Apple eases subscription path to Xcode Cloud to keep devs in the ecosystem

Apple eases subscription path to Xcode Cloud to keep devs in the ecosystem
Apple M1 Mac

Apple has opened subscriptions for Xcode Cloud, a continuous integration and delivery (CI/CD) service designed to work with Xcode, the official IDE for macOS and iOS development.

Xcode Cloud was introduced in June and is an add-on subscription for developers who are already signed up to the Apple Developer Program.

The cost starts at $14.99 per month for up to 25 compute hours, though this basic plan is free until the end of December 2022. A fee of $99 per year is still required for the developer program itself. Further compute hours are available at extra cost, for example 250 hours for $99 per month, and can now be obtained via the Apple Developer App.

Xcode Cloud is based on workflows defined in Xcode. The core actions in a workflow are build, analyze, test, and archive. The service also supports post-actions, such as distributing a new version of an app, and custom build scripts. When a build completes, the artifacts (output from the build) are stored online for 30 days so they can be downloaded, for example by App Store Connect, the web-based tools Apple offers for managing apps in its Store, including those for iPhone, iPad, Mac and Watch. There is also a service called Test Flight, which is for distributing preview releases to testers.

Apple considers these three services – Xcode, TestFlight, and AppStore Connect – as the core elements of its CI/CD system.

The service works in conjunction with a git repository, which must be one of either Bitbucket, GitHub or GitLab, though self-managed instances are supported as well as cloud-hosted. Xcode Cloud clones a repository temporarily onto its own servers, though Apple says: “It doesn’t store your source code and securely handles any stored data — for example, your derived data — and keeps it private.”

Xcode Cloud is all about keeping developers within the Apple ecosystem. CI/CD is widely adopted, and without Xcode Cloud devs will use competing systems such as Github Actions or CircleCI. The advantage of Xcode Cloud is its integration.

“I liked that with a single ‘git push’ I could compile, archive, deploy to TestFlight, and send for beta review. I even pushed a fix from my iPhone using Working Copy one time while I was on a train,” said one developer on Hacker News.

Developers who work entirely with Apple products may be pleased, but the company seems uninterested in scenarios such as cross-platform development, or developing web applications on a Mac, or using an IDE other than Xcode. Another disappointment is that Apple’s cloud build service does not enable development of Mac or iOS software from non-Mac computers.