With its combination of app monetization, analytics and beta testing services, Burstly made the perfect acquisition target for Apple and its efforts to support developers and the App Store ecosystem. This is the kind of deal that makes you wonder why it took so longer for Apple to close.
The App Store played host to a whopping $10 billion in sales in the last year alone, but in many respects, iOS developers’ success has come in spite of, rather than because of, Apple. Of course, Apple deserves (and takes) the majority credit for the app economy, but that economy has thrived thanks to unofficial services like TestFlight that filled in the app development gaps that Apple had left open.
TestFlight, for instance, got its start as a technical hack. Creators Ben Satterfield and Trystan Kosmynka built the service at WWDC in 2010 after the release of the iOS 4 beta. At the time, Satterfield had been consutling on an iOS app for Oprah Winfrey and run into trouble working with business clients to install test versions. When Satterfield and Kosmynka realized that iOS 4 included capabilities for over-the-air updates for enterprise apps, they built a solution for provisioning beta apps in less than 48 hours.
In essence, TestFlight arose because of a failure on Apple’s part to properly support the needs of developers. That’s evidenced in part by the speed at which the service rose to near-ubiquity among iOS developers with over 400,000 apps uploaded to it. Apple’s acquisition of Burstly feels like an admission of guilt on the iOS maker’s part that it did in fact neglect the beta testing component of the app development stack.
Riding on its early success, TestFlight went on to join forces in late 2011 with Burstly, a startup that had been fulfilling another underserved aspect of the app economy – monetization.
“Burstly was the first thing that I saw where it powered the developer to control their destiny,” Satterfield told The Next Web in an interview last year. “That resonated with the spirit of TestFlight. We were not even worried about how we were going to monetize.”
To be fair, Apple has tried to address app monetization with its acquisition of Quattro Wireless and the iAd platform, but the general consensus around iAd has largely been one of failure.
Burstly and TestFlight teamed up to add a third missing piece to the App Store puzzle: analytics, through the FlightPath service, formerly called TestFlight Live. When I spoke with Satterfield, he described FlightPath as helping Burstly and TestFlight move from bookends for app development to a lifecycle.
“The FlightPath initiative is something that really marries the two foundations that we started at,” he said at the time.
With the addition of FlightPath, Burstly followed a developer through the entire process of building an app, releasing it, understanding how it’s performing in the market and then figuring out how to make money from it. If integrated properly at Apple, each of these pieces will become even greater resources for iOS developers.
Of course, Apple could always screw this up by shutting down Burstly’s services and choosing not to add them to its own offerings, but doing so would represent such a massive disrespect to the community that it would, at the very least, make terrible business sense.
The Burstly acquisition should shape up to be a win for all parties involved. Apple invests in the continued success of the App Store by bringing the missing components of the cycle into its fold, while TestFlight, or whatever reincarnation it becomes under Apple, benefits from gaining official support. The end results should provide developers with even better tools for creating iOS apps and making a living off them.
If there’s a loser in this, it’s Google and the Android development community. Last week, TestFlight suspiciously ended beta testing for the Android version of its service, stating that the team was “refocusing TestFlight on iOS.” The move was viewed as strong evidence that Apple had stepped in to acquire the company. After all, it’s Apple that stands the most to gain by blocking TestFlight’s Android support.
Considering how important TestFlight was to the iOS community, Apple would have viewed the expansion to Android with concern. Consider this alternative: if Google had purchased Burstly and focused it on Android, it would have been a devastating blow to iOS. Apple’s still stinging from losing out to Google on AdMob, and Google has definitely shown a willingness to bid aggressively on a company it wants to keep from a competitor.
When a company like Burstly becomes an essential support piece to a platform, the platform’s creator takes a huge risk by allowing it to remain independent. Apple is making a strong defensive move by acquiring Burstly. Developers just have to hope that it doesn’t screw up TestFlight in the process.