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Wearable Device Testing: New Technology Demands a New Approach

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From fitness trackers (for you, and your pet), smart watches, AR glasses, and clothing designed to navigate for you, it seems like we hear about the latest innovation in wearable devices on a weekly basis. It is true that wearables, powered by the Internet of Things, have allowed us to network our devices, navigate our lives…and sculpt our abs. But, of all the technology subsets, wearables seem the most prone to disaster. Why? Because software testing in this new hardware realm is tricky business!

New Tech = Unknowns

Developing an app for a wearable device begins with understanding how the device works. Learning the ins-and-outs of operating the wearable can take time but is a crucial first step to testing that new fitness app the development team just finished!

New technology is rife with unknowns. Taking the time to fully understand the hardware will facilitate software QA processes. But…

Caution: Hardware Under Development

Learning to use the wearable can be challenging because many cases the hardware and software are developed simultaneously. This makes it hard to know where the bugs are coming from. The best option for testing in this scenario is to make sure your app meets specs, that way, when you finally do get to test, there are as few surprises as possible.

Area 51

Further complicating wearable device testing is the fact that much of the technology is developed in secret. This creates a barrier to effective testing which can, to some extent, can be overcome through creative improvisation. Knowing the potential challenges of being under lock-and-key, and calling them out in the beginning, may get you special allowances for proper testing. Just don’t expect to share uncensored testing data!

What Can You Do?

Wearable hardware testing challenges aside, we’ve developed several best-practice tips for SQA in wearables. We base our tips on our knowledge that, while wearable hardware may be in a state of evolution, there’s one factor that will remain stable. That factor? User experience is the primary driver of adoption.

Focus Areas for Usability Testing in Wearables

Once wearable testing is underway, there are specific areas to consider for usability testing. They are:

Gesture and voice input.

  • Wearables are on the users’ body all the time, and people move in unexpected ways. What happens when a hello wave interrupts tracking, or switches a smartwatch from ambient to interactive mode? Is there difficulty registering different tones of voice? What happens if there’s ambient noise? Device input inconsistencies could very well be the make it or break it for a user.

Permissions and security issues

  • Wearables are designed to gather sensitive personal information and store it to “the cloud”. This mysterious realm already has some users nervous, so apps need to be very clear about what they do, what information they gather, and always offer an opt-out.

Connectivity and integrations

  • Most wearables connect to mobile via Bluetooth. This may be one of the most important things to test for, as Bluetooth connectivity issues can frustrate even the most tech-y of users. And, as wearables become more popular, the number of apps will grow. This could be a companion app on a mobile device or other apps hosted by the wearable. Whichever direction you’re testing, they all need to play well together.

Usable Does Not Equal Useful

The best intended app won’t sell if sensors don’t work or the interface is clunky. User interface issues can very well relegate cool new tech to the category of “irritant”. While this is true with all software, it’s more so with wearables. After all, they’re right on our bodies! But, developers can no longer afford to look only at usability. In fact, an app can be usable but that doesn’t guarantee anyone will use it. Why not?

The first thing to remember is usability might test the visibility of a display in bright sunlight, or the flow in an app. Neither of those account for the actual things the user values, they’re simply functions that are expected to work right and not cause issues.

UX Testing Determines Adoption for Wearable Devices

User experience testing (UX testing) analyzes the contextual expectations of the user. The most common method for UX testing involves placing value metrics on the emotions underlying a human-computer interaction and developing user personas to test our assumptions about the interaction. Personas model potential users, including socioeconomic status, demographics, and needs or wants to be resolved by using the device or app. Most platforms will have more than one persona, and each persona is taken through multiple user value stories ranging from sad to happy endings.

It’s easy to see why, in today’s digital society, UX testing is rapidly becoming the gold-standard to determine adoption. The closer our devices become to our users — being relied on to fulfill a need — the more important UX testing for wearable becomes.

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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.