Airport: The TestFlight App Store Apple Didn’t Create

Airport is a new service that came to life in recent weeks for helping people discover applications available for testing under the TestFlight service from Apple. Think of Airport as the TestFlight App Store but everything is free. I had a chance to enter the beta of Airport, here are my impressions.

A Simple Idea

Airport iPad app
Airport main screen on iPad

When an app developer wants people to test an application, they can use Apple’s TestFlight service to make a special version of their app installable outside of the App Store, through TestFlight service. People can access a pre-release version of an application by installing it on their device only if they receive an invite for testing purposes. There is a big problem with TestFlight: there is no centralized repository of apps available for testing. This is where Airport comes into play. It is a catalogue of apps that you can install for free on your device. These apps are still in development and are prone to crashing or malfunction. Also, these apps will stop working after 90 days or when the developer decide to remove the build from TestFlight. So, in summary, think of Airport as a front-end catalogue to TestFlight.

There is a big problem with TestFlight: there is no centralized repository of apps available for testing.

My personal experience with Airport

After using Airport for a few days, I can only say that not only this is a brilliant idea, it works really well and its design feels very “Apple-ly”. In fact, I wonder why Apple didn’t come up with this idea. I think they could introduce a new section on the App Store for application testing, something along the line of what Steam offers for games in a pre-release state. I suspect Apple won’t offer something like this as they probably don’t want people to have an easy way to access buggy apps.

At the time of this writing, there are more than 300 apps available. Onboarding an app for testing is simple: you browse the catalogue, tap an app to see the application page with description, screenshots, just like on the App Store, then you hit the Get button in order to launch TestFlight and finish the onboarding process there. The process works perfectly hand in hand with TestFlight. The latter has to be installed on your device, though.

While using Airport , it is easy to forget that you are not browsing the actual App Store. The design of Airport is clean, simple and effective. Bravo to the guys behind this: @jsngr and @sidddevs. Now, here is a simple question: will these guys submit Airport to Apple for approval and make it available in the App Store? I’m not sure. Even if they wanted to, will Apple’s review team accept it? It’s far from certain. Apple these days seems very picky and can reject an app pretty easily.

Living on the bleeding edge

Apps in beta that I’m currently testing
Apps in beta that I’m currently testing

One thing that is cool with Airport is that you can easily find apps that will take advantage of iOS latest APIs and technologies like widgets. So, if you are running iOS 14 on your device as I do, you can also get apps that will take advantage of newly introduced operating system features. Pretty neat.

Where do we go from here?

Looking forward, I have to wonder about the future of Airport. Could Apple buy the service and make its own? Probably but very unlikely. Could Apple send a cease and desist order to bring it down? Unfortunately, Apple’s attitude in recent weeks and months makes me think this could happen. I wouldn’t bet against it.

Meanwhile, if you want to have a shot at Airport, you’ll have to register with your email address and… wait. There is a lineup to enter the TestFlight remaining slots. Have fun!

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