Mobile Application UX Testing on the iPhone

Beyond Rigs & Sleds


The Future of Personal Computing is Mobile

We’ve known for a long time that the future of personal computing was mobile. Today, with mobile device sales outpacing laptop and desktop sales by a wide margin that future is here and now.

This paradigm shift has prompted many companies to adopt a “mobile first” strategy- developing mobile applications before or even in-lieu of desktop applications. So it follows that mobile application UX design and testing is and will continue to be critically important.

For a UX designer, the big challenge is how to run and record a UX test of an iOS application on an iPhone. In the PC environment, there are numerous inexpensive applications that can record screen activity. Such is not the case on the iOS platform. Apple doesn’t allow applications in the iOS environment to record screen activity on the device. The absence of this option on the iOS platform makes capturing all of the details of a UX test on the iPhone seem all but impossible.

One Solution — Rigs and Sleds

Several creative UX professionals have designed and built devices to address this problem. These solutions, sometimes referred to as “rigs” or “sleds”, are usually comprised of an armature onto which is mounted the iPhone, several cameras and a microphone. The rig is then connected to a laptop to record the session

Here are two examples of these “DIY” solutions.

If a DIY solution isn’t your style then several vendor can sell you a fully realized premium version of these rigs. Products like Mr Tappy, the Mod1000 and Wolfvision are beautiful solutions but cost hundreds of dollars.

The problem with going this route is that these rigs are a bit unwieldy. The awkwardness will undoubtedly affect the way the user interacts with the iPhone — and that’s going to impact the results of the UX test. Moreover, as a lean UX professional you may not have the budget nor the interest in attempting to incorporate one of these armatures into a guerrilla UX testing expedition. Nothing will kill a guerrilla UX test moment better than presenting your newly recruited test user with an iPhone that has sprouted arms, cameras, microphones and wires.

A Better Solution — Display Recorder

When it came time for me to do some mobile UX testing I was determined to find a better way. After a few hours of research I found an application called Display Recorder.

Display Recorder turns your iPhone into a compact, self-sufficient mobile UX testing platform. It records the user’s voice over the iPhone microphone, while simultaneously capturing all of the activity on the iPhone screen. The user’s gestures, taps, and touch points are also shown as an animation on the screen. When the test is completed, Display Recorder will turn the recording into a video file which can be viewed right on the iPhone or exported wirelessly.

The result will look something like this…

http://youtu.be/22k0aPK71sQ

This all makes the Display Recorder a pretty effective solution for guerrilla UX testing. So why isn’t Display Recorder the de-facto standard? The reason is that Display Recorder isn’t an approved iOS application, so it’s not available in the Apple App store. Although initially approved by Apple, Display Recorder’s approval status was subsequently revoked. Apple pulled it because it works by recording user activity, which violates their developer security guidelines. – its also exactly what is needed to effectively record a UX test session.

So if you want to use Display Recorder you’ll have to jailbreak your iPhone. Granted not everyone is willing to do this. However, if you already run a jailbroken iPhone or you’re willing to invest the 10 minutes required to jailbreak your phone, then you have the opportunity to turn your iPhone into the ultimate guerrilla UX test platform.

Display Recorder isn’t just great for UX testing. Spend some time with this app and you will quickly realize it has a great many other uses. For example I’ve used Display Recorder to record product demonstrations and short “how to” videos.

My Mobile UX Testing Quiver

My Mobile UX testing quiver. Display Recorder, Voice Memo and Proto.io

Pro Tip: If you decide to use Display Recorder, I suggest that you use the iPhone’s native Voice Memo application for recording pre- or post-test interviews. While it’s tempting to use Display Recorder to record everything because it’s convenient having the entire test recorded in one file, it can take up a lot of space. Although files can be moved immediately after the completion of a test, you probably want to avoid the possibility of running out of space on your phone in the middle of a test session.

To make the tests run more efficiently I put all of my UX testing apps together into a group on my iPhone. Grouping the applications together makes jumping from app to app much quicker.

That’s it! You’re all set to run UX tests on your iPhone… no sled, rigs, or extra cameras required to capture all of the insights!

Final Thoughts

So with mobile becoming our primary personal computing platform, mobile application UX design and testing is more important than ever. If you want a simple way to run and record a UX test directly on your phone, I suggest jailbreaking your phone and using the iPhone application Display Recorder. The Display Recorder can capture all aspects of the UX test session without the need to use additional cameras and microphones. Because the test doesn’t rely on attaching additional infrastructure to the iPhone, the user’s interaction with the phone will be more natural — and the more natural the interaction, the better and truer the UX test results.

I hope that you found this helpful.

Thanks for reading and happy testing!