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Manual mobile app testing is still important

Automation is a great way to check on a mobile app's performance and basic functionality. But testing manually reaches places automation alone cannot.

Software testers have two ways to test mobile applications: automated and manual. Automation saves time and money, but it doesn't eliminate the need for manual testing.

While automated testing covers simple UI changes, basic user functionality, performance testing and backend testing, manual testing is needed to maintain application functions that automation overlooks.

Let's consider why manual testing should be done alongside automated testing, how manual testing betters application performance and which tools are available to make manual testing more efficient.

Automated vs. manual testing

Automated testing is essential to any mobile application's success. Automated tests are great at validating that an application can, for example, handle logins. A tester can write a simple test to fill out the username and password fields and then check to see if the user's information brings them to the expected landing page. A test like this should be regularly run to ensure your application is working properly at a basic level.

The advantage of exploratory testing over automated testing is the human touch. A tester, as a proxy for the end user, will easily notice UI problems and performance trouble.

Automated tests may pass over UI errors, such as text formatting issues or usability problems. If the button to log in was in the wrong place, the test would most likely continue along normally without failure or any notification.

A software tester is a proxy for the end user and conducts the manual tests. One role of a software tester is to emulate the user's activity to find bugs in usability and performance. While automated tests can track the time it takes for certain actions to be performed, they must also have a built-in tolerance to changes in performance; otherwise, test results would be erratic.

If an action normally takes a half-second to process, an automated test may not be designed to fail or create an alert unless the action takes longer to process, like 60 seconds.

Automated testing is a time-consuming undertaking at first. This initial effort pays off over time; however, testers can then spend time performing other tasks while automated tests run. Routine maintenance is needed to keep automated tests up to date, such as removing unnecessary or outdated tests, keeping code DRY and only testing what you need. With maintenance in mind, well-designed automated tests should be fairly resistant to application changes.

While many testing processes include detailed testing plans or testing matrices, exploratory testing is much less formal. The goal of exploratory testing is to iterate quickly and discover common bugs or usability problems. Exploratory testing trades rigor and comprehensive documentation for design and test execution.

The advantage of exploratory testing over automated testing is the human touch. A tester, as a proxy for the end user, will easily notice UI problems and performance trouble where an automated test is not often designed to check the appearance of UI elements.

To best know if your test should be automated over manual, ask yourself:

  • Is the feature well-suited for automated testing?
  • Is it unlikely to change in a way that would break the automated test?
  • Is this a test that will be executed repeatedly?

If you answer no to these guiding questions, manual testing may be more effective than automation.

Tools to improve manual testing

BrowserStack, Sauce Labs and LambdaTest are among the tools that can increase the effectiveness of manual testing.

These tools can drastically accelerate manual tests and provide access to different mobile and desktop devices and browsers. For exploratory testing, they allow testers to spin up a machine from thousands of different combinations of device operating systems, hardware and browsers.

Such tools provide access to virtual machines while allowing testers to access real devices. There will be less configurability and choice of device type when working with real devices, but the cost is significantly reduced from self-managing your own device farm.

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