Among the announcements made yesterday by Google at GDC, one feature nearly slipped under our radar: a new "test channel" on the Play Store. Previously, developers could either release apps directly to the public, either test them via an alpha or beta channel. Now a new channel is available, preceding even the alpha, under the "test channel" name. It's specifically made for internal tests, letting developers quickly deploy their new app or update to select users through the Store without having to send them the APK file manually.
Developers can invite up to 100 trusted users, by email, to be part of the test. The option to create a tester list can be found under the left menu of the Dev Console > Settings > Manage testers. And to start a test, they can head to Release management > App releases and select Manage internal test select next to the internal test track. All the step-by-step instructions can be found in the documentation in the source. Once the test app APK is published, the dev will have to share the opt-in URL with the testers so they can accept to join.
It's worth noting that internal tests are available to users regardless of their location or device (i.e. even if the app is officially distributed to them) and are free to install even for paid apps (letting testers try IAPs for free requires a different process).
Overall, this seems like a great solution to let large companies or development teams distribute their app internally to the different employees and let them try out new versions as soon as they're built, without having to share the APK file in some other manner.
- Play Console internal test