Usability Testing for Mobile Apps: One Step Closer, How Many Left?

Close-up of woman textingAs people spend more and more time on phones and tablets (more than on their computers, since last year) the importance of having a user-friendly mobile presence only increases. Ecommerce sites have seen their traffic migrate to mobile devices in droves, and while that means more convenient and flexible ways for customers to shop, it also means new demands on businesses. Mobile shoppers are more impulsive, more picky, more distracted, more non-committal; studies show that two-thirds will abandon a purchase if the shopping experience is not mobile-friendly.

Mobile consumers don’t want to feel like they’re getting your cold leftovers. They won’t stick around and deal with a clunky made-for-desktop interface, they won’t wade through tons of tiny text, and they certainly won’t enter their card information if your mobile app doesn’t inspire trust and confidence. And yet, most businesses aren’t doing near enough to tailor their mobile presence to these increasingly important users.

Part of the reason is that it’s so hard to get an accurate sense of what users want on mobile. The constraints of the medium make it impossible to do the same kind of usability testing as on desktop sites, because the navigation style and input methods are so utterly different; the user’s hand replaces the cursor, swipes swap with scrolls, pop-up keyboards hover over on-screen content. Some have tried to record the user experience with external cameras that perch over the device, but these solutions are not only costly and logistically difficult to coordinate, they are relatively ineffective: the screen will always be at least partially obscured by the user’s own hand (unless he or she is doing nothing).

Currently, the only solution to mobile usability testing that doesn’t rely on external devices is the new mobile app released by TryMyUI, which allows remote mobile testers to record screencap video from their device as they test another app. The app remembers users’ taps and swipes and superimposes them on the final test video with transparent markers and arrows so the test owner can clearly see both the full screen and testers’ interactions with it. The app also taps into the device’s microphone to capture users’ voices, so test owners can hear their reactions, complaints, and insights; and the tester’s face can be recorded using the front camera (an opt-in arrangement), with footage displaying in the bottom corner of the final recording.

A more interesting innovation is the way TryMyUI is getting around iOS’s special prohibition on apps recording or collecting information on other apps: the company is using an SDK that can be inserted into the code of another app, adding all the same video, audio, and interaction recording functionalities of TryMyUI Mobile into that app. Essentially, the solution is imported into the app that is to be tested, avoiding the problem entirely.

The app is still in beta, though, and TryMyUI has yet to tackle the issue of how to prompt the user with task instructions during the test without interrupting the user flow or dominating screen real estate. As of now the app is available for free download in Android and iOS app stores, and testing is performed with task guidance sent separately to the users. An answer to this problem, so integrally entwined with the ever-troublesome issue of small screen space, has proven elusive thus far. TryMyUI has certainly made a significant step forward in the field of mobile usability, but that particular hydra has many more challenges to offer.

Tim Rotolo is a UX Architect at TryMyUI, a website usability testing service. You can follow TryMyUI on Twitter @trymyui.

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