A lot of application and software developers like to make the beta versions (pre-release test versions of the software) of apps available to the public, before the final version is released. The idea is to get user feedback on what features to keep, what to add and what to discard. To sign up for beta testing of apps, you need to keep tabs on what your favourite app developers are doing, or get notifications from them.
At the IO developer conference in May 2016, Google had announced that it will make finding these apps easier for users, by adding a new feature called Early Access to the Play Store. This allows developers to post their apps and games which are still under development for users to download and give feedback. Anyone can now nominate their apps and games (previously Google had only handpicked 29 developers to participate) via this link: Google Play Early Access Interest Form.
What distinguishes these apps from other apps is the green sticker note on the app page, which says the app is under development, and confirms that the app is in beta stage. This is to avoid confusion, wherein a user may download an app without noticing that it is in the testing phase, and perhaps end up with a hampered user experience.
Users can’t rate or comment on these apps as yet (would be quite unfair to rate unfinished apps right?). Instead we have have access to features like ‘wish list’, ‘send email’ and ‘I like this’. The ‘wish list’ allows users to share with the developer what more they would like to see in the app, while with ‘I like this’, users can mention the feature they liked most. With the ‘send email’ feature, users can write directly to the developer.
How to download Early Access apps
Like a lot of things on Android, Early Access is right there in front of you but sort of not so visible. Open the Play Store on your Android device and make sure the Apps & Games tab is selected. Scroll the green category buttons to the left until you find the Early Access button. Alternatively, you might see an Early Access graphic that’s rotating through the promo carousel you can tap on to get to the Early Access section.
Here you will find a list of unreleased beta apps and games. Tap on either category to browse through the listings, read more about the app or game, and install. Keep in mind though these apps can be a bit erratic, might crash frequently, apart from having other glitches. As you will notice, each app listing carries a warning to remind to you the app may not work: “This app is in development. It may be unstable.”
Google notes in this support document, early access programs are limited in the number of users. And because you took part in an app’s early access program the developer may leave your account in the beta program once the app officially launches. If at any point you’d like to change that, you can leave the beta program from the app’s Play Store listing.