Software

4 best practices for automating mobile app testing

It's easy to push testing aside when trying to get a new app to market. Here are four tips for implementing cloud-based, automated testing procedures.

In mid-2016, IDC forecasted that installs of mobile apps on devices would represent as much as $57 billion in direct revenue to mobile app developers by 2020. Enterprises as well have focused on internal development of mobile apps, although not as robustly some would have thought.

The reason is not a shortfall of internal demand for mobile apps—but IT's ability to meet the pace of demand users want. In short, if you are a manager of mobile app development, you've got to explore new ways to speed these apps to market at the same time that you produce quality apps that don't fail users.

Is there a way to produce a high quality mobile app, and still do it fast?

It's an elusive goal to achieve if you are using standard development and testing methods—but with the help of mobile test automation tools, you can speed the development and test process and deliver higher quality apps.

"There are many unique service breakdown points with mobile apps that companies can find difficult to imagine until they experience them," said Shailesh Rao, COO of BrowserStack, which provides test automation software for mobile apps. "There are many different types of mobile devices around the world. Sometimes speed to market presses organizations to put out apps that are not fully tested, or there might be a case where your Website is accessible to most mobile devices in Europe or in North America, but for some reason, not in Brazil."

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How can you test your mobile apps on a diversity of mobile devices, and in geographic locales that you're not even thinking of?

This is the problem that BrowserStack, and other companies like it, set out to solve. These companies offer cloud-based test automation software and processes that enable you to test your app in virtually any simulated mobile device environment and in any test scenario. The test automation can eliminate steps for your QA staff, such as checking out app navigation, displays of data and images, and even data access, retrieval and update to a database.

"Our goal was to develop tools that could automate as much of the diverse mobile app test process as possible, to save time, and to speed these apps to market," said Rao. "We were also aware of the mobile developer shortage in enterprises, and the fact that many companies can't secure the mobile app development talent that they need. Consequently, they have to find other ways to speed app development and test, like automating more of the process."

For the mobile app manager, this test automation translates into automated checkouts of app navigation, displays, data access, etc.—but with human-directed (and authored) scripts that tell the automated software what to test and for what.

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Since many companies have been performing all of their mobile app testing manually, or (yikes!) not much at all, moving to a test automation methodology requires process changes, and possibly even culture changes, in IT.

Here are four best practices mobile app managers should consider:

1. Cultivate empathy in testing

Mobile app test automation is only as good as the staff that uses it. Seek developers and testers who have empathy for the end user, and can envision the potential problems an end user could face—like a poor internet connection, or an unusual device footprint where data does format properly.

Sometimes developers lack this sense of the end user because they are overly familiar with the apps they develop and find it hard to imagine how someone unfamiliar with the app will experience it. This can invite trouble, because developers who can't envision the end user experience can miss important elements of usability which are also the hallmarks of a great application.

The more your development and test personnel can put themselves in the shoes of the end user, the better your test scripts for mobile app checkout will be because they will include tests for usability as well as for technical correctness.

2. Be sure to test for multiple scenarios

There are a plethora of mobile devices in a plethora of countries around the world. If you're moving to mobile test automation software, be sure to ask your provider how many of these diverse mobile platforms and scenarios it covers. For example, there are a number of mobile phones in the Chinese market that aren't available in other locales. If your employees or customers are in this market, you need to test for the devices that they use.

3. Combat an anti-test culture

Mobile app culture is notorious for skimping on QA before apps are placed into production. The thought among many mobile developers is that you can quickly patch anything that goes wrong, but this doesn't do much to relieve frustrated users of apps that don't work. Sometimes their managers are under the gun, too, because of tight deadlines — so testing is the first thing to go. What mobile app managers must do is to address this challenge by rewarding developers and testers for quality (e.g., measure each app for the number of reported bugs and fixes) as well as quantity and speed.

4. Follow up and learn from feedback

One hallmark of application quality is following up with users and soliciting user feedback after an app is placed in production. You can continuously learn from this feedback—both to improve the existing app and to design new apps so you don't repeat mistakes. You can also improve the portions of your automated test scripts that are automated so they can account for elements of the human experience that a developer or an IT QA person might not think of. What you don't want to do is to just check off a mobile app as "complete" and never think about it any more.

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Image: iStock/UberImages

About Mary Shacklett

Mary E. Shacklett is president of Transworld Data, a technology research and market development firm. Prior to founding the company, Mary was Senior Vice President of Marketing and Technology at TCCU, Inc., a financial services firm; Vice President o...

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