Emerging Tech: Disaster-Proof Your Mobile App Before Rollout
Will your new mobile enterprise app crumble under the weight of poor design and performance when you roll it out? Automated testing solutions for mobile apps are coming to market.
By Tom Kaneshige
So you’ve created an iPhone enterprise app, and your sales folks and executives are thrilled. They want more functionality, say, tapping into location-based services or—gulp!—using the camera to capture product images. A few people are requesting the app run on their brand new Droids. Now the CEO wants the app on his soon-to-be-available BlackBerry PlayBook tablet.
How’s your mobile app holding up now? What if it crashes? “If the app fails, which could result from a device, network or software issue, it affects productivity,” says analyst Dan Shey of ABI Research. “But the other impact of app failure is on confidence of the worker using the device. ” (Maybe confidence in you, too.)
Let’s hope you’ve rigorously tested the app before putting it into the hands of senior executives. Let’s hope you have a strategy for porting the app to multiple mobile devices. But chances are you don’t. Truth is, there aren’t many automated testing solutions for mobile apps on the market today. Consider that DeviceAnywhere, the granddaddy of the automated test platform market, only recently developed a product for testing smartphones and tablets, and it’s still in beta.
Mobile Apps: A Wildly Unpredictable, Fragmented Market
The mobile apps movement has taken enterprise IT by surprise. Suddenly, you’ve got mobile apps pouring into your computing environment, not to mention requests to develop apps in-house. Have faith; you’re not alone. DeviceAnywhere’s beta customers of its Test Automation for Smartphones product include industry heavyweights such as Oracle, Fidelity, Walmart, Target, Amazon and Disney.
Banks are building mobile banking apps. Retailers want mobile apps that help workers take inventory. Airlines seek apps that make customer check-in easier. “There is a lot of activity developing apps in the enterprise mobile space,” Shey says. “The development is more toward apps used by mobile professionals and include a lot of dashboard applications for CRM and ERP applications.”
These apps need to run on a variety of smartphones, operating systems, and now tablets. There is no question smartphones have greased the wheels for tablets to roll into the enterprise. More than 65 percent of Fortune 500 companies are deploying or piloting the iPad, Apple said during its most recent earnings call. “We haven’t pushed it real hard in business, and it’s being grabbed out of our hands,” says CEO Steve Jobs.
Mobile enterprise apps are riding the tablet wave: 30 percent of IT shops are piloting or planning tablet apps, according to a Forrester report. These apps have to work on a plethora of smartphones and tablets. “Every day, a new tablet appears: Cisco Cius, Dell Streak, Samsung Galaxy Tab, RIM PlayBook, HP Windows 7 Tablet, the list goes on,” writes Forrester analyst Ted Schadler in his blog.
With faster smartphones and bigger-screen tablets springing up like weeds after a rainfall, the mobile landscape has become terribly fragmented and complex—and so have the apps that run on them. “An app running on an iPad can be significantly more complex than a version of the same app running on an iPhone,” says CEO Faraz Syed of DeviceAnywhere. “There might be 1,000 features in the laptop app, 500 in the iPad app, and 100 in the iPhone app.”
The need for testing mobile enterprise apps for performance, reliability and cross-platform consistency has never been greater. Unfortunately, CIOs face slim pickings for mobile app testing vendors. “DeviceAnywhere has been in the automated test platform space longer than anybody,” Shey says. “There are a few other companies out there now, but three years ago I didn’t know of anyone else.”
DeviceAnywhere: Test Automation for Smartphones
In the summer of 2009, DeviceAnywhere began working on its Test Automation for Smartphones software that lets companies create test automation scripts for mobile scenarios. The product uses a test management framework for defining test plans and tracking test cycles, as well as tools for collaborating with app development partners.
At first, Test Automation for Smartphones only supported BlackBerry. Then came support for other platforms, such as the iPhone, Android and Windows Mobile. Now DeviceAnywhere is working on a Windows Phone 7 agent for Test Automation for Smartphones.
Demand for platform support has shifted dramatically in a short time. “We’re seeing an actual amount of interest on the Android platform as on the iPhone platform,” Syed says. “I don’t see a lot of people building apps on the enterprise side for the BlackBerry.”
The need to support multiple emerging platforms has kept Test Automation for Smartphones in beta for a year. The fragmented Android devices market poses its own problems. And Apple has put forth multiple devices that require special support, such as iPhone 3G, iPhone 3GS, iPhone 4, iPad with 3G, and iPad without 3G. For instance, an iPhone 4 app that taps the 3G antenna needs to be tuned and tested to run on an iPad without 3G.
“The biggest reason that app testing will become more important is because the app won’t necessarily be used on a single OS platform and phone model,” Shey says. “IT is not limiting employees to the phone they can use partly because the business is not buying the phone, so an efficient app testing platform is needed to ensure an app used on one device platform will work on other device platforms.”
On the upside, time spent in beta has provided valuable feedback that has made its way back into Test Automation for Smartphones. Beta users wanted certain features and DeviceAnywhere delivered. Now users can create a library of test automation scripts that can be reused across multiple devices. They can copy and paste a snippet of script into another script.
DeviceAnywhere plans to release Test Automation for Smartphones by the end of the year. Pricing depends on many factors, but the typical scenario will range from $35,000 to $50,000, says Syed. The product, which will be aimed at the Fortune 2000, may even undergo a name change to Test Automation for Smart Devices, in order to reflect the emerging tablet market.
A Test Unlike Any Other
Many companies rush mobile apps to market with little thought behind context, says Imad Mouline, CTO at Gomez, the Web performance division of Compuware. Companies wrap an intranet or VPN site in a technical wrapper that turns the site into a native iPhone app.
“That’s quick but absolutely horrendous,” Mouline says.
Mobile apps need to be developed under a different mindset. A mobile app, for instance, has to be able to handle connectivity and session loss more gracefully than a website. It has to have a consistent look and feel on all kinds of mobile devices. It has to cache data required to launch the app in order to fire up faster.
This means the mobile app must be tested differently, too. “App testing is as much about testing for device and system interoperability as it is about GUI, menu and keyboard or touchscreen testing for ease of use by the worker,” Shey says.
Usability testing is critical, agrees Mouline. In some situations, a worker might need to navigate the app with a single finger. Or, when there’s a gap in connectivity, a worker might become frustrated if she has to re-enter data that she had entered before the smartphone lost connectivity.
When it comes to mobile apps, all the performance and reliability in the world won’t do you any good if the user experience is left wanting. “Availability doesn’t just mean that your infrastructure is up,” says Mouline. “Availability means that those critical paths through the application always work.”
Once employees learn to depend on a mobile app, testing the app only gets harder and more vital. Employees will want the app to have more functionality, more cross-platform support. “As mobile apps become mission critical, they have to be tested and monitored in a very active, organized and rigorous manner,” says Syed.
Perhaps Mouline sums it up best: “The mobile app has to be tested. It must be able to handle success.”
Tom Kaneshige covers Apple and Networking for CIO.com. Follow Tom on Twitter @kaneshige. Follow everything from CIO.com on Twitter @CIOonline. Email Tom at firstname.lastname@example.org.