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Testing apps before the holidays

By Dave Berg

With Labor Day in the rear view mirror, few of us are giving much thought to the holiday shopping season.

While it might be OK to not have bought any gifts yet, if you delay testing your mobile applications for much longer, it will be a ?Bah Humbug? rather than ?Happy Holidays? for your company.

For most businesses, holiday sales account for 20 percent to 40 percent of annual revenues.

According to IBM, during the 2011 holiday shopping season, 14.6 percent of all online sessions on a retailer?s site initiated from a mobile device.

During the same period, mobile devices accounted for 11 percent of total sales, double that of 2010. These trends are expected to accelerate in 2012, making mobile commerce the fastest-growing sales channel for many companies.

Freezer burn
The key to capitalizing on this mobile commerce opportunity is with a mobile app that performs well, is designed and developed first-and-foremost with the end user in mind, and will be a benefit, not a hindrance, for sales conversion.

All of this must be accomplished before early- to mid-October when app code freezes ? an industry standard for retailers ? go into effect.

Once that freeze happens, if your app has issues that negatively affect your end users, there is little you can do to repair the app, let alone loss of revenue and reputation.

That is why now is the most critical time of the year to test and ensure the health and wellbeing of your mobile apps for the holiday shopping season.

How can you go about the process of figuring out what to test and how to test it?

First, identify your targets. Which customers you want to reach and what devices are they using? Android or iOS? Smartphone or tablet? What will give your app the greatest coverage for the lowest cost?

Establishing these parameters will allow you to prioritize testing those apps and devices that will have the greatest ROI.

When testing apps on current mobile technology, keep an eye towards what customers will be using in four months. What will happen to your app with the newly released iPhone 5 and iOS 6?

While it might be impossible to fully future-proof your apps, you need to plan for the inevitability of new devices between the time the code freeze begins and your customers access your app during the holidays.

Where your customers are located is an important factor in app testing. If they are only in locations with excellent 4G coverage, your apps can be designed for those ideal mobile conditions.

But chances are, you have a diffuse customer base that is trying to access your app on a variety of mobile network conditions.

By testing with geographically specific real-world network conditions, you can optimize your app to work at acceptable performance levels regardless of where your customer lives or shops.

Crash pad
No less important for app testing is understanding the back-end scalability of your app. Where are your thresholds for mobile use as a percentage of overall users?

Due to the inherent latency of mobile networks, mobile users have the potential to consume multiple times more resources than a traditional Web-based shopper.

Often overlooked, this is a critical consideration to test. Not preparing for the mobile load can result in a system crash that affects both mobile and Web-based users.

Plan for what to do when your app starts to crash.

Not all ?crashes? are catastrophic, causing the entire site to go down. Rather, a crash might only represent several seconds of delay for the mobile user.

But, given that just 250 milliseconds of delay are enough to cause a user to abandon a site, several seconds of delay could be enough to send your Black Friday into the red.

Having a plan in place to quickly respond to delays or worse, total crashes, will allow users to continue shopping while you activate more resources.

With the proper app testing procedures, based on the consideration for mobile technology, user location and back-end resources, your app will be well positioned in time for the October code freeze.

Without it, you will be relying on luck to ensure your app?s performance, company?s revenue and reputation and, quite possibly, your job.

Dave Berg is senior director of product management at Shunra Software, Philadelphia. Reach him at .