Thursday, February 19, 2015

Quality and Accessibility - two core ingredients for successful apps

We spend an increasing portion of our time everyday on our smartphones and particularly on apps. According to mobile analytics company Flurry, US Americans spend on average 2 hours and 42 minutes per day on mobile devices, 2 hours and 19 minutes of which they spend using mobile applications. Given these figures, it is fair to say that apps have conquered an important part in our everyday life. But concerns about the quality of apps, privacy and data protection as well as accessibility or rather the lack thereof are rising. As the app market is maturing, users have less tolerance for apps that do not adhere to minimum standards.

The App Quality Alliance (AQuA) is working on addressing this need by promoting good quality in app development. AQuA has issued testing criteria, which developers can access freely on the web and which can help them to avoid the most common pitfalls, like having their apps excessively using radio resources or having inefficient design heavily impacting data transmission. We have talked to AQuA’s Executive Director Martin Wrigley and AQuA’s Chief Quality Auditor Greg Jotham about some of the open questions in quality and accessibility in app development as well as trends for 2015.

What would you consider the minimum quality requirements in app development? 

AQuA has spent a number of years building a set of standard testing criteria to answer exactly this question. Typically developers are very good at doing the functional testing, ensuring that their app does what it is supposed to do. Functional testing usually starts with testing the smallest functional units, builds up during the development of the app to show the full functionality, and can be done using test harnesses, emulators, simulators, and live devices that may be freestanding or attached to the development environment in debug mode.

AQuA recommends that even after all of this functional testing, once an app is sufficiently complete it should be tested on at least one real device (and maybe more considering the platform and the range of targeted devices). In addition to functional testing on the device, the AQuA testing criteria covers all of those aspects that developers often forget. In essence this is a final QA test and it ensures that the app works well in the target environment.

Another aspect that is very important is to have these tests carried out by someone independent, someone who wasn’t immersed in the development. In the same way as it is hard to proof-read your own document, a fresh set of eyes will spot issues and problems that a developer may overlook.

How has app development changed over the last three years and what would you see as trend for 2015 and beyond?

App development is becoming increasingly professional and as an industry is maturing. No longer is it simply enough to have a great idea for an app, to succeed it must be both a high quality professional development and effectively marketed.

We are starting to see very successful professional development companies who deal with brands and other app commissioners, where it is more than simply the developer’s reputation at risk. This portion of the market is highly dependent on producing high quality, reliable apps.

The trend to Agile development is increasing, and experienced practitioners of Agile development realise that it can bring the development team much closer to the customer’s requirements, and that testing is fundamental to the desired quality result.

With all the ongoing discussions around making ICT accessible to persons with different disabilities, how come app developers have not caught on yet? 

Historically app developers have been chasing volume, the purchase of WhatsApp by Facebook shows the desirability of going for scale. The balance to that is that we read reports of the majority of app developers not even making their development costs back, let alone becoming fabulously wealthy.

In the way of all markets, range and scale is one way to achieve success, but as a market matures it becomes harder for new entrants to achieve that. One other route forward is to be more specialised and find customers that are not served by the mass market offering.

We are starting to see developers addressing more specialised markets, and the opportunity to reach out to customers with different disabilities will be one of those markets.

Information to help developers achieve this will be key to opening up activity in this arena.

What would be the best way to push accessibility in app development? 

There is plenty of information out there about accessibility on the web, but little for apps. To encourage developers of apps to build accessible apps, industry bodies such as the MMF and AQuA will need to assist by pushing information on both the market opportunities, and also the requirements needed in apps to access those markets.

A clear, coherent and authoritative message to app developers will help to start a trend toward producing apps.

What are AQuA’s priorities for 2015? 

AQuA has a series of projects for 2015 that are building on the core Testing Criteria. In 2014, AQuA produced their network performance testing criteria, and in 2015, AQuA will be producing a series of accessibility testing criteria. Other projects that AQuA is looking at are involved in mHealth and in-app security.  For both of these areas, AQuA is building a collection of organisations that are specialists in the topics and combining that with AQuA’s expertise in writing generic testing criteria that can be given freely to the developer community.


AQuA Testing Criteria:

Mobile App Usage Increases In 2014, As Mobile Web Surfing Declines: