from regular TestFlight, which will continue to be available as a free service to manage over-the-air beta apps.
In March 2013, Burstly-owned TestFlight rolled out FlightPath, an analytics tools for developers to gain insights on how users were interacting with apps in real-time. We wrote:
Launching as a private beta, FlightPath shows what you care about on a single, easy-to-read living page. A simple chart provides a high-level overview of an app’s status and usage in real-time. Developers can click on various points to filter data into specific metrics, such as session length, that can be combined with other data points and saved off as preset segments for easier tracking. Preset segments, such as Loyal Users and Flight Risks, give developers a head start on gaining valuable insights. Developers already using the TestFlight SDK can easily take advantage of FlightPath by adding a single line of code.
While TestFlight's original app testing features may not be particularly interesting for Apple as they are essentially a thin layer built around Apple's existing technologies for beta app installs, other services offered by Burstly and TestFlight may signal the company's willingness to offer new tracking and analytics tools to third-party developers. Currently, App Store developers have no built-in, Apple-made solution to track user engagement, user feedback, revenue per user, app checkpoints, or other app statistics without an external SDK such as TestFlight's or the one offered by another popular service, Hockey. It's also worth noting that Burstly operated a mobile ad management platform called SkyRocket – notably, the evolution of Apple's iAd platform has been problematic, as Apple is rumored to be keeping their stance of not sharing enough customer information with advertisers.
It's not absurd to assume that Apple may be considering to revamp not just their current app testing feature of iTunes Connect, but into adding analytics and tracking services as well. TestFlight's basic service wouldn't seem worth of an acquisition by Apple, but the entire catalogue of services created by Burstly and TestFlight clearly is. It will be interesting to see whether Apple will build analytics tools for both app usage and discovery: while FlightPath's dashboard mostly focused on post-install data, currently developers have no way to understand if an app was discovered on the App Store via search, a web article, or other sources.
On a related rumor note, the Burstly acquisition may also indicate Apple's intention to launch a “beta App Store” service for developers to test apps publicly with subsets of users in specific regions or demographics. The idea was first suggested by MG Siegler in December 2013 and brought up again today following the acquisition news.