We live in an era where the world is at our fingertips. Over the years, the power of computing is transitioned from desktop
to smart phones and to the wearables. The first computer you interact with when you wake up and the last one put down before going to bed.
Smartphones go everywhere you go. But there’s a new trend seeking to disrupt that bond – wearable technology. From fitness trackers to smart watches,
smart clothing to glasses, wearable technology is on pace to grow at an explosive rate.
Wearable devices like the Apple Watch create exciting possibilities for mobile engagements, but also bring challenges for mobile dev and test teams.
The Wearable Technology Ecosystem
Today’s wearable technology lives in an ecosystem that combines hardware and software. Those winning in the wearable tech ecosystem
acknowledge that they not only need rock-solid integration between
their device and their own app, but that they also have to play well with other apps and aggregators of wearable technology data.
The ecosystem consists of the below:
- Trackers- Much of the wearable space today can trace its roots back to standalone fitness trackers. These devices often leverage a variety of sensors to track distance, elevation and activity levels of users while awake, as well as sleep patterns while asleep.
Most fitness trackers serve a single purpose and are used to report data to an associated app on the user’s smartphone or online.>
- Glasses- Sometimes described as “Terminator Vision,” a reference to the popular 1980s movie, smart glasses currently come in two varieties. Display-mounted glasses serve up images in the corner of the user’s vision. A small screen placed near the eye delivers
information the user verbally requests. Alternatively, whole-glass devices can overlay information onto the user’s environment, providing a layer of augmented reality.
While smart glasses contain a variety of sensors, these devices primarily serve external information to users versus information gathered from the user. For instance, a user can request directions, read email or texts and take/send pictures, but the devices may not have information about the user’s fitness or the environment.
- Smart Watches- Watches are the latest category of wearable technology to get buzz, but the current generation of smart watches may not be so smart after all. Often requiring a connection to a primary device such as a smartphone or tablet, smart watches can serve as an additional display to inform the user whether or not they should interact with their primary device.
Smart watches represent a large opportunity as both companion devices and standalone devices. Because watches are easily accessible when worn, they can alert users throughout the day to information from their primary device.
- Smart Clothing and Jewelry - Sensors are just starting to be incorporated into clothing and jewelry, providing many opportunities for additional body feedback or notifications from other devices. Smart clothing is the definition of wearable technology and may be the ultimate outlet for where the industry evolves to. Today’s smart clothing offers the ability to measure body outputs such as heart rate or muscle movement,
but there may be additional market opportunity if smart clothes are developed to warn users of dangerous environments (such as too much sun exposure).
- Companion Apps - Wearable devices are typically paired with a companion app that runs on a primary device such as smartphone, tablet or computer. The app can serve several purposes such as syncing data, providing notifications for the device and, of course, initial setup. Companion apps need to work well as they are often the face of the brand/device.
They’re the portal through which information is synced and serve as the display for trends and other relevant data.
- Apps - Another set of apps in the wearable ecosystem is aggregators. They can bring in data from different wearables and data sources to provide a comprehensive overview. Aggregator apps have the potential to be provide coaching or instructions, serve information to insurance providers for discounts and more.
- On-device Apps - Apps that leverage the wearable device themselves require special attention. They need to be pared down and designed specifically to work on the form factor. Bringing your app to a smart watch or glasses is not just about shrinking the interface. Developers need to be cognizant of use cases, battery life and user attention spans.
In short, these types of apps need to serve up relevant information and then let the interface get out of the way.
Testing for Wearable Technology
When testing wearable hardware and software, it’s important to think about the user experience beyond whether or not the app and device work. There are important testing opportunities across the SDLC including:
Functional Testing - First and foremost, you’ll want to ensure that your app or hardware works as you intend it to. Testing on real devices, in the wild gives you a sense of how your wearable technology will handle real world conditions. Leveraging a combination of test case execution to ensure elements such as data gathering, connectivity and alert display — in combination with
thorough manual exploratory testing to uncover issues you may not have thought about — will give you the complete coverage you need.
Usability Testing - As you fit your apps to a smaller form factor, it’s important to understand what tradeoffs you’re making and how they’re impacting your user. Are you serving up relevant and timely information in an unobtrusive manner, or is your app bloated with a few too many features? Is your app easy to use on this new device? Performing a usability study with users in your target demographic will help you understand how intuitive
users feel your app is and will allow you to concentrate on what matter most.
Localization Testing - If you are targeting users across the globe, it’s important that your wearable technology adapts to their culture, language and formats. With smaller screens to display information, it’s important to validate word choice to make sure your translations fit into the interface while still having your intended meaning
Load and Performance Testing - While much of the communication of wearable technology is directly device-to-app, it is important to consider how your app handles load if it also stores user information inthe cloud or syncs across multiple devices. Knowing how your app handles pressure during peak usage times can help you create a smoother, lag-free experience for users.
Security Testing - If your wearable app communicates with a cloud server, it is important to ensure that you are protecting user information such as username and password, Personally Identifiable Information (PII) and Protected Health Information (PHI). Users are extremely sensitive regarding their private data, particularly location and workout data falling into the wrong hands
Challenges in Wearables testing:
Small screen - Smaller wearable screens make designers redefine the whole experience, even though many mobile UI/UX aspects hold true for smartwatches and all.The screen size of a smart watch is much smaller than a phone's - especially phablets - and wearables often lack buttons that have become
such important aspects of mobile app design. What worked on a smartphone likely won't transition well to a watch or a pair of glasses. User interfaces for the next evolution of technology will require new thinking and new models of testing.
Interaction - Making these devices interact with others is the newest challenge for testers. Think about it – just how many possibilities lay there waiting to be uncovered.
Battery life - Battery life is a real challenge for both wearable app developers and testers, who now have to work out suitable testing criteria.
No simulators - Wearable devices are quite specific, so substituting them with emulators of some kind would be near impossible; trusting the results of such emulator testing would be even harder.
Customized Functional Testing - QA testers will have to come up with new scenarios for testing wearable devices since consumers will be using the devices differently than other types of mobile devices. Tests may include figuring out how the device can and should interact with other devices.
Wearable devices add an extra dimension to the testing process. Along with testing within the bounds of their hardware capabilities, it is vital to also incorporate a range of environmental conditions that, as of yet, cannot be simulated on an emulator, in a lab, or through automated testing. As a result, no wearable app should be released without first performing a broad range of exploratory tests in real environments.