Since their inception, mobile operating systems have evolved to a great degree. So, you have to see whether your app has kept up with the change.
Whenever there is a new release, major players such as Microsoft, Google and Apple bring in additional interface changes and features to their operating systems. Your app has to remain intuitive to use and easy to navigate with each change. Users will move to another app which has mastered usability for mobile, if they feel that your app is outdated or too complicated to use.
For example, you have to ensure that the interface of your tablet app is as intuitive as the one for your phone app or whether there are likely to be issues related to the newest animations introduced into your app. You have to figure out whether you are using the right colors for your call-to-action buttons or where your users are likely to trip up, if at all.
What usability really means?
When a user interacts with systems or products such as apps, websites, devices or software, the quality of his experience is referred to as usability. It is about the overall satisfaction, efficiency and effectiveness of the user.
It is not a one-dimensional property of a user interface, system or product. It covers subjective satisfaction, if the user appreciates the system; intuitive design, allowing the user to understand the navigation and architecture almost effortlessly; severity and frequency of errors; ease of learning, which is about how quickly a user can perform basic tasks without having seen the user interface before; memorability, i.e., whether the user can use the app effectively during future visits after having seen it once; and efficiency, which is measured according to how quickly an experienced user can perform tasks.
Usability provides benefits both to the providers and the potential customers or users of the app.
As a provider, you can benefit from usability through better returns on investment, reduced development cost and time, lesser training cost and time, fewer user errors and lower support costs.
Your users benefit from usability as they will have trust and confidence in your product. They will be satisfied with your app, they will get to their objectives efficiently and effectively and enjoy interacting with your mobile application’s interface.
So, if you want to launch a successful mobile app, you have to invest in usability improvement right from the beginning. That is so because you will rarely get a second chance and users will uninstall an app with low usability soon after having downloaded and installed it.
Consuming resources for improving upon user experience even before acquiring too many users might appear to be a Catch 22 situation. However, there are techniques available to make sure that the employee or customer experience is great from the very beginning.
Taking the right steps during app development itself is among the best ways and usability testing is a significant part of that.
Factors to be considered for mobile app usability testing
Before you go ahead with testing your mobile app, at various stages of development and after development is completed, there are certain factors that you need to keep in mind. These include, but are not limited to those mentioned below:
- Mobile devices – It is nearly impossible to test with every mobile phone available in the market. You have to narrow down the kinds of devices you have to test. For that you have to determine the specific audience who are likely to use your app and the particular types of mobile handsets, tablets, etc., that they tend to prefer. So, you can consider for usability testing only the phones that are likely to be used by your target audience for the mobile app you are developing.
There tend to be ‘families’ of phones that provide user experience which is quite similar and all handsets don’t have to be individually tested.
- Mobile OS platforms – You have to be aware of the mobile OS platform that the majority of your target audience is likely to be using. You can test your app for that platform on a priority basis, although it is advisable to test it on all platforms that you launch or expect to launch your app on.
- Demography of target audience – You should know the age, sex, location, income level and other such relevant details of the target audience of your app, so that you can design and test for the usability accordingly. Such information can help you determine their preferences and introduce features likely to be in line with their preferences.
You have to be aware of the demographics not only to decide the most appropriate features to include in your app, but also to be able to pick the most appropriate sample of users for usability testing.
- Testing for mobile app user experience – Mobile devices have different layouts and screen sizes. These have to be considered while building the app and also while testing for usability.
Additionally, mobile devices are different in terms of how people provide inputs of information. Some have dial wheels, others have numeric keypads or QWERTY keyboards and yet others have styluses. All have to be considered during development and for usability testing in accordance with the preferences of the target audiences of your mobile app.
Another aspect to be kept in mind is the type of location where the members of the target audience are generally likely to access your mobile app. This is all the more important for mobile apps such as those for digital display of a compass, navigation maps, etc. The elements of user experience that could influence the usability and should be tested for include physical movement, lighting, distractions, noise in the background and other tasks (such as driving, etc.) being performed simultaneously while using the app, among others.
Mobile app usability testing methods
There are a number of methods from which you can pick and choose. A few major ones are as given below:
- Working prototypes – You can test with simulators to get feedback early in the cycle of development. For instance, you can test for Android with the emulator in the Android software development kit (SDK) available on the site for Android developers. Similarly, for iOS, you can use the interface builder’s simulator to test designs.
Additionally, you can develop prototypes with CSS and HTML and create mock-ups with Photoshop, Keynote or other tools. For instance, Keynotopia offers stencils that can prove helpful to test controls for Android, iPhone and iPad.
- Prototyping on paper – For this, you can create a smartphone template out of cardboard, with a couple of slits to insert a paper prototype through. Use this to simulate what users would see on each screen. Either create your own template or download a smartphone template for testing through paper prototypes and stick or print on cardboard.
- In-app software – You can use software to comprehend the opinions, expectations and needs of users without having to go and search for them. For example, you could use a software for screen capture to understand patterns of consumer behavior clearly. That can help you fine-tune your app and provide you with innovative ideas based on careful observation of what consumers do with your app.
- Interactive features – You can find out first hand as to what is on the users’ minds through interactive features such as live chat and feedback forms. Nowadays, people prefer to have their grievances redressed through direct contact with the business through the mobile apps. The interactive features can help you get essential data from the consumers so that you can meet their requirements.
- Surveys – A survey based on your mobile app’s different features can help you get significant data for usability testing.
You can frame different types of questions to find out what consumers have on their minds. You can find out about specific as well as generic issues while selecting consumer groups, for example, on the basis of geographic location or economic status. Finding out expectations and needs after classifying users into specific groups is the most significant task related to this method of usability testing.
You have to ask the right audiences the right questions.
How the mobile app usability testing process happens
- Getting users to sign up for testing – While testing your mobile app for usability, you have to answer some basic questions to make sure that you test it with the right participants. For each test, you have to answer the following:
- Why are you conducting the test?
- Where will you conduct it?
- When will you conduct it?
- Who will participate in the test?
- What functionalities will you test?
- How will you gather and analyze the data?
You can prepare a plan for the usability test based on the answers. Use the plan to get developers, managers and other stakeholders to agree on the critical decisions that have to be made.
This is followed by recruitments of the participants for usability testing. The participants have to represent a sample of the end users of the mobile app.
- Preparing use test cases – Usability tests involve having people perform realistic tasks and then observing them to find out where they seem to struggle.
For instance, people may access your mobile app to occupy five minutes spent queuing up at a supermarket’s checkout counter. Or they may be looking for answers to specific questions. Or they may be using your app in some other specific context.
Knowledge of such instances and the specific conditions that accompany them is essential to prepare useful test cases for checking your app’s usability.
- Conducting actual tests for devices, browsers, audience and UX – Users often customize their devices quite extensively and participants’ configurations may not be in line with standard implementation.
However, there are many ways of getting your prototype on the users’ phones so that you can go ahead and test it. For instance, you can export a clickable PDF to the participant’s phone if your app is not fully coded yet. There is an increasing number of toolkits that provide widgets you require to simulate a real app for testing.
Mirroring the screens of participants’ devices is often among the major issues faced by those testing for usability. You can use software solutions available for the purpose or use cameras to record the screens.
- Collecting user feedback and data analysis – You can have a remote monitor that mirrors the screen of a participant’s device. Get your design team in the observation room and let them jot down any interesting findings or usability issues. Let them write down just enough to catch the essence of what they observe.
Let the team compile the observations and organize them in such a way so as to avoid duplication. You can then use the observations to capture usability issues and to describe the problems discovered.
- Iterate App design based on user feedback – Usability testing serves its purpose only if you rectify the problems found during the process. For each problem, you can make the simplest or smallest change required to ensure that people don’t face the same problem again.
After making the change, you can check that you haven’t messed up anything else and have solved the problem.
You don’t have to undertake a major redesign of your app unless absolutely necessary. That would not only take a long time but also introduce a number of additional issues related to usability, which you would then have to solve.
Usability is an important aspect of the user experience that a mobile app offers a user. It has to be tested at various stages of app development to ensure that there are no usability issues. You can select a sample set of users who represent the typical demographics of the user base of your app.
Rectify all usability issues found during testing in the simplest manner possible and without creating any new ones. The testing and rectification process can be iterated as many times as feasible to smoothen the usability-related experience of your app’s users.