Multiple Device Testing using Open Device Labs
Ask any interactive designer or developer what the most time-consuming, tedious part of their job is. The answer is almost always “testing”. While designing and developing a website or app can be a lot of work, it’s the testing of it on a wide variety of devices that most makes us want to put our heads through the screen of whatever device we happen to be testing at the time.
Simply put, there are just too many devices available today,which makes it a daunting task, not to mention an expensive one.
The Problems with Multiple Device Testing
I don’t know about you, but I don’t have, nor could I afford to buy all of the various devices that I would need in order to thoroughly test the websites I design. I have even had issues with the developers that I use to code my designs.They can only test on so many physical devices, and for the rest they have to resort to virtual testing.
This involves using emulators which are meant to simulate how a site or app would look on a particular device from another. Unfortunately, emulators come with their own problems. While you can get close to the actual device in question, the software often is slightly different than on the actual device.
A big problem with virtually handheld device testing on a desktop is that they can’t properly simulate touch-screen interactions. From a purely UX-centric point of view, this is information you will need in order to properly develop a user-friendly interface.
Open Device Labs to the Rescue
An elegant solution to these problems regarding device testing was inevitable, considering the tech-savvy nature of the problem at hand. Open Device Labs is a “grass roots community movement” started by Anselm Hannemann, Andre Jay Meissner and Christian Schaefer. Their idea was brilliant: start a network of physical offices where developers and designers can actually come in, and test their creations on a wide variety of supplied devices. Most of the devices are donated by their members or by the manufacturers of the devices themselves, and entry is free in most cases. Currently, there are over 50 locations worldwide, with the highest concentration in Europe.
Imagine designing your website or app, and then scheduling a day to go into one of the labs and just tinker all day on all of the devices they have in stock. No emulators, the real deals. You could accomplish a week’s worth of testing in a single afternoon and at little to no cost. You don’t have to buy or even rent the devices, they are simply made available to the design community. The variety of in-stock devices does vary from location to location, anywhere from 15-80+. So, if you wanted to do a really thorough job you might need to travel to one of the more well-equipped labs.
How to Find a Lab Near You
With labs all over the world, you have a lot to choose from, but of course it would make sense to find a location near you. Simply go to OpenDeviceLabs’ website and look on their map. It will tell you not only the location of the lab, but also the number of devices they have in-stock. If you need to test on a particular device, you can search based on that as well.
How to Support Open Device Labs
Since Open Device Labs was launched for the designer/developer community, it only makes sense that we would want to give back and help out their effort. There are three simple ways you can lend a hand and help the labs grow.
Do you have any older devices laying around? Perhaps you just upgraded to iPhone5 from the 4. Donate it. Have an older android model collecting dust? Send it in. They are happy to receive almost any device, even ones that might be considered somewhat outdated. After all, testing on legacy devices is important too.
If you happen to live close to one of their location, consider helping out every now and then. Like any community organization, they could use some help with maintaining and running the day-to-day operations.
Open a branch
If there aren’t any locations near you, and you think there is a need for it, you might want to help them expand to your area. Team up with other designers and developers in your area to open a brand new branch. The best part it, you can use the resources you will set up to test your projects as often as you want. If you want more information on how you can spearhead a new lab in your area, read the article by Dave Olsen.
As a community, we can solve a lot of problems by working together. Open Device Labs are a great solution when you need to test out interactive projects, but lack the funds to purchase a wide variety of devices. Hopefully there is a location near enough for you to take advantage of all they have to offer. If not, consider paying it forward and starting one of your own. You will be helping the design community and you will reap the benefits as well.
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