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Beating the Mobile Evolution: Survival of the Technologically Fit

Develop, test, monitor and repeat is key

The exponential growth of smartphone users around the globe is no secret. IDC's Worldwide Quarterly Mobile Phone Tracker reports that vendors shipped a total of 444.5 million mobile phones in 3Q12 alone. The importance of the mobile evolution reaches a broad range of industries from financial services to travel and hospitality. Integrating mobile strategies includes meeting the needs of the mobile generation and is a crucial element for any business to grow and sustain.

The burden of creating great consumer experiences and high quality enterprise applications across multiple platforms, including iOS, Android, and Windows, sits on the shoulders of mobile Web and app developers worldwide.

While the perception of an iPhone world may be grandiose, the reality is iPhone and iOS only contribute to a small percentage (18 percent according to IDC's 2011 research) of the total global smartphone usage. Most mobile Web and App developers aware of the fragmented mobile market understand the headaches when faced with the daunting task of having to create for multiple platforms in order to capitalize on the 81 percent that are not iOS users. Even though Android has recently emerged as the popular platform leader, there are still numerous feature and smartphone devices that also need to be considered during development.

When it's all said and done, the judgment of quality rests in the hands of the end user. Most companies do not have the resources or second-chance opportunities to release a product without proper testing on multiple platforms. The caveat for developers working in the mobile space relies on the ability to test on multiple devices, which means having access to hundreds of devices, not generally the case. The current trend is shifting to testing on the cloud with emulated software, avoiding the need to make space for multiple devices in the development laboratory and alleviating the need to expend an exorbitant amount of resources to find, purchase and ship hundreds of mobile devices just for testing purposes.

Mobile Landscape

The fragmented mobile landscape has also been a pain point on the enterprise level. The growing adoption of BYOD has presented the need to push out quality-assured applications on a multitude of devices. This trend has increased the need to use effective testing tools that can speed up development time and push out products to keep up with the push toward mobile, where devices and their platforms are frequently updated. Enterprise customers need to be able to deploy effective communication to their employees and create mobile apps and tools that will ultimately increase productivity, and real-device testing is an efficient way for the enterprise to stay ahead of user issues.

    In mobile development there are some common mistakes during testing process that are critical to the end product.

  1. Not testing apps based on different device screen sizes. Don't trust that just because an app looks okay on one device, it will look fine on other platforms. Platforms vary in the slightest ways and can change the entire experience or perhaps not function as intended in some areas. You should test apps based on actual screen size and device types.
  2. Assuming that performance issues are consistent across all devices. Make sure to look for device-specific problems. Usually, if you can reproduce a bug or glitch using a desktop browser, the issue is likely not device-specific. However, if a bug shows up on one device and not another, realize that you need to figure out which device and platform the bug is affecting.
  3. Neglecting use and idle tests. Run through use and idle tests. Fully charge the device and do one of each type of test, for example:

Use-test: Use the application on a fully charged device for a number of hours. Take battery life and other readings at regular intervals. Set automated scripts to run and test the application for up to 12 hours to determine how many resources your application uses while it is being accessed.

Idle test: Turn on the application while the device has a full battery, and leave it running on its home or menu screen for up to 12 hours. Record battery and resources usage at regular intervals in order to determine if the idle application is using additional resources behind the scenes.

HTML5: The Ultimate Solution?
The big nudge in the HTML surge was pushed further as Steve Job addressed his aptly named "Thoughts on Flash" public note in 2010. The search for simple has sparked complexity though. Developers have been toying with the idea of hybrid apps; web apps wrapped as native apps. LinkedIn is a good example of a native app providing an embedded web view.

The introduction of HTML5 has been a great advancement in the development community and helps to streamline cross-platform coding. Simplified and minimalist is the key for success in today's on-the-go mobile culture. The "write once, run anywhere'" method has been a strong wish for developers for decades; HTML5 has not solved the issue but brought us much closer. The debate between native, hybrid and HTML5 applications is not likely to be resolved in the near future. In order to untie the complex shoelace, it's imperative for developers to consider which approach best suits their application and end-user requirements.

Nevertheless, testing remains a critical component of speed and efficiency in the development process; advances in automated testing solutions make testing hundreds lines of code efficient and consistent.

The Mobile Bottom Line
The mobile development cycle has increased in demand and become more complex and engulfing to our everyday lives. Developer pain points may never disappear but leveraging tools that will enable speed and efficiency are critical to implement in any development cycle. Will there be a single, solve all, end-all solution to cross-platform development issues? While HTML5 addresses the case, the answer will probably be no. As the demand for mobile devices continues to grow, so will usage and the need for new development and maintenance. Now that smartphones are becoming integrated into our daily habits, the next phase (which has already begun) is using a single device to align all areas of our lives: home, work and leisure. The way to stay quick and nimble with the growing demands of mobile development is to create an efficient process. Develop, test, monitor and repeat is key!

More Stories By Tim Murphy

As the Sr. Manager for Mobile Monitoring & Testing at Keynote Systems, Tim Murphy is an evangelist for improving the end-user experience on mobile websites, applications and networks. His responsibilities include the customer and corporate communication of mobile performance improvement and insight. He also works on developing strategic partnership and awareness among key markets including the enterprise, infrastructure providers and network operators.

Tim has a decade of experience in the Telecom industry, which includes work for Pacific Bell, SBC and AT&T in Internet Services, New Product Development and Mobile Customer Acquisition. His background also includes extensive experience in international retail, serving as a country manager in both the US and abroad.

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