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Mobile App Testing: Real Devices (Superman) vs. Emulators (Optimus Prime)

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The debate over real devices vs. emulators for mobile app testing is as old as the epic superhero battles of yore. Depending on what aspect of your app you’re trying to test, and where in the dev cycle your product is, the answer to this question might differ. It is important to note that considerations like available project resources or time to market deadlines can affect testing choice. If you’re not certain which method will meet your desired level of quality assurance (QA), and provide the best ROI, read on!

What’s the Difference?

To know when (or if) either testing method is right for vetting your organization’s newest mobile app, it’s crucial to know what both are, and what they can and can’t do.

Emulators-Optimus-Prime-Mobile TestingEmulators Are…

Transformers. Optimus Prime built to emulate an ordinary object when not in crime fighting mode. Emulators want to be and act the same as the actual device OS and support systems. Usually, they run in PC environments with different hardware configurations than the expected use mobile platform, yet are said to be exact replicas of the actual device in question. Are they really? Maybe so and maybe not; more on this later.

Real Devices Are…Real-Devices-Superman-mobile app testing

Superman. A flesh and blood superhero, the real-deal. They’re the Galaxy S9, the iPhone X, the LG V30, or even the less-hyped (but still eminently usable AND affordable) knock-offs flooding the pay-as-you-go mobile market. Real devices are exactly that — the actual device using the actual OS and support framework — that your customer will hold in their hands and use to access your app.

So…Emulators or Real Devices for Mobile App Testing?

Here’s the deal. Everything in its place and time. Understanding what ‘place and time’ you’re testing for allows you to decide which testing method is right for your app.

Emulation testing can be highly beneficial in the early stages of development. Emulators are less expensive than investing in the multiple devices required for thorough real device testing of your mobile app. Their main draw? Emulators offer the opportunity to debug your app early in the dev process. The drawback? Emulators aren’t the real device. Performance issues stemming from battery condition, screen size, processing power, connectivity speed, physical input, and environmental challenges (think nighttime screen visibility or gesture input) are left to chance with emulators.

Real devices, on the other hand, are literally a test of your app on the actual devices your customer will use. Devices that have the same issues, drawbacks, quirks, and benefits any mobile user will experience first-hand. The bottom line here is testing via real device allows for a broader spectrum of situational testing, as well as checks for user experience in a variety of conditions.

Real Devices Allow for Real-World Situations

Testing your mobile app using an emulator is great for checking flows and debugging functions early-to-mid development. Emulators are quick and cheap(er), but neglecting to device test your app could have serious repercussions and cost your organization in the long run. The bottom line is this: no matter how advanced the emulator is, it’s still a virtual environment…and that’s not where your app is designed to run.

Only real-device testing can replicate the variety of hardware configurations (OS version, memory, sensors, and display), software customizations (OEM configurations and interaction with other apps), and operational conditions (wi-fi or data speeds) that will impact your #1 revenue generating metric, your user’s experience.”

QualityLogic offers real-device testing on over 300 in-house devices, and a team with over 30 years of software testing know-how.

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Gary James, President/CEO

Over the last 35+ years, Gary James, the co-founder and president/CEO of QualityLogic, has built QualityLogic into one of the leading providers of software testing, digital accessibility solutions, QA consulting and training, and smart energy testing.

Gary began his QA journey as an engineer in the 1970s, eventually becoming the director of QA in charge of systems and strategies across the international organization. That trajectory provided the deep knowledge of quality and process development that has served as a critical foundation for building QualityLogic into one of the best software testing companies in the world.

In addition to leading the company’s growth, Gary shares his extensive expertise in Quality Assurance, Software Testing, Digital Accessibility, and Leadership through various content channels. He regularly contributes to blogs, hosts webinars, writes articles, and more on the QualityLogic platforms.