can't hug every cat and it's hard to test apps on every phone, too. "One of the major challenges for [mobile] platform vendors, carriers, and handset manufacturers is how to make sure the best apps are available on their products," writes mobile developer Jason Grigsby, co-founder of a new nonprofit organization called Mobile Portland.You
"One of the biggest challenges for mobile developers and businesses is getting access to devices for testing. Not even the largest of companies can afford to purchase all of the possible devices on which their software or services may run on." Mobile Portland hopes to find a solution in the place where those two challenges come together and is building what it believes will be the first community mobile device testing lab in the United States. It's a very ambitious project.
Grigsby writes that the lab will offer hundreds of different mobile devices that developers can use to test out how their apps behave on each. Developers of location-based apps will be able to check the devices out and use them around the city.
"When we set out to create a device testing lab, I thought it would go faster than it has," Grigsby wrote about the project last night, upon discussing the organization's relationship with nonprofit tax status. Mobile Portland has been working with city leaders on the project and, living in Portland myself, I've been excited to hear rumors of the lab for months. The lab will live inside the building of Urban Airship, a fast-growing mobile data services provider best known for offering push-notifications as a service.
The project will no doubt be far more complex than just putting hundreds of phones in a room; mobile software testing software is already a thriving field and successfully testing across different devices is a tough moving target.
It's not just about different screen size and buttons. It's also about benchmarking, performance optimization and other considerations. Leading players throughout the mobile app ecosystem agree that developer education concerning app optimization, helping developers learn how to not be lazy in building their apps, will be an essential factor in helping the whole mobile world move forward and make more effective use of new platforms, from HTML5 and its local storage to application-enabled mobile carrier networks.
From device performance to interface with networks to end-user usability, the things that could be tested are many. There are many emulators on the market (and there's DeviceAnywhere, a "non-simulated" remote testing technology), but nothing can beat a real device in the hand. "Long-term mobile usability practitioners know that people interact differently with a device in their hand than with the same web site with the same pixel count on a computer screen," veteran mobile designer Barbara Ballard once wrote.
The prospect of gathering, paying for, maintaining, updating and co-ordinating testing experiences for hundreds of mobile devices is daunting. To be honest, I think the office space being allocated to the project will quickly become far too small. It sounds like something mobile developers are likely to travel from far and wide to experience, if it can successfully be built. If developers can build better apps across more devices, then consumers will have all the more choice in choosing which phones to buy and phone makers will have to compete all the more to differentiate themselves. An effective testing environment could be meaningfully disruptive. It could also be awesome.