Monday, January 25, 2010

4 Point Plan for Testing Mobile Websites

When building a website targeted for mobile platforms, having a good testing strategy is one of the keys to ensuring end-user satisfaction. The mobile context is different than desktop. With so many different devices with varying capabilities it can be challenging to develop functionality that works well on all. Here's a 4 point strategy to use when determining how to test your mobile website:

1. Define testing scope
There are many variables at hand when considering the mobile context - device capabilities, operating system, propietary browsers, carrier network performance - it's difficult to test every aspect thoroughly. Mobile testing is about focusing your efforts. Hone in on your intended audience, do your homework on devices the majority of your end-user base will be using. Build a testing plan around your target audience's device hardware, operating system, browser, and network. Utilize alternatives to native device testing to cover other user populations (i.e. mobile test emulators, see below).

2. Test functionality first on a desktop
Get the functionality working first then focus on cross device, cross operating system compatibility. Dealing with all the possible issues at once - basic functionality, OS and browser specific graphic design issues - can be time consuming. Keeping your testing focused on functionality first then look and feel and navigation will avoid wasted energy.

3. Utilize mobile emulators

Once the functionality works as expected, test the user experience on emulators. Emulators exist to test specific operating systems, browsers, and devices. If you aren't familiar, emulators run on your desktop and emulate the mobile OS and mobile browser environment. Here are a few of the most popular:

It's not always a slam dunk installing these so be sure to allocate time for installing all required components and configuration.

The W3C also has a great resource for validating the mobile friendliness of a website. As mentioned in my previous blog - 3 C's in Moble Website Design - The World Wide Web Consortium (W3C) is founded on the principles that the web should be accessible to all and on as many devices as possible. To realize this, the W3C body of knowledge has developed technical standards and best practices for the development, design, and content authoring. Simply enter your website URL into the W3C MobileOK checker and the checker validates your site against the mobile best practices as defined by the W3C.

4. Test on native devices
Finally, execute testing on the native devices, operating systems, and browsers outlined in your testing plan. At this point all functionality issues should be worked out and your testing is focused on user experience and useability on specific devices.

The basic principles of desktop application testing apply to the mobile web context as well. A good plan and focused execution will help reduce post-production issues and eliviate end-user frustration.

What are you doing to test your mobile websites? Comments and discussion welcome!