How Augmented and Virtual Reality Changes QA

Have you ever seen a video of someone falling wearing a VR headset? Now that’s what you call an immersive experience. But this funny example also uncovers an important reality: the importance of how QA needs to evolve to test virtual experiences.


VR/AR technology is growing in adoption

The adoption of augmented reality and virtual reality is not slowing down any time soon. In fact, AR (mobile AR, smart glasses) could approach three and a half billion installed users, and VR (mobile, standalone, console, PC) is expected to grow to 50–60 million installed users in the next five years. As developers adopt standards such as Apple’s ARKit, Google’s AR Core, and various VR SDKs, the growth in AR/VR applications is expected to rise exponentially, fueling the adoption of augmented and virtual reality.

But for now, AR/VR is still a virtually unexplored frontier. Development teams are creating new immersive experiences no one has seen before, and with these experiences come new rules to establish to ensure quality, efficiency, and effectiveness. These rules will define our future: and soon being immersed in an AR or VR environment will be as normal as using a smartphone is today.

The Role of QA

QA is traditionally thought of as the last step in a development process. QA is rarely subjective but mainly focuses on running a series of test scripts to evaluate the quality of a product according to eight main quality attributes: functionality, performance, reliability, compatibility, usability, security, maintainability, and portability. But AR/VR introduces a ninth quality attribute as necessary as the others that can’t be programmatically tested: immersitivity. AR/VR blends the physical and virtual worlds in new ways, making it critical for the experience to be immersive for the end user.


The Behavior of Virtual Environments

Virtual and augmented reality QA processes bring up a series of fascinating questions. Some virtual and augmented reality environments don’t exist in the physical world, like a virtual walk on Mars. For these experiences, QA must add a subjective layer to their testing process: if the experience “feels” real or behaves realistically.

Even when the virtual environment is replicating a known physical environment, the considerations for QA still take a subjective turn. Virtual objects do not have the same properties as physical objects. Therefore, QA must understand the intended use of the virtual object and ensure it has all of the same qualities as its physical counterpart. For example, a new AR app may help a user visualize how a couch looks inside a room before you purchase it. A tester would check that the virtual couch looks and “acts” as a real couch. Size is one consideration to see how it fits, but others factors, such as the color of the couch, or representation of the fabric, may be key attributes necessary for an immersive experience.

Human Centered Design in AR/VR

As digital experiences begin to incorporate more and more virtual worlds and objects, a human-centered approach becomes key to the design and development process. Because the user becomes a part of a system mentally as well as physically — thinking about the user’s feelings and goals is the only way to create truly immersive digital experiences.

This type of human-centered testing can’t be automated like traditional QA. Instead of scripts, various test data, boundaries and equivalence partitioning, testers will use their feelings and sensations to deliver final feedback to developers and designers.

For example, motion sickness is a serious side effect of VR for many users. Testing experiences for excessive movement, or even adding a “virtual nose” to the experience can help user’s brains reconcile the virtual environment with their own movements. QA testers must take into consideration these physical (and even emotional) considerations when testing products.

The QA Role Transforms

All of these changes lead to a transformation of the QA role. QA will still maintain its role as a part of the traditional development teams, where they check if the software meets the requirements. These days, they’re also becoming the first people to see the immersive experiences before the larger audience does. Testers become more and more critical to the success of a product, and are required to think more holistically about end user’s experience with emerging technologies.