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Understand the importance of a mobile testing strategy

By 2017 users will have downloaded 270 billion mobile apps. Gerie Owen explains what every tester must understand about developing a mobile testing strategy.

Testers, welcome to the brave new world of mobile testing. Although the world of mobile devices is not new, the exponential growth of their use presents many new facets and challenges -- and you need to have a mobile testing strategy. In this brave new world, mobile testing includes not only mobile applications, but also mobile devices through which we may venture into the worlds of embedded testing and the Internet of Things.

Consumers now expect anything that they access on their computer to be available on their mobile devices and so all industries from retail to utilities must engage in mobile testing. According to Forbes, by 2017 more than 270 billion mobile applications will be downloaded worldwide. So this suggests that most testers will have the opportunity to become involved in some type of mobile testing.

Let's look at some of the key principles and unique challenges of a mobile testing strategy. Mobile users are not only extremely picky but also impatient. They determine within seconds whether or not they like your application. If it is too complicated or slow, they will move on to your competitor's website and possibly post a negative review of your website on social media. Because your application has only one quick opportunity to get it right, and because test cycles are considerably shorter to meet the increasing demands of the competition, great testing is the key to success.

Functional test coverage increases exponentially due to the multiple devices, platform and browser combinations that must be tested. Non-functional test coverage also increases as non-functional requirements expand into security, privacy, network connection speeds and data usage. Varying device sizes and the birth of wearables adds a whole new layer of complexity to mobile testing. And testing mobile applications is more closely related to hardware and embedded testing.

Expanding your testing repertoire

So how do you incorporate important principles of mobile testing into your mobile testing strategy?  First, given the exponentially increased test scope, coupled with the need for quick turnaround, it is critical to test early and often. Testers must work closely with developers and usability designers not only to understand the requirements, but also to make the types of suggestions that will expedite the development process. Finally, testers need to understand the types of mobile applications, including native, Web and hybrid, to determine what needs to be included in the test scope.

The functional test approach is based on the type of mobile application. Native applications run on a specific device but usually offer more functionality, so these applications require more extensive functional testing. Web applications are accessed through Web browsers on many types of devices, so the test scope must cover as many of the device/platform/ browser combinations as possible. Finally, hybrid applications use both Web and native technologies and therefore testing must focus on both functionality and device/platform/browser compatibility.

Risk-based testing is essential and should be based on the device/platform/ browser preferences of the application's target market. The demographics of the target market may show that older device models and earlier versions of operating systems must be included. The number of these combinations usually determines how the testing will be executed. Using actual devices is best; however, it may be necessary to use emulators to cover the all the combinations. Usability should be a consideration throughout the functional test; what works easily on a laptop may not work on a mobile device.

Key functional test scenarios should include login and account sign-up, accessibility of menu options and help, scrolling, selection and navigation and the clarity of error messages. If your application has an international audience, considerations such as how the application is translated, tax calculations and how dates are displayed must be included in the functional test plan.

Going beyond functional testing

Non-functional testing is increasingly critical, especially given the nature of the mobile application user. The performance test strategy should focus not only on load, but also a test of the transaction processing speed. Connection speeds vary across carriers, so it is important to test across a selection of carriers from various locations.

Security and privacy is a key aspect of mobile testing, especially for applications that involve financial transactions; negative test scenarios are particularly important in these areas. Although the focus of mobile application testing does not include testing the devices themselves, it is important to check how the application performs under conditions such as low battery power and when interruptions such as incoming calls and texts occur.

Although the brave new world of mobile testing exponentially expands our testing challenges and opportunities, many of the skills that make a great mobile tester are those we already possess. These are attention to detail, thinking outside the box, creativity and curiosity. Developing a mobile testing strategy challenges us to go above and beyond, expanding our technical skills while employing our core testing skills to the fullest extent possible.

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