Wednesday, May 18, 2011

Guest Post at uTest: Early Impressions of a Mobile App Tester

Exciting news! I was featured as a guest blogger at uTest (

When I was growing up in Siberia I dreamed of becoming either a ballerina or a painter. I have always loved ballet and dancing and I also enjoyed painting Siberian landscapes in watercolors. For the longest time I thought that I was more of an artistic or right-brain type person. I am still not sure how I ended up working in the Information Technology field.  At some point, I found that I loved breaking websites (aka testing) and haven’t stopped since.  I catch myself testing my son’s electronic toys, neighbor’s coffee machine as well as countless smartphones…which brings me to my latest passion: mobile app testing. In fact, I’m writing this post on a break from a very intense work week, during which I tackled 7 uTest projects – with 5 of them being mobile projects!

Testing mobile apps is interesting, fascinating, challenging and frustrating. It has been an amazing and eye-opening experience for me. I am still very new to it and have more to learn. I tested my first mobile application during the uTest Bug Battle last November. Since then, I have participated in over 30 mobile test cycles through uTest and reviewed a variety of applications from games to browsers to enterprise resource planning (ERP) apps.

I want to know what kind of devices, applications and providers my friends and neighbors are using. I bombard them with questions on what they do and don’t like about their smartphones and providers, what kind of apps rock their world or make them want to throw their phones against the wall. Do they use mobile vs. native apps? How do they figure out navigation and flow, what do they think about a particular page layout, colors, sounds, portrait vs. landscape view, web-surfing and social media experience? Many of them check their bank statements and pay their bills, write memos, take snapshots, watch movies, use it as FiOS remote control, listen to the radio, play Angry Birds, Stupid Zombies and other games. I take notes. I try those apps myself. I install some of them on my Motorola Xoom even though many are still not optimized for it. It’s fun to launch an app and try to figure out how it works, what buttons to tap, and also picture the data moving behind it.

Just as with a web site the following three things matter the most for mobile apps – presentation and page layout, organization (flow and structure) and interaction (what happens in response to user actions). The difference is that a phone screen is very small and the capacity of a mobile device is not the same of a web site, which makes functional testing pretty challenging. Not to mention that some mobile applications may work on iPhones but then fail on either installation or launch on Android phones.

Being familiar with your bank or another web application certainly helps navigate through a mobile app. However, things like small screen size, and a lack of “physical structure” with familiar sights that you can use to orient yourself (this is true for the Internet in general), present a challenge in figuring out how mobile apps work. Well-designed applications will not only tell users what they can find within the app, but also where they can find it. If the app is organized well, then guessing where to look for additional functionality is easy. There are still many applications which have a great page layout, presentation and interaction features but they are not well-organized and thus confuse users which may result in the user un-installing the app and leaving unfavorable feedback. As a tester, I am trying to analyze and capture all the pros and cons and report them either as issues or feedback and also write a usability review.

I have recently added an iPad2 to a family of Android and Palm devices that we share in the family. I am now determined to learn how to test applications build for iOS. I don’t have any regrets that I did not become a ballerina. And when I feel like dancing I can swing by a local dance studio and dance my heart out. I did not make a Prima Ballerina but I can compete with Napoleon Dynamite. Or I can use my smartphone to watch the Swan Lake ballet on YouTube while waiting for my doctor’s appointment. The most important thing is that I am doing what I like most – testing and learning about different technologies and enjoying the unlimited potential of human creativity.

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