Challenges facing mobile app usability testing

by admin on June 14, 2012

Challenges facing mobile app usability testing

 
Traditional usability testing, especially for technology related products and services, has mostly been done in laboratory settings because of convenience, resource availability, ease of data collection, and close monitoring of results. Some of the different types of usability testing are the use of focus groups, think aloud protocol, inspection evaluation, and cognitive walkthroughs. The goal of any usability test is to test results using a simulated natural environment where the technology would be used. These conditions may be re-created by setting up a lab as a living room, or by providing an isolated area where users can focus on a task and be observed in their “natural” environment. Field testing is another option where the user is observed in their natural habitat where he/she would actually be using the technology product or service.

But how do you simulate conditions for a mobile app user who may be using the device anywhere and everywhere? Do we take a snapshot of conditions and extrapolate it to other environments, or do we average the responses of multiple users? Obviously, using either option would introduce an error term (in statistical parlance) because of poor ecological validity of such scenarios. We use mobile devices at home, in the office, while walking, exercising, in the car etc. Each of these conditions provides a unique challenge because no two environments may be the same in terms of factors which include (but are not limited to) motion, temperature, noise, weather, and other activities that the user may be performing when using the mobile device.

Effective usability testing is paramount to a mobile app’s success. Most app developers are working on a limited budget and may not have the resources to conduct a full-fledged usability evaluation under varying conditions. For limited tests, the goal should be to identify the same problems and issues that one would encounter with a large focus group representative of the entire population which would be using the mobile app.

Do you see other factors that may affect mobile app usability testing? Are you an app developer or a usability professional involved with determining efficacy of mobile apps? What are some of the critical issues that you find while developing/testing apps? I look forward to your comments.

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