Mobile App Screen Size Pitfalls

In my recent post with my thoughts on the iPad, I noted that while the iPad will run iPhone apps, they won’t look that great.  Instead, developers will need to create new iPad apps.

“That’s fine!” you exclaim, thinking that you’ll just uprez your widgets and artwork from your iPhone app to the new iPad screen size.  Problem solved, right?  Apparently Apple thought so too and tried creating iPad sized versions of their default iPhone apps.  And apparently that idea sucked.  From Daring Fireball:

It’s not that Apple couldn’t just create bigger versions of these apps and have them run on the iPad. It wasn’t a technical problem, it was a design problem. There were, internally to Apple (of course), versions of these apps (or at least some of them) with upscaled iPad-sized graphics, but otherwise the same UI and layout as the iPhone versions. Ends up that just blowing up iPhone apps to fill the iPad screen looks and feels weird, even if you use higher-resolution graphics so that nothing looks pixelated. So they were scrapped by you-know-who.

Think this is just an Apple problem?  No, it’s a mobile device problem!

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Testing the Limits with Google’s Patrick Copeland – Part II

In Part II of our interview with Google’s Patrick Copeland, we discuss the challenges of managing a global engineering team; rewarding developers with food pellets; the difference between a good tester and a great tester; and why some companies will never launch a high-quality app. By the way, did you miss Part I of our interview?

uTest: What are some of the challenges that come with managing teams in dozen (or more) countries, as you’re currently doing? How difficult is it to maintain control over the people, processes and products? And when do you sleep?

PC: “Maintaining control over people” <smiling and laughing like Dr. Evil>.

But that’s not how it works at Google. The truth is…our team structure is atypical in the industry. For one, we are a flat company with many Nooglers being a few steps below senior executives. The expectation is that people and teams are semi-autonomous. In this model it’s impractical for managers to be controllers. And regardless, I’d rather set up teams that are made of great people who can run their areas themselves. My focus is on helping teams to be effective. Managers at Google are generally judged on their ability to enable smart people to get things done. Many have 15 or more direct reports, introducing some chaos and reducing the time available to micromanage.

One way we get everyone moving in a similar direction is to use OKRs, it came to Google thanks to board member John Doerr back in 2000. John stressed the importance of setting overall company Objectives and Key Results that would help develop departmental objectives; in turn, individual OKRs for every employee would support achievement of team and company wide goals. In Q1 of 2000, we rolled out our first company-wide OKRs, which included “8 million searches/day” and “Select CEO.” We’ve come a long way since then.

uTest: A lot’s been made of the unique and friendly work environment Google offers its employees. Does this also apply to your engineers? Or are they handcuffed to their desks and given food pellets for every line of code written (like we do at uTest)? Seriously though, how does an open atmosphere lend itself to better software?

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Testing the Limits with Google’s Patrick Copeland – Part I

In this month’s Testing the Limits interview, we’ll put Patrick Copeland on the hot seat. Patrick is the Senior Engineering Director for a promising young upstart named Google (we’re not familiar with them ourselves, but we’ve heard good things) where he oversees a global team of about 800 engineers. But this isn’t his first rodeo –  prior to Google, Patrick spent a decade at Microsoft, where he specialized in all things related to software engineering.

So what do you ask someone who’s probably forgotten more about software than we’ll ever know? Well, in this installment, we’re going to get his views on catering to a global base of users; his criteria for evaluating testers based on their “tester DNA”; the recent addition of our good friend James Whittaker; the challenges of launching new products like the Nexus One, as well as other tidbits from inside the GooglePlex. Stay tuned for Parts II and III in the days ahead.

uTest: What are some of the challenges that come with having a global base of customers and users? Are certain products noticeably more popular in some areas rather than others? And how does this affect your future planning?

PC: Yes, of course some products and features do better than others. Our approach is to do lots of experimentation and to release and iterate. We push bits to customers early and often, and then we listen and watch usage. Customers help us by “voting with their feet.” Popular features and products are improved, and poorly performing products are deprecated. With a big focus on innovation, we also need to “fail fast” and customer feedback helps us make those decisions.

Not surprising, our global customers have different demands of our products. We want products to “feel local” and we need to support features that may be unique to specific markets. For instance, in Indic based languages using a standard keyboard is difficult, so we develop strategies like virtual keyboards or category browsing for search. As we specialize our products for certain markets, it introduces more challenges for testing (eg. requiring special cultural knowledge). When we can’t find internal talent, community-based testing is an interesting solution to this challenge.

We base staffing and planning decisions on several criteria:

  • Strategic: Maybe a new feature, but in a market with existing competition (like Android).
  • Financial: Obviously Ads and Search, but we have several emerging businesses that are also getting important.
  • Customer usage: For example, popular high-traffic applications like GMail.
  • Legal or Compliance: Certain areas need to be prioritized high for legal reasons. For example, SOX compliance for CheckOut.
  • Ability to Impact: We look at our capability and decide if investing testers in an area would have a significant impact.

uTest: A few years back, you were the keynote speaker at GTAC, where you said something to the effect that “the longer I’ve been in the business, the less I know about it.” How important is it for testers and developers (and those who manage them) to maintain this student-for-life mindset?

PC: Very. When I hire people I look for folks with a “testing DNA.” These are people who are great computer scientists at their core, but also are very curious, love software, and are passionate about test engineering. People who have those characteristics tend to pursue challenges and continue to learn.

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One App Fits All — Future or Fantasy?

Over in Barcelona at the Mobile World Congress, 24 of the world’s leading wireless carriers and mobile OEMs announced their plans to create the Wholesale Applications Community (WAC) — a unified platform which developers can use to build a mobile app once and have it run seamlessly on any handset, OS or carrier.  Among the impressive roster of backers are mobile heavyweights like AT&T, Verizon, Orange, LG and Sony.  Sounds like a utopia for mobile developers, right?  It could be… if it works.

There are more than a few skeptics, including Jason Kincaid (@jasonkincaid) over at TechCrunch.  As Kincaid states (with a bit of help from Google’s Andy Rubin):

If it sounds too good to be true, that’s because it probably is. Andy Rubin, Google VP of Engineering (and the man in charge of Android) has already shared his skepticism, saying, “There is always a dream that you could write [a program] once and [have it] run anywhere and history has proven that that dream has not been fully realised and I am sceptical that it ever will be“. To put it another way, this is a pipe dream from carriers looking to loosen Apple’s stranglehold over mobile applications and there’s very little chance that it’s going to work.

The reasons Kincaid thinks the WAC won’t work out include:

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Are You Updating IE Today? You Should!

Around 1:00 PM EST today, Microsoft will release an emergency patch for all versions of Internet Explorer.  They’re issuing the patch today instead of on their usual timeline because of the recent security issues involving Google.  It seems that hackers were able to target a previously unknown bug in IE as part of their attack against several accounts with Google.  ZDNet quotes a spokesman from Microsoft saying:

(W)e will be releasing MS10-002  (on) January 21, 2010. We are planning to release the update as close to 10:00 a.m. PST as possible. This is a standard cumulative update, accelerated from our regularly scheduled February release, for Internet Explorer with an aggregate severity rating of Critical. It addresses the vulnerability related to recent attacks against Google and a small subset of corporations, as well as several other vulnerabilities. Once applied, customers are protected against the known attacks that have been widely publicized. We recommend that customers install the update as soon as it is available. For customers using automatic updates, this update will automatically be applied once it is released.”

If you run Internet Explorer (and statistics say that 62% of you do) run Microsoft Update a little after 10:00 AM PST and make sure you grab this update.  And if you run an IT department, you should consider deploying the patch to your users as soon as you can.

Google’s New Tool Helps Companies Deliver Better Web Experiences

Here’s a holiday gift for those of you who know what the phrase, “above the fold” means —

Mashable’s Ben Parr recently wrote a piece about several Google Tools, including one new one that will be supremely useful to web designers and developers.

We already know that Google is obsessed with their own speed and efficiency, but the search giant is also trying to make everybody else faster on the web as well. Google Site Performance, for example, provides tips from Google on how to speed up your website, while Speed Tracer increases the efficiency of web apps by tracking performance.

The company is once again tackling the realm of website efficiency with a new tool that doesn’t track site speed or app performance, but the size of the browser window. The app, Google Browser Size, aims to help website owners solve one of the most fundamental problems in web design: How should I lay out and design my website for higher engagement and conversions?

Want to see Google Browser Size in action?  Check below to see how we did when re-designing the uTest home page.

Google Browser Size

This is a very helpful tool (as well as quick, simple and free).  Try it out on your own site today, and I’d highly recommend it for anyone who’s launching or re-launching a site.

You’re a Professional Mobile Tester (you just don’t know it yet)

When our Guest Blogger series began a few months back, you might recall that it was Bernard Lelchuck who got things started. For those who are new to uTest, Bernard has been one of our top testers from the get-go, and you can read more about his background and uTest experience by checking out his Tester Spotlight. In his latest post, he explains how he got into the lucrative field of mobile app testing – and how all testers can (and should) do the same. Enjoy!

If you haven’t noticed, the use of mobile applications has skyrocketed over the past few years. And while most mobile companies are lagging behind Apple’s success, the market itself has nevertheless become a multi-billion dollar endeavor. As one might expect, this success has prompted competitors of all sorts to rush and open their own mobile application stores. They naturally seek greater market share, and who could blame them?

According to a recent report published on the Wireless Expertise website, “the global mobile app market – including games – will be worth $4.66 billion in 2009, rising to $16.60 billion, in 2013.”

This of course would help explain the sudden entrance of Microsoft, Google, Research in Motion (RIM) and Palm, along with mobile vendors like Verizon and AT&T into the mobile market. As I like to say, they are trying to catch the fast-riding “Mobile App Train.”

And what a ride it’s been! Since the 1st gen iPhone was released in June of 2007, almost every leading mobile vendor has changed their products to look, feel and be as cool as the iPhone (with varying degrees of success).

Which brings me to mobile testing. But before I discuss the testing implications of this iPhone mimicking trend, I’d like to address how I got into mobile testing in the first place.  It’s my hope that this story will encourage other testers to consider furthering their careers by hopping on board the Mobile App Train.

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Go Parallel with Google’s Go

I remember when gopher on the Internet meant something else entirely.

Two days ago, Google announced the development of a new programming language called “Go“.  Outwardly, Go is similar to other programming languages in the C family, but don’t let that fool you.  Go is a brand new language written entirely from scratch and includes sophisticated built-in support for concurrent programming.

With the development of easy parallel programming tools, Google may now be competing with Apple in yet another technology market.  If you recall, Apple introduced Grand Central Dispatch with the release of their Snow Leopard operating system a few months ago.  While GCD is still very new, it generated a lot of excitement for how easy it made developing multi-threaded applications.

Go is also creating a lot of excitement, but it’s still very raw and requires a lot more development to be ready for production programming.  Still, developers should be excited to see two new technologies that will help them do more with concurrent programming.

However, despite Go and GCD’s ease of use, the hard part remains: developing a concurrent application first requires identifying parallel components that can be run independently.  In many ways, once a programmer overcomes that hurdle, regular old Pthreads don’t seem so hard.

uTest CEO Presents at Google Test Automation Conference (GTAC)

As promised, Google has made the slides and video presentations from GTAC 2009 (Google Test Automation Conference) available on the GTAC website and on YouTube. This year’s GTAC was a huge success! The theme was “Testing for the Web,” and now anyone can watch these leading thinkers discuss test automation strategies, tools, and the challenges desktop and mobile environments present when creating web apps.

Doron was among a select group of speakers chosen to present at GTAC, including Microsoft, smartFOCUS Digital, Sauce Labs and of course Google, where he examined the complimentary role a community of professional testers plays in mobile testing.

Check out Doron’s presentation below! All other presentations can now be seen on YouTube.

Mobile Innovation Flies “Under the Radar” Nov 19th

Under the RadarSpeaking of the mobile app market blowing up, I wanted to give you a heads up regarding a great mobile event: Under the Radar on 11/19 in Mountain View, CA.

From global carriers and handset manufacturers to media companies, branding partners, press and VCs — anyone who’s anyone leveraging new mobile tech and interested in catching a glimpse of the 2010 mobile marketplace should attend.

Featuring the most cutting-edge mobile startups from around the globe, Under the Radar will no doubt be another hit.

In the past 3 years, presenters at Under the Radar have gone on to raise over $1.36 Billion! Other knock-your-socks-off stats from the show:

  • 49% have gone on to raise funding or be acquired
  • 14% have been acquired by companies such as Google, eBay, Microsoft, Yahoo and Cisco
  • $14 Million average has been raised by presenting companies.

An Under the Radar grad ourselves, we highly recommend it!