Evolve Your Mobile Usability Testing Methods

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Summary:
Today’s mobile behaviors and expectations have radically changed, a result of the continuous evolution of mobile technology and the myriad new ways users can now interact with mobile. Because of this advancement in technology and user behavior, testing organizations must also advance their mobile testing solutions to ensure they continue to deliver the most intuitive, up-to-date experience possible.

Strange as it may sound, mobile testing is one key area where today’s mobile enterprises continue to underperform. This is primarily due to testers being forced to conduct the bare minimum or too-rudimentary levels of testing, most often due to a lack of testing resources, lack of experience, or the absence of a solid mobile testing strategy and plan.

The mobile testing practices, methods, and tools most testing organizations use today are insufficient. It is critical for companies to pursue a more rigorous testing strategy.

One of the main testing methods we should devote more time to is usability testing. Though it’s often overlooked, this is actually the most important mobile testing area organizations need to pay much greater attention to.

I’ve worked with many companies over the past decade across all types of industries, and I found that most testing organizations utilize the standard usability testing methods: focus groups and app monitoring, along with traditional quantitative analytics. While these may have formerly reflected testing best practices, today’s mobile behaviors and expectations have radically changed, a result of the continuous evolution of mobile technology and the myriad new ways users can now interact with mobile. Because of this advancement in technology and user behavior, testing organizations must also advance their mobile testing solutions to ensure they continue to deliver the most intuitive, up-to-date experience possible.

As my team and I have helped clients deliver game-changing mobile solutions and great user experiences, we have noted which traditional usability testing methods are no longer sufficient.

First off, the golden rule of testing still holds true: Real people on real devices is still the best way to test. However, our experience has revealed a problem. Time and time again, when you ask someone to test a mobile app, they won’t use the app the same way that your target users would. When assigned the task of testing an app, the tester’s mindset and behavior changes, deviating significantly from that of the average user. This includes the length of time spent on each screen, the process flow steps they follow, and even the gestures they use to navigate the app. So, from a technical perspective, it’s imperative that you realize your mobile app will likely yield different results in a controlled test than when it’s being used under normal user conditions in the typical work environment. 

Another problem: If your app isn’t intuitive and easy to use, mobile users simply won’t use it. They’ll uninstall or just abandon the app. Speaking from personal experience, I have deleted many apps within minutes of downloading them because the app would freeze when trying to perform the main function I wanted to use it for, or the UI was so cluttered that every time I tried to tap or select the function I wanted, I’d end up hitting another function because the buttons or text links were too close to each other.

So, what’s today’s mobile enterprise to do? One way organizations are going above and beyond with their usability testing methods is in the use of new qualitative analytics tools that track and produce heat maps based on where the user touches. These tools aggregate all gesture data—taps, swipes, pinches, etc.—used to interact with the app. User interactions are captured and presented visually as a transparent heat map layer placed atop the mobile app itself. This enables testers to visualize exactly where and how users have interacted with the mobile app. 

Frequency of interaction is depicted using a gradient color scheme, with blue depicting the least frequent interactions and red representing the highest area of interactions. Below are examples of touch heat maps from Appsee and HeatData.

Touch heat map over a weather app, by AppseeTouch heat map over a shopping app, by HeatData

The main goal of any mobile solution should be to make it intuitive and easy to use. That said, one key area organizations need to pay more attention to when performing usability testing is the unresponsive gesture: the moment a mobile user interacts with your app but their gesture receives no response.

Many things could cause this. Maybe the screen is greasy, the app has a bug, or the user is trying to swipe when a tap is required. The point is unresponsive gestures should not be ignored, because they represent another source of user frustration and another reason users might delete your mobile app (and post poor reviews in app stores or via social media).

Another reason to move beyond typical usability testing methods and to incorporate a tool like touch heat maps in order to track mobile interactions is the many different form factors mobile devices use today, such as watches, phones, and tablets. Leveraging these new usability testing methods will help developers identify whether mobile app elements appear off-screen or if different form factors result in poor UI experiences.

As a mobile strategist, I see more and more companies implementing mobile application development platform solutions that enable them to deploy a single code base to multiple platforms and devices (native, hybrid, and web). While this is becoming more of the norm in mobile app development and is an arguably sound strategy, deploying to different platforms and devices creates additional complexities when it comes to mobile testing, especially usability testing.

I recently worked with a client that has hundreds of employees who work out in the field and use different types of mobile devices, including ruggedized tablets and smartphones. Some of the employees are required to wear protective gear or clothing to perform their jobs, so when helping them test their mobile apps, it was critical that we understood the actual environments and ways each user was going to be using these devices and mobile solutions. We tried to simulate the same use cases and environments, especially those that were unusual, such as operating the device while wearing protective gloves.

After a decade of mobile app development advancements and the continuous evolution of mobile technology, the one thing we know for sure is that mobile user expectations and behaviors will also continue to evolve.

To ensure your users have great experiences with your mobile solutions, you need a well-defined mobile testing strategy that is reviewed regularly and incorporates testing methods and tools that help you go above and beyond to ensure your app is well received—and used again and again.

User Comments

1 comment
Ram Gunta's picture

Well said...simple..yet informative.

September 3, 2018 - 9:26am

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