Mobile Testing Limitations on a Desktop Computer

When developing and testing mobile websites, there can be a handful of things to keep in mind, things that won’t be testable from a desktop computer. Although responsive design and basic functionality are testable, there is a greater list of things that need to be tested otherwise.

I have been doing some research lately for some mobile simulators and emulators so that mobile testing can be accomplished, but would not require purchasing all devices to keep them in house. That being said, let’s get into some of the testing limitations for mobile websites.

Design Limitations

There are a handful of things that cannot be tested by resizing your screen, even if using responsive design or a mobile website. Some of these might be intended, but most just need to be considered when developing or testing.

Hover affect

The hover affect is often used when designing desktop applications or websites, yet completely (almost) unavailable for use when designing a mobile app or website. Keep this in mind and do not allow crucial information to be hidden behind a hover affect.

A couple examples of a hover affect would be a button or link, as well as popups or tooltips. Images also contain hover affects sometimes, such as zoom features or even informational text about the image. Be sure to test alternative options for these things if they contain information that the user needs.

Hidden pages

Sometimes there is a need for pages to be hidden when working in a mobile view. This can be because the functionality is too difficult or time consuming to develop on mobile, or because it’s not an on-the-go page that will be visited. Always be aware of these pages however, if there is a difference between hiding from the user’s view and the page should be inaccessible for the user. If the latter, be sure to test entering the URL directly, and ensure the page doesn’t load or that some type of message displays.

I’ve been asked why we should worry about users entering URLs directly, as this requires them to know extensions beyond the basic .com. I usually give these questioners the basic answers like, an email contains the link, or, people may have favorites set up and shared between devices (more prevalent with Chrome and Android devices), but really, the reason is more around business requirements and expectations, or simply going above and beyond our responsibility as a tester.

Business decided features

Similar to the above approach, sometimes individual features should be hidden from the mobile user, due to restrictions on functionality, security reasons, a product manager’s decision, and others. This functionality is usually pretty easy to test responsively by resizing your screen, and the only details to note are the break points. At what pixel resolution should these features be hidden.

However, some companies like to design their mobile websites with a device detection and then rerouting to a mobile site. If this is the case, you might be able to test this on a desktop computer by navigating to the URL, but be sure to test the mobile rerouting on a device, as that cannot be tested otherwise.

Just be sure that if there are features that are not supposed to show on a mobile device, that they don’t.

Pinch zooming

Mobile pinch zooming is something that can be slightly tested using a desktop computer, simply by scrolling (zooming) in and out of the page. However, testing this way may not be sufficient, as this is not how mobile devices render their screens on pinch zoom.

Imagine the pinch zoom like the Microsoft Magnifier tool. It simply zooms in on the screen instead of restructuring the pixel density. So when testing zoom, be sure your site doesn’t realign objects, or if it does, that it’s purposeful.

Fingertip density

An important thing to test is how objects appear on a mobile device, and if it is too small for use. This is especially important for buttons, or anything that requires a click, as the standard fingertip is a quarter-inch or more. No need for frustration due to fat-fingering, just be sure the buttons are big enough to click on.

Device Limitations

There are also some things that are much more difficult to test without using an actual physical device. Though some might be somewhat testable with an emulator, there is nothing like testing on the device itself.

Slide outs or dragging

A lot of sites have side navs or other features that are accessible by sliding out from the side, or by dragging objects on the screen. Trello, for example, does a great job of utilizing their drag and drop feature on the cards, with the ability to drag to the side causing the page to scroll. Be sure to test this with respect to the device’s ownership over certain dragging motions such as the drag down from top or up from the bottom showing the phone’s menu. Or on an iPhone, if you drag from the left, it pulls up the app switcher tool.

Excessive battery use

Something that is nearly impossible to test on a desktop computer is how much battery your app or website will use. Depending on the user of your site, this may not matter, but don’t discount the battery hog that a site could be, especially when doing things like reporting or building documents.

Interruptions

Interruptions happen all the time when working, and this is no different when using your mobile device. Some interruptions aren’t as bad, such as a text that can be ignored. But there are other notifications that take over the whole screen, like a phone call, that if accepted or ignored, should return you to your site. However, based on the security of the site you’re testing, you may consider any interruption a reason to log the user out. Always consider interruptions when testing, such as locking the device, answering a call or text, or merely switching applications to check the date on your calendar.

Network traffic changes

It’s happened to all of us, we are working on something on WiFi, then we walk outside with our phone and it switches from WiFi to LTE. How does the device handle this switch, and how do we even test this? If this is a concern for your site or app, then be sure to walk around while testing. Go to the elevator, the concrete stairs, or even for a walk outside. Be sure your site handles this switch as expected and no errors are thrown on network changes.

There are a handful of other limitations to testing mobile sites on a desktop computer, so be sure to think through these when testing, and go above and beyond the testing effort next time. It’s sure to pay off for your end users.

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