Overcoming platform fragmentation

As of 2015, there are over 24,000 different Android devices in circulation today. That’s a staggering number that keeps developers up at night and rocks the testing world at its foundations.

Apple, on the other hand, has a much lower level of device diversity, but estimates show that approximately 40% of iPhone users are running an outdated OS version. Platform fragmentation has always been a serious issue that continues to grow as more and more big players join the mobile marketplace.

Having a digital presence

There are very few companies nowadays that can get by without a digital presence. Be it a small business or an international enterprise, having at the very least a functioning website is an absolute must. At the same time, mobile apps are thrown into an oversaturated marketplace with some of the fiercest competition around. A single flaw in an app is often the difference between success and failure.

According to StatCounter Global Stats, as of October 2016 the number of users browsing the internet on mobile devices exceeded desktop usage. In addition, as Apptentative discovered, an app’s rating not only dictates how successful the app is but with statistics such as: “only 15% of users consider downloading a 2-star app”, it’s more important than ever before to ensure a high level of quality. This all proves that a key factor to the success of a website or app is providing a high quality, uniform experience to end users across all manner of devices.

This is where testing, the unsung hero of the development process, shines. Incorporating extensive and accurate testing methods over a wide range of devices has become an integral part of the development process and is now an absolute must. However, it’s impossible for most internal teams to even access the immense amount of smartphones and tablets needed to overcome the challenge of platform fragmentation. To tackle this problem, there are now plenty of companies offering solutions such as test automation and device testing labs to address the issue of large scale device access for testing.

How a website or app functions in a lab environment

However, there’s often a discrepancy on how a website or app functions in a lab environment versus the real world. This precise issue has led Testbirds to create a new solution known as the Global Real Device Network (GRDN). It functions much like a cloud-based device testing lab but instead of providing access to thousands of smartphones and tablets in a lab environment, it grants access to real devices in end users’ pockets for remote manual and automated testing. Georg Hansbauer, Co-Founder and CTO at Testbirds, goes into detail on the motivation behind the creation of the GRDN:

“We want to make sure that our clients are provided with the best possible test approaches available. By developing the Global Real Device Network, we’re adding a new chapter to what’s possible within the realm of mobile software testing. It finally allows companies and organisations to remotely obtain the most realistic test results possible on every GRDN-connected device. We’re starting with Android smartphones and tablets located anywhere in the world.”

How it works is quite simple. Testbirds has a crowd of over 200,000 end users located in 193 countries with more than 450,000 devices at hand who perform a number of different usability and functionality testing methods for all manner of clients across the globe. With GRDN, the company is motivating all their crowdtesters to also become device contributors by granting clients access to their personal smartphones and tablets through the network. This has created the world’s largest network of real devices for testing.

Real devices for testing

But why would a person want to grant companies access to their personal smartphones and tablets? Pascal Saugy, Crowdtester and Device Contributor at Testbirds, explains:

“I’ve been a crowdtester at Testbirds since July 2012 when I found a flyer of theirs at my university, the Karlsruhe Institute of Technology. I was instantly interested. I like to find bugs and test new websites. I’m motivated by the idea that I can do something to help website and app users to have less trouble and more pleasure while shopping, playing, etc. And as a bonus, I even get paid. The Global Real Device Network is an easy to use, modern solution that allows clients to perform manual and automated testing on hundreds of devices simultaneously. I have several older devices that I don’t use every day. With this new solution I can earn some extra pocket money just by granting access to them.”

The process is handled entirely through the companies own platform, software and app. Pascal Saugy goes into further detail on his experience in becoming a contributor to the Global Real Device Network:

“I was surprised at how easy the setup of the software is as well. All I had to do was install one software package on my PC and an app on my mobile device. Even though there are some bugs in the current beta version, I’m sure that every untrained user will be able to understand and use the software and app to become a part of the network as a device contributor. On top of that, testers can decide which applications and for how long clients can access their devices for testing purposes.”

The world of crowdsourcing

The relationship between a service provider and its client is always a delicate one when it comes to safety – especially in the IT industry. Similarly, the world of crowdsourcing adds an additional aspect to consider when it comes to safety: An entirely new form of labour. With GRDN providing companies access to the devices in their end user’s pockets, security for all parties involved is an absolute imperative. For this reason, there are a number of security measures put in place:

  • A secure IPSec VPN throughout the testing process.
  • Testers choose the level of permission clients have to their devices on an individual basis, for example by limiting access to the contact section or location services.
  • Testers also decide at what times and for how long their devices are available for testing purposes.
  • All servers are hosted in Germany ensuring some of the highest standards in data security.

Testbirds has already found clients who are intrigued by the potential of this new solution. Andy Kaminski, Head of Mobile at Rebtel, states:

“Device testing is integral to our mobile QA process at Rebtel. We’ve tried many cloud device testing platforms and none can provide the functionality we need. The GRDN promises to meet our needs and then some with the globally distributed nature of the network representing real users much better than a single-located device farm.”

The Global Real Device Network will be showcased at the Mobile World Congress from the 27th of February to the 3rd of March. There, attendees will have the opportunity to try it out at Testbirds’ stand located in hall 8.1, booth I10. Afterwards, a beta version of the network featuring only Android devices will be available to clients through Testbirds’ testing platform. In the near future, a full version will be released with additional features and fixes.


Edited for web by Jordan Platt.