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February 9, 2016

Besides sporting the complexity of a personal computer, mobile devices today are loaded with a plethora of smart applications and present endless possibilities for businesses. Applications such as mobile biometrics, healthcare monitoring, 3D holograms, wearable technology and protective suits, and smart gadgets for personal safety are fast emerging. The result – instant, anywhere, anytime access to information that is fundamentally changing the way you work, do business, and support customers.

Next generation technology and innovative applications also make never-before demands from quality assurance (QA) and testing. In this post, I will highlight typical mobile testing challenges and pitfalls, and share a few suggestions, so that your business can focus on creating innovative value propositions, rather than firefighting defects.

The device landscape is exploding and this presents a formidable challenge. Your customers use smart phones, tablets, e-book readers and wearable computers each has unique parameters, features, interfaces and input parameters. Enter touch pads, voice detectors and motion sensors, and their combinations, which further add to the complexity. And if thats not enough, the user interface or the software in some devices could possibly hide defects which are difficult to unearth. Then, there is the need to deal with operating system variations, and roll out application versions to remain in sync with frequent OS updates while ensuring consistent user experience across OS versions and platforms.

Tool-based automated testing can address these challenges to some extent. However, provisioning the right tools and mobile testing environment has its own challenges. In traditional software development, environment and tools provisioning can be as simple as plug-and-play, buy and deploy. Given the scope and variety of mobile technologies and devices, it is difficult to provision testing tools that address all platforms, devices and operating system variations. Lets face it – selecting the right tool can be daunting.

And it doesnt end there. Post environment provisioning and tools deployment, there are connectivity challenges. Varied communication standards and network conditions constantly affect application performance, requiring validation across data connection speeds, protocols, standards and networks.

Evolving mobile technologies such as near-field communication, payment gateways, barcode scanners, beacons, and augmented reality require specialized testing services. QA teams must develop robust test cases to verify third party integrations and emerging technologies. Identifying and integrating test data among different subsystems requires substantial effort and cooperation among multiple teams. If the application volumes justify, a mobile testing lab, self or cloud hosted, can be a good initiative. The cloud offers robust mobile testing environments, with zero or little upfront investments, enabling easy scale-up as the mobile application landscape expands. But just having technology is not enough. The right people and skills mix, is as important.

The multitude of mobile emulators and simulators cannot substitute real-world testing. There is no alternative to mature, real-world, real-user testing, which catches live and real, and not just laboratory-condition defects. The power of the crowd through online communities, helps achieve this level of testing maturity. Existing and prospective customers can also be included in the product development and innovation process, and focus groups for users on social media can be a good starting point. These crowd testers can test and provide feedback on not just application functionality, but also cultural and localization aspects.

Another major hurdle comes in the form of user expectation. User feedback is almost instantaneous, with the expectation of the feedback translating to a better, richer user experience. Users also have low tolerance for applications that are not intuitive or contextual. Meeting user expectation requires frequent application updates and rollouts. However, the need for accelerated time to market often means shortened testing cycles, which in turn can result in reduced or compromised test coverage, ultimately impacting product quality.

It may not be possible to address all challenges at once. However, when blended with a testing strategy that integrates processes and best practices, these pointers can help create a solid mobile testing environment. A mobile testing environment helps meet user expectations and market pressures, fosters collaboration, pre-empts mobile application defects, and prevents post go-live troubleshooting.

The mobile device is no longer just a communication mechanism. It is a chat engine, entertainment system, navigation device, shopping cart, health monitor and much much more. A simple glitch can expose your business to customer complaints, dissatisfaction and desertion. Why take a chance? Invest in a robust mobile application testing strategy today. Also read this previous post on the importance and need for smart assurance for smart connected devices.

Kanthi is leading assets & innovation for Mobility Assurance CoE in Assurance Services unit, TCS. She has over 17 years of experience in pre-sales, mobile consultancy and test automation, program management, and development of new offerings. A voracious reader with a penchant for developing automation tools, she has conceptualized and implemented "Remote Android Blackbox Instructive Tests" or 'RABBIT' for platform level testing of Android devices. Prior to working with TCS, she has successfully worked as an automation consultant towards the launch of phone models for popular device vendors.


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