Wherever You Go: Testing Mobile Applications, Part 2

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Summary:
In part 2 of this interview, Jonathan Kohl discusses testing location-based services, the value of a good social network for crowdsourcing, and how poor optimization practices might literally burn a hole in your pocket.

In part 1 of this interview with Jonathan Kohl on mobile testing, he talked about some of the basics of testing applications for mobile devices and some of the challenges that traditional software developers face when going mobile. In part 2 of the interview, we discuss the testing of location-based services, the value of a good social network for crowdsourcing, and how poor optimization practices may literally burn a hole in your pocket.

Joey McAllister: What are some of the approaches to testing location-based applications? Is this a good excuse for testers to get out of their offices and go on long walks with the devices? Are there virtual tests if you can’t get out of your office or if you need it to work in another country?

Without knowing what kind of location-based service is being tested, I want to try to take different things into account. What happens if I’m near tall buildings or if I’m coming in and out of dead spots? I can often infer what the application is doing based on the types of errors I get, but it’s incredibly important to have it be correct.

I was teaching mobile application testing in Australia, and one of the applications people were testing was a transit application. It used location-based services, but it was about three blocks off. Three blocks off is probably fine for a social networking app, but it’s not fine when I need to take a bus, train, or subway in a city I’m completely unfamiliar with.

You can use different ways of testing those scenarios locally. Some remote-device-access services will give you some of these benefits. Probably the easiest thing is some form of crowdsourcing, whether it’s with a crowdsourcing service or people in your own network. Social networks are amazing things. There are some things you just can’t do on your own, and some of these services help you extend your reach. If you’ve got enough followers who are interested, say, “Hey, people with different devices in different places, try this and tweet back” or “Next time you’re in the airport in Japan, see if this application works or not.” There are creative ways that we’re going to have to use to try to solve some of these platform- and location-based issues.

Joey McAllister: What are some particular concerns you’ve encountered with popular mobile products like games, social applications, and mapping software?

Jonathan Kohl: A couple of the big things that are difficult are security and privacy. The devices themselves aren’t that secure with their network connections, so it’s easy for people to snoop in, crack your accounts, and find out personal information. But, privacy is a huge issue. Some of the big social applications get in trouble in Canada because they violate our privacy laws and they have to clean things up.

What I find a lot is people complaining about using social games where there’s accidental leakage of their personal information. “Oh no! My boss can see my party pics from when we went to Mexico!” The applications tend to update quite a bit, to roll out new features, and to change things as they search for new revenue models. Bugs can occur where your personal information goes out there and you don’t want certain people to see it.

With social games, people don’t understand that you can be giving private information away. People will just hand their kid an app on an iPad, and there’s some creepy person nearby who’s sending things that aren’t appropriate because they don’t realize that it’s a kid using the app. We take these devices everywhere, and it’s really easy to end up in strange situations where you’re giving away private information or allowing intimate access to strangers.

There’s a huge growth in the data services space. You have all these powerful social applications with all this data, and there are APIs so you can tie in your application or your service. People can make connections with this data. One that got a lot of press lately was the Girls Near Me app. You could find single women within a certain radius of where you’re using the application, and it could be really creepy if people didn’t realize that they’d somehow made their data available to be accessed this way without their permission.

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