Today, the web is everywhere and additional devices are continuously being released. Each of these mobile devices has a unique interaction pattern and physical form factors that can lead to design and development challenges. By testing your software early and often with actual devices, you'll be more successful in developing device-agnostic experiences across them all. As designers, we're responsible for familiarizing ourselves with the multitude of devices our software may experienced on by actual users and working towards optimizing each of these experiences. It's time to put down your iPhone and get out of your comfort zone.
Emulators vs Real Devices
While emulators can be useful, and certainly better than no testing at all, they tend to add a layer of abstraction from the experience. The user's overall experience includes so much more than a visual UI layer, projected into an iPhone shape on your screen. It includes the physical interaction with the device, the native user interface and the operating system's interaction patterns.
Testing software on as many devices as you can get your hands on will give you the clearest picture of how users are actually interacting with our software in the wild. In my experience, the most significant benefit of testing on real devices is experiencing their unique physical characteristics. This can include:
- Input methods. Touch, keypad, trackball, keyboard, etc.
- Weight, size and other form factors. How do users hold each device? One hand, two? Does it have a full keyboard available? Is the touch screen responsive enough for fine details?
- Device capabilities. Touch, GPS, accelerometer, etc. How can we add value to the experience with the devices native strengths?
Test Across a Spectrum of Devices
As we all know, it has becoming increasingly impractical to test across every mobile device on the market. Therefore, you must be smart in choosing devices to cover the broadest spectrum of user devices possible. Factors influencing your device choices should include:
- Operating system
- Screen size, resolution and ppi
- Input methods (touch, QWERTY keypad, etc)
- Market Share
Mobile Operating System Market Shares
Mobile Browser Use
It is important to differentiate between mobile market share and actual browser usage. The numbers between these two can be significantly different. If you have access to existing analytics, I'd recommend focusing your testing on the project's highest traffic devices, or more broadly, their mobile operating systems. Here are some interesting facts surrounding mobile browser usage:
- On non-cellular networks, the iPhone and iPod Touch account for 24% of mobile browser activity while Android devices account for 18%. source
- On cellular networks, the iPhone and iPod Touch account for 28% of mobile browser activity while Android devices account for 38%. source
- On non-cellular networks, Mobile Safari accounts for 67% of mobile browser activity. iPad accounts for 43% of that. Android WebKit’s share is 18%. On Cellular networks, Mobile Safari accounts for 35% of mobile browsing, and only 7% of that comes from iPads. Android WebKit’s share is 38%, and less than 1% of that comes from tablets. source
- 14.5% of iOS users currently surf the web on a platform other than the stock Safari browser. Most of this traffic doesn’t come from dedicated third-party browsers but from embedded Web UIViews inside native apps. source
- Mobile traffic from BlackBerry devices plummeted 25% between September 2011 and July 2012. RIM’s smartphones and PlayBook tablet combined to account for as much as 5% of all mobile usage in the U.S. late last year but as of last month, that figure sank to just over 1%. source
- The number of mobile phone users that use the Opera Mini browser has topped 200 million, which is up 47% from last year. Feature phones account for 92% of those users. 36 countries more than doubled their Opera Mini user bases in one year. source