Oct 28, 2011

Remote Usability Testing on Mobile Devices

Over the past few months we’ve ramped up our usability testing efforts, including testing our mobile apps. In order to test on mobile devices it’s generally assumed that tests will be with local users, or semi-local users, since the options for live remote mobile testing are limited.

After driving to Columbia, SC to do a couple of tests in the field (and a particularly long night of dreaming in iPhone screens) I woke up the next morning with a mission: figure out how to do remote mobile testing.

I googled extensively for anything that might possibly allow screen sharing for mobile devices, but there just wasn’t anything out there that met our immediate needs. There are apps for capturing work flows, there are ways to embed survey questions into beta versions of your app, but nothing we could find that allows screen sharing on mobile devices.

Then it hit me. Why not just have people hold the device up to their webcam while video chatting on Skype? I grabbed Jason from our UX team and we connected over Skype. We tried to find the best angle to twist your torso to view and share the device’s screen at the same time when we realized…just turn the laptop around and give it a good hug. Resting your elbows on the desk around the laptop naturally moved the iPhone right into the view of the webcam.

hug that macbook

jason hugging his macbook

You can connect over Skype and view a mobile device this way with any laptop with a webcam, a webcam with a stand or tripod, or with the camera app on an iPad 2 and a good dock. BTW, the picture quality in this batch of testing was best when connecting with the iPad 2.

Stephen on his iPad2

connecting via iPad2

The trick we found for properly viewing the iPhone screen is to take the brightness on the phone way down, so there’s less light being projected into the webcam. (There *are* words on the screen on the left, we just can’t see them.)

With this set up instead of one or two in-person mobile tests, we connected with 7 people in just two days. We didn’t have to deviate from our normal usability test recordings in Silverback or change the way we share the videos with our team.

Two days after testing the mobile team (plus me and Ben) were able to sit down, watch the videos together on a big monitor, determine the pressing issues, and catch crashes and bugs before you see them. And eat some tacos.  Those we can’t share remotely.