Software Update Fixes Bugs (but cannot kill spiders)

yellow_sacSometimes in software testing you are finding and fixing coding errors, sometimes you are addressing requirement gaps, and sometimes you have to deal with spiders.

Spiders? Exactly. And no, I don’t mean that as a metaphor for some new fancy software issue. I just mean, sometimes you are actually dealing with spiders.

Mazda has recently announced a voluntary recall of 42,000 Mazda 6s, due to… spiders. The yellow sac spider or Cheiracanthium, for those of you that are arachnid enthusiasts, are attracted to hydrocarbons and gasoline. These adorable little guys have taken a liking to Mazda’s vent lines. The webs restrict air flow and can potentially cause cracks in the fuel tank, which ultimately could lead to fires.

Mazda first addressed this “more common than you’d think” problem a few years ago with a mechanical solution, aimed at keeping the spider out of the lines. However, they proved to be persistent and continue to breach the Mazda’s security. So Mazda has now turned to new software. They offer the free upgraded software to Mazda owners which regulates the pressure level and notifies the owner if there is a problem. True, it is not an actual solution to the spider problem; however it is great to see that Mazda is looking to software proactively to ensure the safety of their customers. It should also be noted that although the problem has persisted for a few years, no injuries or fires have been reported as a result of pressure build up related to spider webs.

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How Testers Can Help Regain the Trust of Users

trustStop me if you’ve heard this before: Users are becoming increasingly uneasy with the way in which apps collect, store and share their personal information. It’s a story we’ve discussed a lot here on the uTest Blog over the years (and more recently, on the Applause Blog), but it’s a story that isn’t going away anytime soon unfortunately.

Late last week, MEF Global Chairman Andrew Bud penned a thoughtful guest post for VentureBeat on this very topic, where he argued that trust in apps is on a downward trajectory. In his view, it all has to do with personal information.

In many ways, the apps economy runs on personal information. It’s the currency – the lifeblood – and the main reason why apps can succeed with a freemium model. As Bud argues, it’s also the reason why trust is quickly declining. He writes:

What underpins this transactional relationship is consumer trust and it follows that, for the mobile industry, this should be the watchword for how mobile businesses build and retain customers.  The less confidence people have in their mobile device, the less they will use it and the apps on it. That’s bad news for everyone.

Yet for almost as long as apps have been on the market, consumers have been bombarded with stories in the press and across social media platforms that raise privacy concerns about the way apps gather and store and use personal information.  As an industry we have a long way to go.

He backs his opinion with some hard figures from a recent MEF/AVG Technologies study, which found that:

40 percent of consumers cite a lack of trust as the reason they don’t purchase more via their mobile — by far the most significant barrier. And it’s getting worse. In 2012, 35 percent named trust as an obstacle compared to 27 percent in 2011.

Second, 37 percent claim a lack of trust prevents them from using apps once they’ve installed them on their phone. Third, 65 percent of consumers say they are not happy sharing their personal information with an app.

Hard to argue with numbers like that. So what’s to be done? While Bud places a small amount of the burden on users – arguing that they should be more aware of the threats – he places most of it on the industry as whole: marketers, developers, publishers, aggregators, executives and so forth.

And to that I would add software testers.

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Capture Pokémon, Work for Google

pokemonFor most companies, April 1st is a less-than-ideal date in which to launch an app or a major update, as consumers, media and other interested parties might take it to be a prank. Google is not most companies.

The tech giant just released a mini-game in the update of its “Maps” application. Unlike most updates, this one incorporates a healthy dose of Pokémon. For those unfamiliar, Pokémon is a Nintendo-owned media franchise involving card games, video games, cartoons and movies that feature trainers capturing wild “Pokémon” creatures with special abilities. Once captured, they are trained to fight and pitted in battles against one another. At least that’s what I’m told.

Of course, Google is known for being quite a prankster, with a long list of similar April Fool’s Day pranks (seriously, a LONG list), however they have also peppered in a number of real releases on April 1, including Gmail. In fact, Gmail was thought to be a hoax, because at the time a free email service with a gigabyte of storage was an entirely new concept. Safe to say that one worked out pretty well.

So is this recent Pokémon update to Google’s Map application a hoax or the real deal? It seems a bit of both – at least we hope! The video promo they put together shows Poke-enthusiasts travelling the world, and “finding” Pokémon using an incredible looking augmented reality app within Google maps to capture their very own Pokémon. The video also promises any person that can capture all 150 Pokémon will have a chance to work at Google, with the title of “Pokémon Master”. Unfortunately, it’s a pretty good bet that these aspects are the hoax portion of their prank.

If you’re willing to take that chance in order to become a Pokémon Master, here’s how to get started:

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Android-Windows “Combo-Phone” Dead

WindowsPhone8vsAndroid41_AZL2628Huawei, one of the world’s largest smartphone vendors, revealed plans to launch an Android-Windows dual-OS mobile device at the Mobile World Congress in Barcelona last month. But now there’s a small change of plans: They’re not doing it anymore.

“Most of our products are based on Android OS, [and] at this stage there are no plans to launch a dual-OS smartphone in the near future,” Huawei said in a statement to FireWireless. However, they will continue to support Android and Windows phones separately.

This comes as a blow to consumers looking forward to running both Android and Windows operating systems on their phone, but mostly to Microsoft, whose Windows Phone usage lags behind Google’s Android OS and Apple’s iOS.

Partnering with Android was supposed to expose Windows Phone capabilities to a broader audience. There was a better chance of consumers buying the phone if there was Android on it too. But there is apparently not enough incentive for Google to allow Microsoft’s OS to coexist on the same device. It seems as if the vision for this phone was all too narrow. Dual-operating systems might seem twice as cool, but it would have also made a software tester’s scope of operations twice as complicated.

The first list outlines the benefits of having a dual-OS device. The second outlines why this system may not have been be so beneficial after all.

The advantages:

  1. The ability to organize between two OS. Business by day, personal by night, perhaps?
  2. Compatibility. The customer can use software/hardware even if it’s only supported on one OS.
  3. Share programs between the different OS. Only those which are compatible with both, but yes, you can share.
  4. Share your Hard Disk Drive. Although you can use two, you can save everything to one HDD if you wish.
  5. Impress your friends because instead of one OS, you have two.

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Need App Advice? Ask a Marketer

expert-adviceApp success is generally viewed as the primary goal of the development, design and QA teams, respectively. But as we’ve long argued, the success (or failure) of an application is actually a company-wide goal. Yes, even that of the marketing department.

The writers over at SearchEngineJournal.com posted an interesting article the other day on Converting the New Mobile Consumer, in which they outlined some valuable tips for optimizing a mobile website focused on commerce. If you read the piece – and I suggest that you do – you’ll notice that most of the tips are not geared towards a highly technical audience (i.e. developers and testers), but rather that of the marketer. No offense to the technical-minded marketers out there!

To illustrate – and to encourage you to ask the marketing team for help the next time you’re put on a big project – I wanted to take a closer look at three tips in particular. Let’s get started…

Incorporate Branding Elements
As Mobile Marketer points out, mobile is an excellent venue for extending your branding efforts. Even though your mobile site will be a lot more simplified, you’ll still want to incorporate the same branding elements that you have on your traditional site. According to Social Media Examiner, this is important for two reasons. One, a mobile site is a brand touchpoint where customers interact with you, and like any other touchpoint, it should reflect and promote your brand’s essence. Second, incorporating a similar design on your mobile site will make users who are already familiar with your company feel like they’re visiting an old friend, which is an important consideration for your most loyal customers.

Here’s a classic example of an area that gets passed over by developers and QA teams, who often times are only focused on the functionality and security of a given application. Branding matters, so if you’re looking to launch a site or app that engages users – and encourages them to come back on a regular basis – you might want to consult with the marketing department, as this is their primary goal.

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How It’s Made: The Mobile App Episode?

How_Its_MadeSpace pens, beef jerky, cow bells, flip flops – until the show How It’s Made came along, the average citizen had no idea how everyday products like these were created. Now they do, and I think we can all agree the world is a much better place.

As I scrolled through the list of episodes on Wikipedia, it occurred to me the show’s producers have never once ran an episode on how a software application is made. Maybe it’s time that changed!

Therefore, the purpose of this post is twofold. First, I want to urge our readers and community members to suggest this as a future episode. Second, I want to outline how the segment could be structured. With any luck, the app development process will get some primetime viewing – and the average citizen will have a new appreciation for the apps they use on an every basis. No disrespect to sewage pumps and inner tubes.

The first part is easy. You can submit your episode suggestion here.

The second part is where it gets fun. Though I’m not yet a TV director, here’s how I would envision the segment, broken down into four basic parts. For the purpose of this pitch, let’s say that we’re going to be developing an iPhone app.

Part #1. The Idea. Here we would get an inside look into the ideation process. It would be great to feature this from the point-of-view of a major brand, as it would naturally involve a number of key stakeholders: executives, product owners, developers, QA engineers, sales, marketing and so forth. Here we’d get to see how an application must satisfy certain brand and business objectives, and how it must life better/easier/more enjoyable for the prospective user.

Part #2. The Design. Have you ever seen a time-lapse video of someone designing a mobile app? Me neither, but I think this would be a great way to showcase the process. We’d get a complete overview – from wireframe to working version – with an on-air interview from one of the lead designers. We’d get to see the software they use to create the app; why certain colors schemes are chosen over others; how the app transitions from one action to another, along with other aspects of the design phase.

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Game-Changer: Amazon Launches AppStream

Change ahead signBig news last week for app developers and testers as Amazon formally launched its long-awaited new service: AppStream. Basically, AppStream deploys applications on Amazon Web Services and streams input and output to client PCs, tablets and mobile devices. In other words, this allows for apps to be run on devices without downloading the app to the device. Pretty neat, eh?

We’ve long stressed the importance of app consistently; that an app must behave the same way regardless of the operating system and device. The launch of AppStream (which is now available to all developers) is a big step forward for brands that feel the same way.

As you can imagine, this type of service will greatly benefit both developers and testers (not to mention end users) in a variety of ways. Amazon provided a nice recap of the features and benefits, but here are a few of the more important takeaways:

What are the Advantages of AppStream?

  • More Devices – Applications that previously would have been limited to powerful hardware can now be run remotely and streamed to lower-end devices as well.
  • Multi-Device Support – Now you can write one application, and create a client application for each end-user device. As new devices are released, only a new client application needs to be released, the application stays the same. Users will be able to easily access the app from multiple different platforms and devices.
  • Easy Updates – After simply providing a new version to AppStream, the users will automatically begin to use the updated version the next time they stream.
  • Increased security – Your app files are stored in AWS data centers, and are therefore automatically subject to their on-site security. Also, since the app is steamed, none of the executable files are ever transferred to the user’s device.

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What Can Shaq Teach Us About App Quality?

Shaq_CelticsShaquille O’Neal is known for many things. He’s one of the most dominant centers in basketball history. He’s also a spokesman, an investor, a horrible rapper and an even worse actor. But as we discovered earlier this week, he might also be the world’s biggest fan of paid mobile apps.

According to himself, he spends $1,000 per week on mobile apps – mostly hunting games.

“Last week I bought like 20 deer hunter games,” he told a reporter at SXSW. “I like hunting the deer on my phone.”

Clearly. Even if these numbers are a bit exaggerated (I’ve done the math and it doesn’t quite add up), they help us make an important point regarding the mobile app landscape: The paid app is not dead. And not just because of The Big Aristotle.

Back in October, TechCrunch noted that It’s Over For Paid Apps, With A Few Exceptions, in which they discussed the overwhelming tendency of developers to keep their applications free, but to make up for it in other ways (e.g. advertising). As the title suggests, there are a few exceptions. Writes Sarah Perez:

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Mobile and Agile: A Match Made in Dev Heaven

agileProgress in software development can be a time-consuming process, where strategies and tactics are inherently dependent on steps that precede steps. As a remedy to lengthy gaps and the “hurry-up-and-wait” approach, an agile process allows for concurrent design and development (hence the name). Flexibility is the key element. Results are the outcome.

As we’re starting to see, many brands are relying exclusively on the agile process when developing their mobile apps. Before we share our own view on why this is the case, here’s a nice summary of the trend courtesy of TechTarget.com:

“Mobile apps are different from other applications in significant ways. They need to have a small footprint and download or update quickly and smoothly. They need to seamlessly interact with back-end servers when needed. This state can only be achieved with several changes and adjustments along with the way. The sprints, enhanced quality assurance and multiple test cycles of Agile development provide all of the necessary ingredients for mobile apps to get there.”

Spot on, in our view. Here are a few more reasons why agile and mobile are a perfect match:

  • Contributors and participation – Working in an agile environment urges flexibility and immediate feedback. This helps to prevent the development team from spending an inordinate amount of time developing the wrong app, something that happened with great regularity in the web-based world of waterfall. Rather than endless design reviews, the iterative practice works on the product first and presents a “code-as-you-go” approach that focuses on the team members and their contributions over a “wait-and-see” methodology of traditional software development.

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Back to the Future of Software Testing

time-travelIf you’re familiar with the internet, you know that predictions are a very popular form of online content. You also know that – most of the time – these predictions are either:

  1. Vague and boring
  2. Over-the-top and absurd

The operative phrase in that first paragraph was “most of the time.”

There are exceptions; those rare instances when predictions are made with incredible foresight and detail. This ComputerWorld article from 2008 – The Future of Software Testing – is a classic example.

Written by noted testing expert Geoff Thompson (a future Testing the Limits guest, perhaps), this post reads as if it were written present day. He talks about the emergence of continuous testing, the growing importance of quality over cost and of how certifications will play less of a role in a tester’s career.

To illustrate, I wanted to take a closer look at a few of these predictions:

Prediction #1: “Building quality in, rather than testing it out, prevention rather than detection”
Thompson predicted a world where testing would no longer be considered as an assembly-line process (usually at the end of a project). Instead, it would become part of the entire process. It would be built into the application from the start, not “tested out” at the end. Whereas QA had been seen primarily as a way to detect defects, he saw it as evolving into a way to prevent them. He writes:

“It continually amazes me how many clients I see who leave testing until the last possible minute. When will companies understand that the earlier a test team is involved, and of course the better trained they are, the more they will recognise problems early in the lifecycle enabling them to be resolved before they become execution defects?”

While many companies still leave testing to the last possible minute, they are quickly becoming the minority, as evidence by the rapid adoption of agile testing and other “quality-first” approaches. He nailed this one.

Prediction #2: “Ensuring that quality is not seen as a burden, alongside time and cost”
Essentially, the author here saw the growing importance of quality over cost and time. Not long ago, quality used to be a distant third behind cost and time in terms of priorities. Today, it’s just the opposite. If app quality suffers, it no longer matters how much money or time you saved in the software development process. The key question for today’s brand therefore is not “how do I save money?” but rather “how do I develop apps that people want to use?” Ask any brand and they’ll tell you the same.

Prediction #3: Software Testing Qualifications, Not Certifications
Software testing certifications were popular back in 2008 and they’re still popular today. Many would argue however that they have become less relevant – something the author acknowledged back in 2008. He predicted a world where qualifications (not certifications) would be the determining factor in the success of QA professionals, and he appears to have been right:

“The reality is that the qualification together with real practical experience is what makes a good tester. After all would you allow a surgeon who had just passed their exams but had no practical experience to operate on you? I don’t think so.”

Have you recently come across an interesting software testing prediction? Care to make our own bold claims about the future of software testing? The comments section is all yours.