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How to test on real devices

How do you sustain solid quality assurance these days while everyone is fighting an uphill battle against a flood of new internet devices? It’s rather simple. Andre Jay Meissner tells you how

This article first appeared in issue 240 of .net magazine – the world's best-selling magazine for web designers and developers.

Quality assurance across a broad variety of real devices is a must to ensure a pleasant user experience, stability and security. If your promise is to deliver mature work on the web, on-device testing has become an inherent part of your workflow.

You can never know for sure if your code performs well across platforms and under different circumstances until you have actually tested it on the real device rather than in simulators, emulators or via remote services. You must test under real circumstances, such as on low-bandwidths, different carriers or in energy-saving mode.

It’s also prudent to test on devices that are not mainstream, such as low end devices and devices running older OS versions because they represent a significant part of the installed base. These will most likely break your work first, so why not start with those? If your project works well on less capable devices, work your path up to the mainstream ones.

It’s your responsibility

I often get asked: “What is a good set of test devices to acquire?”. While it depends on a lot of factors narrowed down by a clever analysis of analytics data and business goals for your particular project, there is one constant to the bigger picture: the list of test devices definitely changes from project to project as goals and data are different and require going through the process again.

Of course it’s not possible for the vast majority of developers to personally own and maintain a representative and relevant set of currently more than 8,000 different internet-enabled devices (according to my estimation). So now that you know your personal smartphone and tablet devices aren’t enough to do serious device testing, how do you access the necessary devices?

Share, don’t own

The solution is as clever as simple: share with others. Access a broad variety of devices via Open Device Labs (ODLs), a grassroots community movement that’s growing in popularity around the world. These ‘labs’ establish shared pools of internet-connected devices for testing purposes, and are available to the communities of local web and app developers. ODLs are often located in co-working spaces or companies, some tour around while others appear only temporarily during specific events like a frequent meetup. Not even a year old, this movement is still in its infancy. But it’s gaining more and more momentum with new Open Device Labs constantly popping up across the globe.

With eight labs across the globe in July 2012, we created non-profit LabUp! in September to help establish and promote ODLs around the world. Now there are 65 established ODLs, across 22 countries, sharing over 1000 devices with 30 additional labs are currently preparing to launch soon.

ODLs lead to an ultimate improvement of the mobile web and app experience both for developers and for consumers. Individuals realise it makes sense to donate unused or older devices to the communal ODL. Vendors have also noticed ODLs and are beginning to support them with donations. This provides the labs with both legacy and modern gear as well as the potential to connect and stay in touch with the community. There isn’t a more efficient way to bring products to developers.

Be awesome

Use ODLs to test your work and deploy mature code instead of ripening your product on users’ devices and via bug reports from the wild. If you really care about pushing emerging technology forward, consider supporting an ODL, donate spare devices, or start one yourself. By doing so you not only improve your testing possibilities but also get in touch with other developers in your area, meet future co-workers and (hopefully) acquire new projects. Finally, you serve the greater good, which will get you a name and makes you awesome.

To learn more and to find an ODL in your vicinity, go to opendevicelab.com.

To find assistance in opening your own ODL, go to lab-up.org. You can read more about ODLs on the author's blog, or you can follow him on Twitter and App.net.

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