Testing the #SXSW Mobile Apps (iOS vs. Android vs. Windows Phone vs. RIM)

For the second year in a row, uTest will be making an appearance at SXSW, the world-famous music/film/interactive conference in Austin, Texas. Unlike last year – where we spent most of our time eating, drinking and schmoozing with storm troopers – we have  some new, big plans in store.

The obvious difference is that we’ll be cruising around Austin in the RVIP Lounge, hitting up hotspots, giving rides, singing karaoke (poorly) and playing host to SXSW attendees throughout the week. More to come on that, but you can follow @InTheWildTest for deets on our adventures, and real-time locations if you’re at SXSW..

The other difference is that, instead of just talking about the merits of in-the-wild testing, we decided to show a real-world demonstration. So, over the last 36 hours, we assembled a select group of US-based testers to put the official SXSW mobile apps through their paces. In-the-wild testing means live testers, real devices, imperfect connectivity… basically, true real-world conditions. So we went to work testing SXSW’s official apps for iOS, Android, Windows Phone and BlackBerry. For iOS and Android, we also included tablet testing, to bring the comparison total to six.

Below are some top-level results (note that each category ranged from 1-5):

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% of Total Bugs 17.7% 18.3% 18% 6.6% 23% 16.4%
Overall Score 4.1 4.0 4.6 4.7 3.8 4.2
Usability & Design 4.2 4.1 4.6 4.8 4.1 4.2
Features & Functionality 4.1 4.1 4.7 4.7 3.2 3.9
Application & Performance 3.3 3.2 3.9 4.0 3.5 3.7

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Of course, these figures only tell part of the story. As the apps were tested in terms of functionality, performance, design, connectivity and other factors, several issues popped up on more than one occasion. Here were a few areas where some notable bugs were uncovered:

  • Incorrect time displays
  • Sync issues with registration and deleted items
  • Crashes on various tablet OS versions
  • Issues with installation
  • Social media integration
  • Issues with rating and uploading photos

It should be noted that despite these issues, the overall reaction from our community was positive for each of these applications. In fact, the overall ratings you see above are substantially higher than the industry norms, so kudos to the respective dev teams.

Anyway, if you’re at SXSW and want to learn more about In-The-Wild Testing, be sure to stop by the RVIP Lounge. If you’re not able to attend, then head on over to inthewildtesting.com.

Announcing uTest Express: Mobile App Testing for Early-Stage Startups

With the vast majority of mobile apps being developed by startups, wouldn’t it be great if there was an easier, more affordable option for young companies to get professional testing under real-world conditions? We thought so, which is why we had the testing gnomes in our research lab cook up uTest Express.

Designed for startups, Express helps young companies validate the quality & performance of their mobile apps, as well as speed up their app store approval process. Think of Express as a time machine for mobile app developers: they can transport a month or two into the future to see what type of ratings their apps will likely receive and if there are any major defects — before they launch.

Whether you’ve built an app for iPhone, iPad, Android, Blackberry, WinMo or Symbian, Express makes it easy to get real-world testing and expert feedback that meets your needs and budget. Oh, did we forget to mention that plans start at only $499? That’s half of what you probably spent on Red Bull and Starbucks while you were building your location-based, freemium, socially-linked, caffeine-free, voice-powered, 3D, virtual reality, highly-addictive, semantic-searching, gaming-layered, hybrid-powered, native app, right?.

For each project, uTest handpicks members of its tester community from North America who best match the testing requirements and have the right mobile devices and operating systems. The customer’s mobile application is then tested professionally on real devices across real carriers, providing real-world testing results and expert feedback that aren’t possible with emulators, simulators or remote access.

At the conclusion of each project, customers receive a list of well-documented bugs, including screenshots and videos with steps to reproduce them. They also receive expert feedback from the testers about the application – including app ratings and feedback for interface design, usability, app performance and more. To learn more about how it works,  watch this brief Product Tour.

Here are a few key features of the service:

  • Cost-Effective: With three testing packages available, uTest Express offers mobile app testing to fit any startup budget;
  • Easy-to-Use: A simple interface walks customers through a series of questions to identify their testing needs and facilitate the creation of the testing project;
  • Professional Testers: Testers are selected from our community of 35,000+ professional testers;
  • Real Devices and Carriers: Testing on real devices and real carriers – no emulators, simulators or remote access
  • All Major Mobile Platforms Available: uTest Express is available for all mobile operating systems including iOS, Android, Blackberry, Windows Mobile and Symbian;
  • Accessible 24/7: Customers can access their testing projects on-the-go, using uTest’s downloadable app for the iPhone and iPad, or through the traditional browser-based interface.

The launch coincides nicely with our trip to CTIA Wireless – one of the largest mobile technology events in the world – so we’ll be spending the next few days talking to some of the most promising names in the business about this unique new service.

In the meantime, if you’re early-stage startup looking for an easy, affordable way of testing your latest mobile app (or your latest version), look no further than uTest Express.

BlackBerry Ups The Ante To Woo Developers

All you mobile app developers:  You may not get roses sent to your office, or chocolates on Valentine’s Day, but let there be no mistake.  As you sit behind your dual monitors designing slick interfaces and cracking out code, you’re being courted by the App Stores.  Every type of company with a storefront– the platforms, device manufacturers, carriers, independent app ‘superstores’— knows that you have the power to make or break their commercial success based on which ones you decide to develop for.

But you know this.  And you also know that some app stores are a whole lot better at courting talent than others.  The good ones know that you don’t want roses or chocolate (well, occasionally wouldn’t hurt, right?).  What you really want is a faster, more streamlined approval process and a pricing structure that makes it worth your while.  You’re under a ton of pressure to speed your product to market, and probably feel the heat most when you’re doing the testing necessary to make sure you get those 5-star reviews out the gate…versus the dreaded 2-stars.  [cue the scary music]

That’s why RIM gets kudos this week for listening to the developer community and making a series of announcements on their dev blog that will simplify the Blackberry app store certification process.  Among them, they removed the requirement that developers must submit notarized proof of identification to distribute their apps on their storefront. They also posted some educational information to make it easier for developers to build apps for the BlackBerry Playbook.

Considering recent research, including a survey released in late 2010 by Appcelerator, that reports interest is waning for building BlackBerry apps, RIM is stepping up its game to make sure Android and iPhone don’t hog developers’ dance cards.  Time will tell…

What do you think?  Feeling confident that BlackBerry’s dev relations are headed in the right direction?

Symbian And BlackBerry Hangin’ Tough as Android Takes Over

According to Mashable and research firm Canalys, Android overtook Symbian to become the world’s most popular smartphone platform in Q4 2010.

Out of the 101.2 million Q4 worldwide shipments of smartphones, Android claimed 33.3 million compared to Symbian’s 31 million. Apple’s iOS took the bronze with 16.2 million smartphone shipments, followed by RIM with 14.6 million, and Microsoft rounds out the list with 3.1 million devices shipped.

There is no denying that, just as Apple’s iOS revolutionized the smartphone category, Android has come on the scene and made major waves as well. Take a look at the graphs and the article here, both courtesy of Nielsen, to see this impact in vivid color.

How will the recently launched Verizon iPhone impact smartphone market shares? It’s not clear right now, but if pre-order reports are any indication, it could be quite significant. And what about the impact of Windows Phone 7 OS? Still too early to tell.

What is clear, is that some of the one-time industry leaders are being challenged and even surpassed. Unless they respond with new and better versions, they’ll be left on the sidelines to watch as the new kids on the block (no, not the real NKOTB) take over. All we can say for those who are looking up at the leaders is to keep “hangin’ tough.”

Is 2011 The Year Of The Mobile Enterprise App?

We write a lot about the latest and greatest apps on smartphones, tablets and other devices. But what about enterprise apps? We haven’t taken a look inside the enterprise for signs of a mobile app uptick (support or implementation) in quite sometime. That’s why this study conducted by Kelton Research really struck a chord.

Yesterday, Kelton Research announced the results of their study on mobile enterprise apps, and I think they may shock you. According to Kelton, a whopping 90% of U.S. and UK IT managers surveyed will implement new mobile apps in 2011! 250 IT managers in the U.S. and UK at companies with revenue of $100MM+ were polled.

At first, I thought these stats seemed slightly inflated, but the more research I did, the more surveys I found that indicated that 2011 is indeed the year of the mobile enterprise app. In fact, ABI Research expects worldwide enterprise mobile data revenues to reach $133 billion by 2014.

With new apps for BlackBerry, iPhone, iPad, and Android making deep in-roads in healthcare, finance, education, media, and retail, employees are using mobile apps to access everything from CRM systems, to financial results, to marketing campaigns, to tracking orders, etc.

Another very interesting finding in the Kelton study… Saving money is the most popular reason (63%) for deploying mobile apps (chart above). I agree with Eric Lai of ZDNet who said, “It’s heartening, as it shows that mobilizing appears to be a fiscally sound strategy, not something with a pie-in-the-sky ROI.”

Some other interesting stats from the study include:
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The Verizon iPhone: Testing Challenges

A wise man once said that “if it’s on the internet, it must be true.” News that Verizon will finally carry the iPhone is all over the net, ipso facto….

But while the pundits discuss how this new alliance with affect user stats, downloads and stock prices – and while AT&T and Verizon exchange jabs – I wanted to take a minute and discuss the implications it has for mobile app testing. The practice, that is, not the website.

Until now, Apple had made things relatively easy for mobile app developers. I know that may sound absurd to developers who have lost hair and sleep over problems with UDIDs and App Store acceptance, but it’s true. You see, unlike Android, Windows Mobile, BlackBerry and the others, Apple simplified the testing process by having only one device manufacturer and carrier. Sure, you still needed to make sure your iPhone app worked across iOS 3G, 3GS and 4, but the overall testing matrix was much less complicated. Ask any Android developer.

That’s about to change in a big way.

But don’t take my word for it. We recently asked Matt Evans, the former QA Director of the Palm Pre smartphone, for his thoughts on mobile testing challenges in the coming years ahead. Granted this was before the Verizon news came out, but see if you can put 2 and 2 together based on his insight:

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Mobile Barcode Scanning Up 700%, Android Leads The Pack

As 2010 starts winding down, the mobile app revolution continues to wholly define this year in tech. Every day more mobile innovations are being updated and perfected to match our – the mobile consumers – needs. One such emerging trend is mobile barcode scanning.

According to ReadWriteMobile, a new study by barcode tech company ScanBuy claims that barcode scanning is up 700% in 2010!

Android was the most popular smartphone platform by far with 45% of barcode users, followed by Blackberry (27%), iPhone (15%), Symbian (9%), Java (3%) and Windows Mobile (1%).
Other Key Findings Include:

  • Health and beauty products were the most popular items among 1D (UPC) scans with 21% of users, followed by groceries (14.4%), books (12.6%) and kitchen items (9.2%).
  • Over 45 countries have scanned barcodes.
  • Linking to a website is the most popular action delivered by a 2D barcode scan with 85% of scans.
  • 1D (UPC) and 2D (QR) codes are being scanned equally.

In response to this huge news, I thought I’d have some fun with URL shortening service bit.ly‘s new QR-generation tool that launched a few days ago (FYI: goo.gl launched a few weeks ago too). Go ahead! Scan away and see where it takes you! (Hint: I am the PR Maven ;).)

While barcode scanning isn’t new technology by any stretch, the 2010 mobile boom is driving its increasing popularity. Even Calvin Klein recently replaced its massive billboards in New York and LA with QR codes (pictured above) – not to mention the giant QR codes in Times Square! I wonder what new and exciting mobile app testing doors this will open…

Which Tablet Device Will You Purchase?

Walmart just confirmed that it will begin selling the iPad in stores this Friday. On this news, we can say without hyperbole that everyone in the world will soon own a tablet device. But will they all buy iPads?

Probably not. In fact, several iPad rivals are getting decent play with the press, consumers and our very own tester community. We recently asked our testers and Facebook fans which of the new tablet devices they would most likely purchase as part of our weekly What Do uThink series. Here were the results:

  • iPad (Apple): 47%
  • Playbook (Blackberry): 24%
  • Galaxy (Samsung): 15%
  • Not purchasing a tablet: 15%

Okay, so maybe not everyone will purchase a tablet device. We even included the HP Slate, the ICD Vega, the Dell Streak and NAV9, but none of those devices received votes. Even so, it’s nice to know you have some options.

So if you’re still on fence about which tablet device you’ll be taking home, here are a few demo videos that might sway your decision:

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Mobile Devices: Keypad, Touchscreen or Both?

If you’re in the market for a new mobile device (and these days, who isn’t?) one of the most important decisions you’ll have to make is whether to choose the physical keypad or the touchscreen.

As we learned from our most recent What Do uThink poll, most mobile users actually want both of them. In fact, 70% of respondents said they would prefer a device like the Motorola Droid or the Blackberry Torch, as opposed to the 20% who said they preferred the physical keypad only (e.g. Blackberry Curve, Blackberry Bold) and 10% for the virtual touchscreen (e.g. the iPad, iPhone, etc).

So, 70% of mobile users can”t be wrong, can they? Let’s take a look a few of the arguments (from the uTest Forums thread) in favor of each, then decide for yourself.

Physical Keypad
“I go with Physical keypad. The reason is I have experienced problems while using touchscreen keys. I love Physical keypad which allows me to type the message fast and call the number much quicker than a touchscreen. Also, my LG Android had gone for service because the touch screen was malfunctioning. For instance, when I pressed 3, it used to display 6.”

Hybrid
“I prefer a hybrid model as it gives me independence to use the phone as per my convenience. Also, it makes things much easier for me. If I have to chat or SMS I can use the keyboard feature, but if I have to punch in a phone number or username/password I can do it from touchscreen. Plus, different situations demand things differently so a hybrid model is a perfect one for me.”

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What’s the Best Mobile Operating System? Android FTW!

The mobile wars are heating up! Microsoft is aggressively luring app developers for its Windows Phone 7 OS, while Android quietly gains market share. Blackberry expects big things out of OS 6, while The Big Apple deals with antenna issues, the yellow screen of death and the (remote) possibility of a recall. Interesting times indeed.

As part of our newly-launched “What Do uThink?” series (more on this shortly), we decided to ask our community which mobile OS they considered to be the best. Here are the results:

  1. Android – 38%
  2. RIM Blackberry – 28%
  3. Apple – 16%
  4. Symbian – 12%
  5. Windows Mobile – 6%

“What do uThink?” is a weekly poll, where we’ll be asking the uTest community their preferences and feedback on various apps, operating systems and other technologies. To encourage voting, we’ll be awarding monthly and quarterly prizes to randomly selected participants. This quarter, for instance, we’re giving away an iPod Touch. The weekly polls open every Tuesday afternoon and voting takes place in the uTest Forums available to registered testers) as well as on our Facebook page. Got it?

Good. Now back to the mobile OS results…

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