App distribution tools (and AppCenter alternatives) that will make your developer life easier

Discover alternative mobile app distribution platforms as Microsoft phases out AppCenter. This post provides insights into the essential features of a good distribution tool and guides you in selecting the best solution for your app release needs.

When it comes to app distribution tools, finding the right solution to distribute your mobile apps can make or break your development process. Microsoft's AppCenter has been a popular choice for some, but since its retirement announcement, mobile app developer teams are looking for AppCenter alternatives that can offer the same—or better—streamlined experiences. In this post, we'll explore some app distribution tools, and AppCenter alternatives, that help developer teams with mobile app releases.

What to look out for in mobile app distribution platform

Before diving into specific tools, here’s what to look for in a mobile app distribution platform. 

Easy to navigate User Interface (UI) 

Reduce store confusion 

For mobile apps distribution teams, navigating the complex UI of Apple and Google Play can be nightmarish. An app distribution platform with intuitive user interfaces that simplify the release process and reduce confusion, helps to ensure a smoother experience for all team members.

Our advice? Look for an app distribution platform that helps navigate store complexities, eliminates the need to juggle multiple tools, and makes the mobile app release process straightforward. 

Transparent release ops

You want to look for an app distribution platform that gives you, and your stakeholders, a complete overview of release operations, enabling swift, informed decisions and faster app releases and updates. Traditional release management tools (or not having a tool at all) mean you need to open Jira, issue trackers, App Store Connect, or other third-party software to track product development and releases. A tool where release management tasks can be managed from one place helps fast-track deployment.

Option to choose between manual or automated distribution

Whether you prefer a hands-on approach or lean towards automation, having control over how and when your app is distributed means you get to have the last say. With manual and automated distribution options, mobile app developer teams can tailor the release process to suit their team's needs and workflow.

While manual processes with approval gates (typical in regulated environments like QA) ensure compliance, they are not scalable for growing demands. In contrast, automated distribution excels in scalability. It streamlines the app distribution process—saving significant time and reducing errors—and supports mobile teams overwhelmed by repetitive tasks across multiple apps, such as updating stakeholders and managing app deployments on various platforms. 

Easy tester access and smooth tester experiences 

An ideal distribution platform simplifies the process of app sharing and installation, streamlines feedback, and facilitates notifying stakeholders (like testers) about distribution progress—without the need to juggle multiple comms platforms.

Key features like Over-The-Air (OTA) app distribution expedite the app-sharing process, enabling testers to install apps easily, often through simple methods like QR codes or shareable links. This makes the overall testing workflow a breeze and enhances the tester experience.

Additionally, built-in notifications keep both testers and release owners informed of any feature developments. With finger-on-the-pulse updates on new features, changes in the release candidate, and tester approvals, there's no longer a need for constant communication across various platforms. This alignment streamlines the release schedule and creates a friendlier, more collaborative working environment.

Stakeholder management

Permission settings, including who can release to production, means you gain enhanced control, bolstered security, and increased precision in your app distribution process.

A bonus here is app distribution platforms offering comprehensive transparency of release management tasks, so stakeholders can view the readiness of release features planned for release quickly. This ensures a thorough review process, engaging diverse teams—from QA and Marketing to Engineering Leadership and Legal—and guaranteeing that every component is meticulously vetted before launch.

Additionally, when everyone is looped in on the same platform to coordinate and execute mobile app releases, it ensures a quicker time-to-market and go-to-market rollout.

Easy-to-find installable artifacts

A centralized location for all installable artifacts makes a developer’s life easier. By providing a singular, easily accessible place for downloading necessary files, such as iOS IPA and Android APK/AAB files, developers can avoid the nightmare of navigating through hundreds of CI builds, sometimes dating back weeks (and weeks). This centralized approach simplifies locating and installing the exact version of an app needed, making app deployment more efficient and streamlined. 

A bonus? Having filtering and search capabilities, which is especially useful in scenarios with many bundle IDs, such as white-label situations. For instance, when testers discover a new bug in the latest app version, they or the developers may need to compare it against previous versions to determine whether the issue is new or was present in earlier releases. In such a scenario, quickly finding and downloading specific app versions is nice to have.

Over-The-Air (OTA) app deployment

An app distribution platform that supports OTA distribution allows teams, testers, and other stakeholders to easily access, test, and/or share builds. 

It's crucial that the chosen app distribution platform accommodates a wide range of mobile platforms, to ensure tailored deployment processes for each. 

As a note, it’s important to remember that not all testers and stakeholders are technical. Having an easy-to-use, straightforward tool that simplifies the installation of the testable app version on their devices can be a huge help and can minimize user error. 


Efficient release management tools allow for smooth integration with your existing tool stack to minimize disruptions to your workflow. Here are some key integrations to look out for:

  • CI systems: Essential as it allows for the automatic transition of builds from development through testing to release, ensuring that the latest versions are always available for deployment.
  • Google Play and App Store: A tool that integrates well with the Google Play and App stores centralizes the release processes, and helps teams benefit from significant efficiency wins. 
  • Communication tools: Integrations with communication tools like Slack and email help keep all stakeholders informed with real-time release status updates, saving valuable project management time. 
  • Feature flag tools: Helps to control feature releases effectively and minimize deployment risks. 

This all streamlines the end-to-end release process from project kickoff to production shipping to ensure timely updates without compromising quality. 


When researching release management tools, keep scalability in mind. Focus on the tool's ability to manage roles and permissions, along with its cost-effectiveness as your team scales. We recommend choosing a release management tool that meets your immediate needs and scales effectively with your organization and the evolving nature of your projects.

Immediate tester feedback

By adopting a release management tool that enables immediate usability feedback, development teams can refine their apps by addressing usability issues and bugs early in the development cycle. This method supports rapid iteration and consistent high-quality outputs, ensuring a solid user experience well before the official launch — leading to more successful app releases.


Evaluate the release management tool's cost implications and how it offers the best value for your investment. Some key factors to consider include:

  • Subscription model: Determine whether the tool operates on a subscription basis and what features are included in each pricing tier. Consider your team's needs, and budget, when choosing the most suitable plan.
  • Scalability costs: Some tools may charge based on usage metrics such as the number of apps, seats, or the frequency of releases. Assess how these scalability costs align with your anticipated usage and growth trajectory.
  • Additional fees: Familiarize yourself with fees such as those associated with premium features, support services, or integrations. Factor these into your cost analysis to avoid unexpected expenses down the line.  
  • Value for money: Evaluate the overall value of the tool in relation to its cost. Consider factors such as the efficiency gains, time savings, and improved collaboration enabled by the tool compared to its price.
  • Total Cost of Ownership (TCO): Consider the upfront costs versus the long-term savings associated with using the tool. 
  • Free trial or demo: Take advantage of any free trial periods or demo versions offered by the tool to assess its functionality and suitability for your needs before committing to a paid plan.

Best mobile app distribution platforms on the market

Bitrise’s Release Management add-on

Integrating seamlessly with Bitrise CI, Insights, and Build Cache, the Bitrise Release Management add-on provides a comprehensive and streamlined solution for app distribution. This system offers teams an automated, transparent, and centralized approach to expedite deployment, aligning with modern DevOps practices.

Teams have the flexibility to opt for either manual or automated releases. The manual option grants more control, making it an ideal choice for those new to Release Management and looking to familiarize themselves with its core features. On the other hand, automation maximizes efficiency and convenience, eliminating time-consuming manual tasks and catering to those aiming for a fully automated release management cycle.

Its user-friendly interface makes Bitrise Release Management accessible to all, enabling seamless adoption across different teams—from sales and marketing to legal—facilitating smooth go-to-market (GTM) strategies.

Furthermore, users can access the Over-The-Air (OTA) app distribution capability through the Bitrise CI. This enables teams and stakeholders to efficiently access and distribute apps and build artifacts, even without a Bitrise account. Key benefits include straightforward distribution via the Public Install Page, tailored support for various platforms, automatic registration of iOS test devices, and a soon-to-be-released centralized management system for all artifacts, further streamlining the release process.

Bitrise stands out as the sole CI/CD platform featuring an integrated Release Management solution, underscoring its commitment to enhancing the mobile app development lifecycle.

The Bitrise Release Management Datasheet is available for download for a detailed breakdown of all features.

Firebase App Distribution

Firebase App Distribution distributes pre-release versions of your mobile app to a group of trusted testers, hassle-free. This distribution tool is designed to enrich your beta testing program by providing a comprehensive overview across both iOS and Android platforms. It enables the delivery of valuable app feedback prior to the official production release, eliminating those live-release hiccups. Distribution of pre-release versions is straightforward, whether through the Firebase console or directly from your CI servers.

Getting started with Firebase App Distribution is effortless, and the platform supports distribution through a variety of channels, including a web console, CLI tools, and a public API, offering unparalleled flexibility in how you send out builds.

Designed with testers in mind, it sends email notifications about new builds and has a UI that makes signing up and installation smooth. The App Distribution Manager allows testers the freedom to select which app version to install, providing an option to stay updated with the latest version through in-app updates.

Added to that, Firebase App Distribution also offers a centralized dashboard for insights into your app's pre-release performance. This dashboard, coupled with the option for testers to provide immediate usability feedback, and the integration with Crashlytics for real-time crash reporting, ensure mobile teams are equipped with all the necessary data to refine their app before it hits the production stage.

Google Play Console

Google Play Console's testing tracks provide a framework for managing and streamlining the beta testing of your Android apps, facilitating the distribution of apps to selected tester groups prior to public launch. This feature is crucial for gathering feedback, early-stage app testing, bug identification, and quality improvement.

The platform supports various testing phases: internal tracks for quick feedback from up to 100 team members, closed tracks for broader yet controlled testing and open tracks to gather extensive user insights from a public audience.

Developers can configure tracks, invite testers, and manage different app versions with ease, ensuring a tailored testing process. Additionally, the console offers detailed analytics and feedback tools, including crash reports and usage statistics, which are vital for refining apps and enhancing user satisfaction. Integration with other Google Play services like Play Analytics also aids in performance monitoring and informed decision-making.

Regarding limitations, setting up and managing these tracks in Google Play Console is not user-friendly and requires Google Play Console expertise. 

Read more on releasing for Android with our post on The Release Process for Android Apps.


TestFlight allows developers to distribute pre-release versions to internal teams and external testers. It helps refine app quality through user feedback and identifying bugs early on.

TestFlight supports up to 100 internal testers and 10,000 external testers per app. Internal testing facilitates quick feedback within small teams, while external testing expands feedback through a broader user base, which can be invited via email or a public link.

Managing testers and builds on TestFlight is straightforward, enabling developers to assign different builds to specific groups for targeted testing. The platform provides essential feedback and crash reports directly to developers, enhancing debugging efforts.

Additionally, it integrates seamlessly with Apple's ecosystem, including Xcode and App Store Connect. Overall, TestFlight offers robust features to streamline the beta testing process and improve app releases.


Fastlane streamlines app development and deployment by automating tedious tasks like code signing, generating app screenshots, and beta deployment, supporting both iOS and Android platforms. This open-source platform minimizes manual intervention, reducing errors and saving developers' time.

Key features include managing certificates and provisioning profiles to facilitate deployment and automating screenshot generation across multiple devices and languages, enhancing app listings without manual effort. Fastlane also allows customization through a plugin system, enabling developers to adapt the automation to their specific needs.

Regarding limitations, it's important to note that while Fastlane provides powerful software automation, it does not include the hardware required to run these processes. Teams must either procure hardware such as a Mac Mini or utilize a cloud-based CI service like Bitrise. Additionally, Fastlane relies on configuration files (Fastfile) without offering a UI editor, which might require a learning curve for some users. Lastly, while Fastlane facilitates uploading to platforms like TestFlight, Google Play, or Firebase Distribution, it does not provide an over-the-air (OTA) solution, limiting its functionality in direct app distribution scenarios.


Finding the right distribution platform is key to streamlining the release management process and speeding up time to market. With Microsoft's Visual Studio App Center retiring, developers are in search of alternatives that match and exceed the functionality previously offered.

Platforms like Bitrise's Release Management add-on stand out for its unique capabilities. The right choice in the platform can significantly impact the ease of distribution, tester engagement, code signing, and ultimately, the success of app deployment.

Bitrise is currently the only CI/CD solution with integrated release management, streamlining the deployment process and ensuring seamless and efficient release cycles. If you’re a Bitrise user, you can start with Release Management today by adding your 1st release. Not a Bitrise user? Start for free today.


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