In this guide, you’ll learn the basics of what it means to test mobile applications. We’ll talk about why mobile testing is important, key types of mobile testing, as well as considerations and best practices to keep in mind.
What is Mobile Application Testing?
Mobile testing is the process by which applications for modern mobile devices are tested for functionality, usability, performance and much more.
Note: This includes testing for native mobile apps as well as for responsive web or hybrid apps. We’ll talk more about the differences between these types of mobile applications below.
Mobile application testing can be automated or manual, and helps you ensure that the application you’re delivering to users meets all business requirements as well as user expectations.
Why is Mobile Testing Important?
Mobile internet usage continues to rise even as desktop/laptop internet usage is declining, a trend that has continued unabated for years. As more and more users spend an increasing amount of their time on mobile devices, it’s critical to provide a good experience on your mobile apps.
If you’re not testing the mobile experience your users are receiving, then you can’t know how well your application serves a large and growing portion of your users. Failing to understand this leads to dreaded one-star app reviews and negative feedback on social media.
Mobile app testing ensures your mobile experience is strong, no matter what kind of app you’re using or what platform it is developed for.
Key Considerations of Mobile Testing
As you consider your mobile testing strategy, there are a number of things that are important to keep in mind in order to plan and execute an optimal approach.
Types of Mobile Apps
There are three general categories of mobile applications that you may need to test today:
- Native Apps are designed specifically for a particular mobile platform (today this typically means either Android or iOS) and are generally downloaded and installed via an app store like Apple’s App Store or Google’s Play Store. This includes both pure native apps built on Java/Kotlin for Android or Objective-C/Swift for iOS, as well as cross-platform native applications built with frameworks like ReactNative, Flutter and NativeScript.
- Responsive Web Apps are designed to be accessed on a mobile browser. Web apps can be either a responsive version of a website or a progressive web app (PWA), which adds additional mobile-friendly features.
- Hybrid Apps are designed as a compromise between native and web apps. Hybrid apps can be installed via app stores just like native apps and may have some native functionality, but at least partially rely on operating essentially as web apps wrapped in a native shell.
Differences between Mobile and Web Testing
There are additional complexities that you need to consider when testing mobile applications, even if you are testing a web app. Mobile users will interact with your app on a large variety of operating systems and devices (Android in particular has numerous operating system versions and devices in wide circulation), with any number of standard resolutions and device-specific functionalities.
Even beyond the unique devices themselves, mobile users find themselves in different situations than desktop/laptop web users that need to be accounted for in testing. This includes signal strength, battery life, even contrast and brightness as the environment frequently changes.
Ensuring broad test coverage across even just the most common scenarios can be a complex challenge.
Key Types of Mobile Testing
There are a lot of different and important ways to test your mobile application. Here are some of the most common.
Functional testing is necessary to ensure the basic functions are performing as expected. It provides the appropriate input and verifies the output. It focuses on things like checking standard functionalities and error conditions, along with basic usability.
Usability testing, or user experience testing, goes further than functional testing in evaluating ease of use and intuitiveness. It focuses on trying to simulate the real experience of a customer using the app to find places where they might get stuck or struggle to utilize the application as intended, or just generally have a poor experience.
Compatibility, performance, accessibility and load testing are other common types of mobile tests to consider.
Manual Testing vs Automated Testing for Mobile
Manual testing is testing done solely by a human, who independently tests the app and methodically searches for issues that a user might encounter and logs them. Automated testing takes certain tasks out of the hands of humans and places them into an automation tool, freeing up human testers for other tasks.
Both types of testing have their advantages. Manual testing can take advantage of human intuitiveness to uncover unexpected errors, but can also be extremely time-consuming. Automated testing saves much of this time and is particularly effective on repetitive tests, but can miss less obvious cases that manual testing might catch.
Whether you use one method or a hybrid approach in your testing will depend on the requirements of your application.
Top Open Source Tools for Mobile Test Automation
There are a number of popular and open source tools and frameworks for testing your mobile apps. A few of the most common include:
- Espresso – Android-specific and geared towards developers (recommended by Google).
- XCUITest – iOS specific and geared towards developers (recommended by Apple).
- Appium – Cross-platform and easy to use, with strong community support.
- Calabash – Cross-platform with support for Cucumber, Xamarin-based and also easy to use.
For more, you can see a comparison of Appium vs Espresso vs XCUITest here.
Automated Visual Testing for Mobile
Another type of testing to keep in mind is automated visual testing. Traditional testing experiences rely on validating against code, but this can result in flaky tests in some situations, particularly in complex mobile environments. Visual testing works by comparing visual screenshots instead.
Visual testing can be powerful on mobile applications. While the traditional pixel-to-pixel approach can still be quite flaky and prone to false-positives, advances in visual AI – trained against billions of images – make automated visual testing today increasingly accurate.
You can read more about the benefits of visual testing for mobile apps and see a quick example here.
Mobile testing can be a complex challenge due to the wide variety of hardware and software variations in common usage today. However, as mobile internet use continues to soar, the quality of your mobile applications is more critical than ever. Understanding the types of tests you need to run, and then executing them with the tools that will make you most effective, will ensure you can deliver your mobile apps in less time and with a superior user experience.
Keep Reading: Top Educational Resources about Mobile Testing
- Stop Testing (Only) The Functionality of Your Mobile Apps! [webinar recap/replay]
- Solving The 4 Major Challenges of Testing Native Apps [webinar recap/replay]
- Automated Exploratory Testing: Automation of Native Mobile Applications [webinar recap/replay]
- Automated Visual Testing with Appium [free course]
- Android Test Automation with Espresso [free course]
- Introduction to iOS Test Automation with XCUITest [free course]