Testing Your Mobile Applications for Usability: An Interview with Max Saperstone


Cameron: OK. Your session also advises ways to create structure and better organize a test plan to exploit the strengths and weaknesses of mobile devices. So what are some of those strengths?

Max: Mobile applications are often a lot less complex than even your desktop or strictly web counterparts. So when you're going and attacking the test unit in that area, you can really kind of move your test structure to focus on that. You don't necessarily have to test the entire completeness of the project, but again, you want to focus on these different things.

One of those, again, as we mentioned, is usability. You also want to focus your testing on gates because these applications really have to make it through certain walls, especially for iPhone applications. And you really want to focus your testing on exactly what you need to pass in order to become a useful application, what it's going to need to do to make it into the store.

Another great way is to change the structure of all your test cases. And that's just another thing that really differs between those and the desktop applications.

Cameron: OK. And then what are some of those weaknesses?

Max: One of the big issues is the mobile application is relatively new and the testing is even newer. It used to be you kind of put out an application and the testing would be done when it's actually on the phone, and so the process was very immature for currently and the tools that go along with it are extremely immature, and so it's kind of difficult to get a lot of automated testing. And so you need to kind of focus on what the best ways to actually test are, both automated and manually, again with this reduced cycle, and it becomes a little bit more difficult because of the actual mobile device framework and just the usage of these devices.

Cameron: OK. And you kind of threw a word that kind of sparked another question here. You said the word "immature." Now, is it possible that—this is a little bit back to the first question—one of the reasons why people are more strict or they demand more on mobile devices is because it tends to be a younger generation who don't really understand all that goes into it?

Max: That's possible. I also think, I mean, one of the reasons I think usability is key is the older generation, you know before mobile, they weren't as familiar with the technology. Whereas now, you don't see the huge documents that are put out with applications on how to save a file, how to print a file. Everything should just kind of be extremely upfront and intuitive. Because of that new kind of thought that goes with these mobile applications, there's not quite as many automated tools out there that really focus on this because it's a different way of testing software again. It's not what was initially looked for in previous desktop or even web applications.

Cameron: OK. Where do you see the future of testing and the future of mobile applications and the testing of mobile applications?

Max: These applications have become more complex. I mentioned earlier that generally the applications aren't, but as time goes on, mobile devices get more and more powerful, the applications are also going to get a lot more complex and they'll require a lot more testing framework behind the scenes.

You know one of the big things we are going to see are the mobile application testing tools that are going to expand a lot more and you see a lot more and they have a lot more power. We're also going to be looking a lot more at security that we're testing. So both within the actual framing of the devices and actually just the testing of the security.

Right now a lot of applications are just kind of a throwaway thing, but more and more you hear in the world about security issues, whether it's information being leaked or systems being hacked, and that's just going to have to follow with mobile devices to be something that's really examined.

Cameron: OK. And you kind of mentioned security being one of the trends that's going to really catch on as far as mobile testing. Are there any other trends you see that are possibly going to catch on or that you'd like to see catch on?

Max: Yeah. Security is definitely a huge one because it's just neglected, as previously mentioned, and also using some of the newer technologies that are out there. More and more we are seeing these hybrid apps as opposed to just kind of a native or web application that is designed spefically to run on the phone, and I think that's going to be more and more prevalent, which, of course, makes it a little bit more interesting when you're testing the application. You have more things to look at.

Between those two, I don't really have too many other ideas really where the mobile world is going to be going because, again, this is relatively new. Over the next five or so years are really going to define really what direction everything is going to be heading in.

Cameron: With that being said, is there anything you feel is holding mobile application testing back?

Max: No, I don't think there is anything that's really holding it back. At this point I think people are working on tools. I know there's a lot of open source software out there that you can actually go and download and launch your emulator and test thing. And the products are actually coming along really well for the testing. But, again, they're relatively new and that makes them a little bit more difficult to use, and so there is also a huge expanse of different devices that you have to be looking at and testing. That really plays into how well these tests can go. That makes it a little bit more difficult for all these variety of devices you are looking at.

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