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How to Conduct Usability and User Tests on Mobile Devices

February 10th, 2014

For many years Agencies, Product Managers, Marketers, Usability professionals and Web Development firms have been able to quickly and inexpensively user test their prototypes and production sites by recording target Personas interacting remotely from their home or office.

This has allowed an insightful method of iteratively tweaking the design and functionality of websites and digital applications to enhance usability and user experience.

The explosive adoption and usage of Mobile devices in recent years has created a need for an easy way to perform usability testing of Apps on native mobile devices, in particular the user experience of unreleased Apps prior to launching them on Google Play or the Apple Store.

Conducting mobile testing | mobile user experience

The problem?

For excellent security reasons Google and Apple do not allow usability test recording apps to work in the background of another App.

Conducting mobile testing | mobile user experience

In response, the players in the remote usability and user testing field have adopted a number of different approaches:

  1. Modify the code to be tested by inserting a purpose built SDK. The downside is that many Agencies and Corporate Departments are not keen to ask their IT teams to modify their prototype Apps, and the IT and Product Management teams may have difficulty coordinating these types of changes in a time efficient manner.

    Conducting mobile testing | mobile user experience
  2. Root the device. Allowing access to the mobile OS administrative commands and functions can resolve the problem but it comes at a great cost and complexity for the user invited to participate in the usability test; elimination of warranties, destruction of data, complex to carry out, etc.

    Conducting mobile testing | mobile user experience
  3. Use specially mounted high definition cameras for remote usability and user experience tests. This hardware solution has the advantage of enabling an excellent view of the participant’s interaction with the mobile device (although not necessarily of the participant), however, its hardware based approach means that from an economical and a logistical viewpoint it can only be used by leveraging a small panel of professional or semi-professional testers interacting from their home or work or special lab for the purposes of the usability test.

    Conducting mobile testing | mobile user experience Although the kind of heuristic insights provided by professional usability testers can be valuable, many companies need usability and user experience feedback from real prospects and customers that fit their target demographic and contextual Persona and profile.
  4. Use a software solution that continuously "projects" a video of the native mobile device screen onto a nearby computer screen while simultaneously recording this computer screen (with the superimposed mobile device screen), as well as the participants themselves through their webcam.

    This "software" based solution means that you can do mobile app prototype usability and user testing with your exact target Persona, prospect and customer, wherever they are in the world, and in whatever user experience context you need them to be.

    Conducting mobile testing | mobile user experience

    Although this solution does not record the finger movements, this limitation can be overcome by having the device in a Display OverlayView mode, such that the gestures leave a recordable trace on the screen as the participant interacts with it during the mobile app usability and user experience test.

    Conducting mobile testing | mobile user experience

Bottom Line?

The last two are the least intrusive methods from the viewpoint of avoiding the need for App modification and/or usability test participant rooting of their devices.

The hardware user testing approach is very suitable when what is needed is a small panel of professional or semi professional usability testers providing heuristic type feedback.

The software user testing approach is most suitable when specific participant demographic profiles and contextual situations are required.

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