Mobile Developers Test Content on Hundreds of Handsets Remotely

Drawbacks to developing on a mobile platform include testing how content will render and behave on each handset and on each carrier’s network. Some developers buy one of every handset, others use simulation software, but both have their pitfalls.

San Mateo-based Mobile Complete’s DeviceAnywhere is a service built to allow developers and mobile technology companies to test applications both on and off deck, on every handset and several carriers. Each handset is wired to a circuit board and connected to a network so companies testing content can connect to any handset from their offices and put it through trials to make sure an application loads and runs properly, and ads execute properly.

“It’s like having a handset in hand,” said Leila Modarres, senior manager of marketing and communications at Mobile Complete. “The value proposition for developers is they don’t have to buy all handsets…and don’t have to subscribe to individual carrier plans.”

The interface may behave like a virtual device since developers access the hardware through a computer interface; however, it is a device virtualization system, where the actions being tested are actually happening on the real handset, not a software mock-up. For instance, developers can turn handsets on and off, and even remove the battery to execute a reboot if testing requires such action.

A software version of a handset is “great as an approximation and first level of testing,” said Andy Choi, CTO and co-founder of ad-supported mobile games publisher Greystripe. “Each handset is very different and has very specific bugs. No one knows all the bugs on a [particular] phone; software can’t provide the exact functionality of a phone.” Greystripe began working with Mobile Complete in early Q2 of this year.

DeviceAnywhere currently has over 700 different handset models serviced by 10 carriers and 11 device OEMs (define). Subscription rates vary depending on what networks a client needs, or whether the client wants dedicated handsets.

Alltel recently contracted with the company to set up what it calls a virtual developer lab with dedicated access to handsets on the carrier’s network. The mobile operator will grant access to developers creating content for its network to be able to test applications.

Dynamic mobile advertising firm Ad Infuse began using DeviceAnywhere towards the end of 2006, about the time it expanded from serving ads in portable media applications to mobile phones. “As a growing company we needed to be able to test what we’re doing on mobile devices,” said Chris Arens, director of mobile marketing at Ad Infuse. “Not only does each handset manufacturer have its own codec, but each carrier has restrictions and network characteristics. For us, going out there and trying to test everything on these mobile handsets was cost prohibitive and time prohibitive.”

With over 3,000 DeviceAnywhere subscribers, Mobile Complete’s top handsets get a lot of use, so the company stocks its stable of handsets to keep up with demand, as well as offering the ability for users to book time with a particular handset. “We’ve never booked time,” said Choi. “I’ve seen a device in-use and waited an hour or so until it was available.”

Customers claim satisfaction with the number of handsets available, but are hungry for a more global representation of mobile carriers. “For us, the bigger need is having them expand to other markets beyond their current carrier base,” said Choi.

Arens mirrored the request. “One thing we would like is for them to build more networks,” he said, noting Ad Infuse’s need for access to carriers in Western Europe and globally.

Mobile Complete is already working on the demand for wider coverage. “We are aggressively expanding our user base in the Western European marketplace and into Asia,” said Modarres. “We have presence in the U.S., Western Europe, Sweden, Pakistan and parts of the Middle East.” The service doesn’t have representation in Asia yet.

While both Ad Infuse and Greystripe remain patient as the testing service rolls out in breadth and depth, they continue to push the functionality of the service offered. A programmer at Ad Infuse used the record feature to capture and replay a bug for another team member. Quickly, Arens and his team realized the potential for adding recorded demos into PowerPoint presentations, or sending clips to advertisers or content owners to demonstrate the capabilities of the applications.

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