Alpha and beta testing are both forms of user testing focused on shedding insight into user behavior and overall product experience; however, as the name admits, alpha testing occurs earlier on toward the end of the development cycle and is typically carried out by in-house teams.
Beta testing, on the other hand, is the next stage of testing that occurs once any critical design issues or abrupt user errors are identified and remedied. It answers the most important questions at the end of the development process: does this software meet customers’ expectations, and should we ship it? Often called User Acceptance Testing (UAT), beta testing helps organizations launch products successfully to the customer marketplace.
What? Asks: does the product work?
When? Once the product is mostly technically sound and can handle limited users.
Expected time frame? At least one to two-week cycles with multiple iterations (and typically more than beta).
Who runs the tests? Mostly engineering and delegated QA teams.
Who does the testing? Internal teams and specified participants.
Importance of feedback? Helps to identify most critical and high-severity issues that can be addressed earlier on in the production process as well as prepares the product for beta testing.
When can the team move forward to beta testing? Once critical issues are no longer revealing themselves and all primary product features work and are accessible to users.
What? Asks: Will the customer be satisfied with the product?
When? Once the product has passed alpha testing but before mainstream release; the product can handle a variety of users and is almost completely polished in terms of features.
Expected time frame? Typically one or two-month iterative test cycles pending the addition of broken or new features along the way.
Who runs the tests? Usually product management and user experience.
Who does the testing? A particular demographic from the product’s target audience (usually available by invitation only).
Importance of feedback? Solves remaining critical issues and solidifies user experience before the product is launched.
When can team move forward to beta testing? When testers are satisfied with product functionality and user experience, the product is ready for public release.
"Alpha vs beta" testing may not be the best way to think about the relationship between the two, as both have been -- and always will be -- necessary in some capacity; and, while alpha testing (typically in the form of in-house QA) will always be of inherent importance to development teams, beta testing has become a bit more nuanced.
With the rise of agile, iterative development patterns (and the rise of continuous delivery), the past idea of a “beta testing phase” -- where product development stops while customers interact with the software -- is no longer typical. This is especially the case in more progressive, agile environments, where continuous testing is becoming more and more prevalent. Yet, there’s no doubt that beta testing, or UAT, remains an crucial part of the software development success.
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