Mobile apps have proven that they’re the most user friendly and convenient mechanism of digital interaction. We’ve moved from the time of the smartphone era’s inception in 2007 and beyond, to a phase where every startup, enterprise, organization, businessman, celebrity, and even small scale ventures have their own applications, for the users to experience. Any mobile operating system’s application marketplace has hundreds of thousands of free and premium apps for users to download and enjoy. However, only a few of them enjoy super-normal success in terms of number of downloads, number of active users, user ratings, and of course, rewards and recognition within the niche.
What Separates the Ordinary and Unremarkable App from the Great One?
Well, there’s no one clear answer to this question. What’s known, however, is that users are highly selective with mobile apps, and only trust and continue the ones that offer hassle free, super convenient, quick, and value adding experiences. A structured way to analyze an app’s appeal to potential end users is via evaluating its User Interface (UI) and User Experience (UX).
Now, UI is all about the human machine interface, encompassing the visual presentation of the app content, the look, and feel of the design components. UX, on the other hand, takes a larger perspective, and is the sum total of all tasks performed to make the application and user interaction more intuitive, value adding, and pleasing for the end user.
What Makes UX Testing So Critical For the Success of A Mobile App?
UX is a critical element of any app. It logically follows that UX testing is a critical part of the whole development cycle, to ensure optimal utility and experience value. Most UX mistakes are a result of lack of knowledge or diligence or both during the UX testing phase. Gesture input controls, screen specific attributes, device compatibility constraints, device functions, range of sensors – all these factors make every mobile app user experience different from the other. Your mobile app testing can’t afford to leave these elements from the scope of testing.
Some of the questions that your mobile app UX testing effort should be able to address are:-
- Does the UX ensure there is no confusion in the mind of the user?
- Is the look and feel in sync with the desired goal of each app screen?
- Which app features are the most important for the target audience?
- How consistently will this UX element perform across the range of devices and operating systems?
- How different is the UX from the desktop app version or the desktop website version?
- Does it have any content element that’s not necessary for the achievement of the goal from the screen?
Now that you understand the basics, let’s learn about the 5 things you need to keep in mind while testing mobile app UX.
1. Ensure Clutter Free, Focused, and Seamless UX
There’s no resource more previous than user attention, and you should make your claims on its sparingly with the app UX. A cluttered interface bombards the user with too much information for them to consume in a single view. Every line, button, image, text piece, or any content element you add without a specific role needs to be removed. UX design testing is all about being on the lookout for all these unnecessary elements which can be questioned and removed. Perfection of UX design is when you don’t have any other content element that you can take off the screen without disrupting the user’s ability to make sense of the screen.
Another thumb rule adopted by most mobile app UX designers and testers is – one action per screen. This UX design philosophy is all about creating a number of screens, with each screen addressing one complete action, and nothing more. This testing approach is suggested because:
- Users are able to understand their required actions clearly
- Users can learn the working of the app quicker
- The screens can be enhanced, consolidated, and eliminated in subsequent development iterations
A perfect example is the Uber app. The main screen is designed with the understanding that the user wants to book a cab. To enable this in a clutter free screen, Uber uses geo-location sensor to detect current location, and only requires the user to key in the drop point.
‘Seamlessness’ is another critical aspect of UX design testing for mobile apps. Because most applications are made to work on mobile phones, desktops, and tablets, it’s very important to understand the user expectations in terms of multi device access. This helps testers ensure that they have the right test cases to verify the shamelessness of the app’s functionality. For instance, when you add a song to an Apple Music playlist on your iPhone, you should be able to access it minutes later on your iPad’s Apple Music app. This is shamelessness of functionality.
2. Be wary of the limitations of screen recorders
Any testing team will vouch for the efficacy of screen recorders for app UX testing. Because of the unobtrusive nature of this medium, it’s among the most widely used testing mechanisms across the globe. However, there are inherent issues with screen recorders that can compromise the quality of the UX testing. Let’s understand a few of them.
- They don’t record the user’s gestures and hence, are not ideal for applications whose UX depends heavily on gesture inputs.
- The recording capabilities and duration supported by most screen recorders is often a limiting factor for comprehensive UX testing.
- Participants often resent the option of installing a recording app in their devices; in the least, their app interaction pattern is influenced by their knowledge of the ‘recording’.
- Integration of screen recording software with other UX testing software remains a great challenge for testing teams.
- Advanced UX testing software come with the option of including user comments and facial expressions, which help developers and testers analyze the effects of the UX design on the user. Screen recorders don’t offer this functionality.
Mobile testing environments with mounted camera and recording device are more potent and acceptable alternatives to screen recorders. The most significant advantage of these environments is that they capture the user’s gestures, facial expressions, and even verbal comments. Integrating such an environment with a testing tool is easy enough. UX testers can leverage the Do It Yourself style of these environments. If you’re working on implementing a mobile testing environment that makes use of auxiallry devices in a similar manner, here are some success factors to keep in mind.
- The testing environment should not cause any interference in the natural and intuitive use of the application.
- It must be able to accommodate different device sizes, allowing a wider range of participants.
- The camera mount must be flexible to accommodate user and device preferences.
- Without shifting the camera position, you should be able to test the app in landscape and portrait mode.
3. Test The App In Multiple Networks and Languages
A mobile application, most of the times, needs an Internet connection for its full functionality to be available. This makes testing in different kinds of data networks a critical aspect of mobile apps’ UX testing. When a customer is on the move, it’s commonplace that he/she will experience different data networks. Fast data networks such as Wi-Fi, LTE, and 3G differ from the slower EDGE and GPRS. The most important network based tests of UX involve the apps ability to handle connectivity at different speeds. Testers would do well to move around or use different data networks to make sure the app is able to handle the transition between fast and slow networks.
While testing out the UX of an app with global appeal, testers are faced with deep rooted concerns and issues around multi lingual capabilities of the application. For starters, testers need to know the target language set. Each language has different character sets, and number and nature of characters is drastically different. Aspects such as field lengths, placement of words, support for a script’s special characters make language testing a somewhat complicated affair for testers. The same content, when viewed in a different language, can show up in strange ways on the layout, and cause user dissatisfaction. All UI elements must be able to handle the different languages, and there must be a mechanism to switch to default (English) language, and an information message of language related error in the rare case the application finds itself without the capability to decode any specific inputs.
4. Understand User Expectations To Prepare A Contextualized And Targeted Test Plan
The biggest mobile UX challenges stem from high user expectations. End users are invariably more demanding from mobile apps when compared to mobile websites and mobile OS. This means that app developers and testers would do well to keep their end user demographics and profiles in mind. Factors like age, monthly income, gender, mobile use habits, geographical spread, etc. are key study variables.
By understanding the key audience profile, testers can channelize their efforts proportionally over the more critical aspects of the UX. This knowledge helps testers understand usage patterns and key user expectations. Consequently, the testing plan can be made more focussed for the target audience. Testing efforts can be significantly downsized, for instance, by identifying the number of most relevant devices where the app will be used. To get such info, you can leverage options such as customer interviews, use stats from mobile app stores, market research studies, target group studies, etc.
5. Wholesome Testing Within The Context of Existing Hardware and Software
Ever thought about the number of sensors in an ordinary smartphone? Let’s count them.
- Ambient light sensors
- Acceleration sensors
- Proximity sensors
- Magnetic sensors
- Gyroscope sensors
- Location sensors
- Pressure, humidity, and temperature sensors
- Touchless sensors
Now, you could have all kinds of combinations of these sensors being operational within an application. Thus, a mobile app UX tester needs to know about the sensors, their basics, and the spectrum of different issues and oddities that real life use cases could pose. Different sound environments, lighting conditions, vibrations, and screen orientations can cause unexpected results in the application.
Also, this is where testers begin to realize the importance of covering a wider range of mobile hardware for their UX testing efforts. For instance, an image sharing app can only be evaluated if it’s tested on phones with a varied range of camera hardware.
The phone battery also emerges as a critical aspect of wholesome UX testing. Study the impact of the application’s operations on phone heating and battery charge dissipation. See how abrupt usage patterns affect battery consumption.
Also, while we’re at the topic, make it a point to subject the app UX to the standby test. Can the mobile app handle itself in the standby mode? Look for UI glitches in the standby mode, and ascertain that the app returns to its last used view when you leave the standby mode.
Then, make sure you check the uninstall and install response of the application. Look to document the traces of the application when it’s uninstalled, to help the relevant teams prepare comprehensive usage terms documentation at a later stage.
Lastly, see how the app performs when the phone is also displaying notifications from several other applications. For instance, check if notifications cause any halt in the ongoing operation with the application.
As more and more web powered experiences move to the application format, the focus on diligence and effectiveness of mobile app UX testing is at an all time high. This guide attempts to capture several UX testing best practices and organize them under different headings, to enable ease of understanding for readers. Trust these best practices to help you identify the most concealed and latest issues with the UX, ultimately paving the way for better UX, always.