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Ivan Sholomitskyi, Automation Quality Assurance Engineer

Dec 19, 2023 18 min read

Mobile App Usability Testing: The Ultimate Guide

Mobile app usability testing is the best way to build successful and functional apps and ensure the ultimate mobile experience. It allows you to gain deeper valuable insights while developing your app and determine which enhancements must be implemented in your app’s design.  

Mobile App Usability Testing

With over 3.2 billion smartphone users worldwide, it’s no surprise that the mobile industry thrives. And it will only continue to grow steadily, with no signs of a slowdown in sight. The majority of organizations use smartphones rather than desktops to conduct their business. It, in turn, has led to an increase in mobile app usage. According to Toptal – 90% of users stopped using an app due to poor performance. Therefore, developing an intuitive mobile UX that drives customer engagement and reduces churn is crucial.  

However, before heading towards mobile application development and management, it’s essential to consider mobile app usability testing to build successful and functional mobile apps. A successful app should be intuitive and take users very little time to become familiar with the interface. When a user gets stuck, a solution should be readily available. Using mobile app usability testing, you can guide users through a mobile app, improve its usability, and fix main errors.

But how do you improve the usability of your mobile app? Mobile app usability testing is the best way to build successful and functional apps and ensure the ultimate mobile experience. It allows you to gain deeper valuable insights while developing your app and determine which enhancements must be implemented in your app’s design.  

Let’s begin! 

What is Mobile App Usability Testing? 

Mobile app usability testing is a systematic evaluation process to assess the effectiveness and user-friendliness of a digital product specifically designed for mobile devices. This evaluation involves presenting users with tasks and observing their phone interactions with the mobile app or website. 

The core objective of mobile usability testing is to swiftly identify and address any usability issues that may arise during user interactions. This iterative process involves a continuous cycle of testing and redesign, ensuring that the app evolves to offer the optimal experience for its target audience. The ultimate goal is to confirm that users can seamlessly perform essential tasks and successfully achieve their objectives within the app or website. 

By using the insights derived from mobile usability tests, developers and designers can enhance the user experience (UX), prevent potential issues, and gain a deeper understanding of the behavioral patterns of their target audience. This data-driven approach contributes to refining the app's usability and facilitates a more comprehensive understanding of how users engage with the digital product on mobile devices. 

The Importance of Mobile App Usability Testing 

The importance of mobile app usability testing lies in its ability to ensure a mobile application's positive user experience, functionality, and overall effectiveness. Here are vital reasons highlighting its significance: 

  • Enhanced User Experience: Mobile usability testing helps identify and address issues related to navigation, layout, and overall user interface, enhancing user experience. 
  • Functionality Validation: It verifies that all features and functionalities within the mobile app work as intended, reducing the risk of bugs or glitches that could negatively impact user satisfaction. 
  • Error Reduction: Mobile usability testing aids in detecting and rectifying errors early in the development process, minimizing the likelihood of users encountering issues post-launch. 
  • Optimized Navigation: By evaluating the app's navigation structure, usability testing ensures that users can easily find what they need, increasing user engagement and satisfaction. 
  • Consistency Across Devices: Testing various mobile devices and screen sizes helps guarantee that the app performs consistently, regardless of the device used, expanding its accessibility. 
  • Efficient Task Completion: Usability testing for mobile apps evaluates how efficiently users can accomplish tasks within the app, streamlining processes and improving overall user productivity. 
  • Increased User Retention: A user-friendly app, validated through usability testing for mobile apps, is more likely to retain users, fostering long-term engagement and loyalty. 
  • Competitive Advantage: Usability testing for mobile apps helps to ensure that your app stands out by delivering a superior user experience, giving your product a competitive edge. 
  • Cost Savings: Identifying and addressing usability issues early in the development process is more cost-effective than resolving problems post-launch, where the expense and potential negative impact on the brand can be much higher.  
  • Positive Brand Image: A well-designed and user-friendly mobile app reflects positively on the brand, building trust and loyalty among users. 

Testing of mobile applications is crucial for both entrepreneurs and users. Let’s discover the reasons: 

Benefits for Real Users 

Benefits for Business Owners 

Increased satisfaction from using the app 

Reduced development and maintenance costs 

Positive impressions and experience 

Opportunity to attract investments 

Faster and more efficient goal achievement 

Increased number of users 

When Should You Do Mobile Usability Testing? 

We recommend incorporating usability tests in the UX design process as soon as possible. This should, in and of itself, encompass any new development planned for your app. This means that as soon as you have a mobile-friendly app prototype, it’s time to start testing it. Testing a mobile app’s prototype before development starts will save you time and money later. Here are critical points in the app development process when mobile usability testing is particularly crucial: 

Prototype Stage 

  • Initiate usability testing as soon as a mobile-friendly app prototype is available. 
  • This early testing phase allows for identifying and preventing potential usability issues before the development process progresses. 

New Development Planning 

  • Incorporate usability testing for mobile applications as a standard practice for any new development planned for the app. 
  • It ensures that usability is a priority from the outset, potentially saving time and resources in later stages. 

Multiple Rounds of Testing 

  • Perform usability testing throughout the app creation process. 
  • This iterative approach is crucial when introducing new features or redesigns that could impact the overall user experience. 

Logical Testing Progression 

  • Follow a logical progression in testing, starting with the prototype and advancing to the beta version before culminating in testing the fully released app. 
  • Each testing stage uniquely serves to refine the app's usability and address issues at different development stages. 

Formative Qualitative Tests 

  • Employ formative qualitative tests, especially during the prototype phase. 
  • These tests involve users sharing their thoughts  and engaging in in-depth discussions, providing valuable insights into user perspectives and thought processes. 

Summative Quantitative Tests 

  • As the app nears release, incorporate summative quantitative tests. 
  • These tests involve observing statistical metrics related to task completion effectiveness and efficiency, aiding in objectively evaluating the released version's overall user experience. 

Starting early with prototype testing, performing multiple rounds, and employing both qualitative and quantitative testing methods contribute to refining the app's usability and ensuring a positive user experience throughout its development lifecycle. 

Steps of Mobile Application Usability Testing 

Wondering how to do usability testing for mobile application? When performing usability testing, you must follow some easy steps. Each answer describes precisely what to do for the best result. 

IMPLEMENTATION STEPS

Step 1: Defining the Objectives 

This stage necessitates detailed conversations and discussions with your development team to 
 
Create a roadmap for the mobile app development. 

  • Define the target audience based on the app's purpose. 
  • Research competing apps to understand market trends. 
  • Develop a forecast for the app's performance and success. 
  • Estimate the project scope, including resources and timelines. 

As a software engineer or product owner, it is crucial to be prepared to discuss all the details and analyze the information you have and the information you need. You will be able to define the objectives and goals of your project only after envisioning what the final product will look like. Remember to prioritize your objectives and decide on the methods to measure success. 

Step 2: Set up the Tasks to Perform 

Choose the tasks accurately and organize them through test scenarios. Each scenario must reflect what the real user will do with the app. And each action should be  

  • Realistic and representative of user actions.  
  • Understandable and intuitive.  
  • Ordered logically to simulate a natural sequence of interactions.  
  • Bound to each other to create a coherent testing process.  

  

You need to measure the performance while the QA is running the test. Each step should take as little time as possible. A faster app response time can impact download numbers positively. 

Step 3: Create Test Documentation 

Comprehensive test documentation is essential for clarity and consistency. This includes detailing the objectives, test scenarios, and criteria for evaluating performance. Well-documented processes contribute to the effectiveness of usability testing. 

Step 4: Choose the Test Participants 

Testing mobile applications in terms of usability is a user-oriented approach, so the participation of actual users is required. Your preparations and the process may take time and resources but do not forget that the more effort and attention you devote to this task, the better results you will get. 

Here are the considerations for participant selection: 

 

  • Tailor conditions to reveal the app's weaknesses. 
  • Segment users based on devices or usage duration. 
  • Ensure participants embody the target audience, creating user personas for accuracy. 
  • Prioritize data protection and confidentiality, especially if compensation terms or special forms are involved. 

Step 5. Run the Mobile Application Usability Testing

Usability testing can be performed in the laboratory or remotely. Both approaches are suitable for software development, given the global accessibility of mobile apps. Laboratory testing allows complete control over the process, enabling observing participants' behavior, reactions, impressions, and actions. The process typically includes: 

 

  • Welcoming the test users 
  • Initial interview 
  • Performing the tasks 
  • Questionnaire session 
  • Debriefing 

 

Remote testing has a few advantages. Firstly, you can avoid inviting participants to your company, saving you and your colleagues time. There is no need to monitor the users, which makes it even more convenient. Secondly, remote testing does not have defined stages and can be conducted anytime and from anywhere. 

What Can You Test? 

In mobile usability testing, virtually anything that users can engage with on a mobile phone is subject to evaluation. Here are some key areas and options for mobile usability testing: 

Native Mobile Applications 

  • Test existing native mobile apps available on platforms like the App Store or Google Play. 
  • Evaluate beta versions using platforms such as TestFlight or the Play Console. 
  • Assess the user experience before major releases or feature launches. 

Websites (or Web Apps) 

  • Test websites or web applications when accessed through a mobile browser. 
  • Ensure mobile-friendly website usability, considering significant web traffic from mobile devices. 
  • Adapt websites to accommodate the distinct behavior of smartphone users. 

Prototypes 

  • Perform mobile usability testing of prototypes to assess user interactions during the design stage. 
  • Utilize prototyping tools like Figma, InVision, Axure RP 9, Adobe XD, Sketch, or Marvel. 

Combination Testing 

  • Test scenarios where users must switch between multiple apps to complete a task. 
  • Evaluate interactions that involve opening a browser during specific user flow steps. 
  • Assess complex user interactions to ensure a seamless experience across various elements. 

Cross-App Interactions 

  • Use mobile usability testing tools to assess processes that involve switching between multiple apps. 

Usability Testing Checklist for Mobile Apps 

In performing usability testing, testers need to: 

  • Ensure buttons are appropriate and comfortable for larger fingers. 
  • Check whether buttons are consistently placed on the screen to prevent user confusion. 
  • Verify if images and icons align with the application environment. 
  • Confirm that buttons of similar functions share the same color and area of interaction. 
  • Verify system functionality during zoom-in and out. 
  • Minimize keyboard input requirements. 
  • Determine if users can undo actions or navigate back after pressing the wrong key. 
  • Ensure contextual menus are not overloaded for quick usage. 
  • Evaluate the text's simplicity, clarity, and visibility to users. 
  • Verify the readability of short sentences and paragraphs. 
  • Find the optimal font size. 
  • Alert users about potential issues when loading large amounts of information. 
  • Check the ability to exit the application in any mode and resume in the same mode. 
  • Confirm all text displays in the required language, with an option for translation. 
  • Ensure application components synchronize with user actions. 
  • Provide a guide to help users understand and effectively use the application. 

Mobile app testing involves user participation, as only real people can understand the subjective experiences associated with using the application. 

Mobile Usability Testing Tools 

Mobile usability testing tools play a pivotal role in evaluating the user experience of mobile apps, whether in the development phase with a demo version or for assessing an existing live app. These tools streamline the testing process, enabling easy and remote testing without the necessity of assembling UX researchers and testers in a traditional UX lab. Here is a list of some of the best mobile usability testing tools available today: 

UXtweak

UXtweak is a  platform that enables you to conduct remote usability testing on mobile devices. You only need to set up your study using the UXtweak web app to perform mobile usability testing. Participants can join the study by simply clicking on a link.  

Pros: 

  • Offers multiple recruitment options. You can use the Onsite Recruiting widget, 155M+ User Panel, your database for managing the tester pool, or via URL to recruit participants. 
  • An extensive list of features to complement your mobile usability testing activities. 
  • Deep analytics that is easy to understand, along with PDF reports. 
  • Quick setup and intuitive UI. 
  • Free plan available for small projects.  

Cons:  

  • Supports only 14 languages, potentially limiting usability for a diverse user base 

Userlytics

Userlytics is a platform designed for usability testing. It helps you gather qualitative and quantitative UX insights into your users’ behavior. 

Pros:  

  • User testing for mobile apps is easy and quick to set up. 
  • Customer service is prompt and knowledgeable. 

  

Cons

  • Limited Analysis capabilities. 
  • No free plan is available. 
  • Pricing is high. 

Loop 11

Loop11 is a versatile tool that helps you gain insights into the behavior and engagement of mobile users, making it an excellent tool for UX research. You can create customized tasks and questions that are specifically tailored to your target audience. The platform offers moderated and unmoderated tests, benchmarking, A/B testing, and other tools to analyze your users. With Loop11, you can easily interact with users, test mobile app UX, and gather valuable information for UX specialists. 

Pros

  • Advanced filtering and analysis methods to help with data analysis. 
  • Integrates with various third-party tools, allowing users to merge information from multiple sources for deeper insights. 

  

Cons

  • Loading times can sometimes be lengthy, which may cause inconvenience. 
  • There is no free plan, which may make it less accessible for small businesses. 
  •  The need for more screening questions, which may make it challenging to filter out irrelevant data. 

Lookback

This testing tool that facilitates screen sharing and discussions with customers for businesses. You can create and share highlights with team members to obtain visibility into user habits, app usability trends, and onboarding difficulties. 

Pros:  

  • This tool allows multiple people to access and potentially save your research. There is no limit to the number of participants who can do so. 

Cons:  

  • It may not be the ideal tool if you lack participants for your research, as it doesn't assist in this area. 
  • Unsatisfactory customer service compared to alternative products. 

 

Testbirds

It is a remote usability testing platform, which offers many tools for crowd testing, like usability testing for mobile apps and a user panel of 1M+ testers from 190 countries.  

Pros:  

  • Integrations with other platforms.  
  • Large user panel.  

Cons:  

  • Users have reported technical issues that required customer support to resolve.   
  • Testing is available in 4 languages (English, German, French, Italian).  
  • Unintuitive UI.  
  • Steeper learning curve. 

Challenges of Mobile App Usability Testing 

Following are some challenges connected with mobile app usability testing. 

  • Target audience: Selecting your app's target users might be tedious and time-consuming. If the chosen target audience does not accurately represent the actual users, the test results may not reflect the real-world user experience. 
  • Require manual efforts: Mobile App Usability Testing is a type of non-functional testing; therefore, it is time-consuming and requires manual QA effort. 
  • Expense: Usability Testing can be expensive, primarily if the testing phase extends longer. Budget constraints may impact the depth and frequency of usability testing, potentially compromising the overall quality of the user experience. 
  • Execution hiccups: Performing usability testing and data analysis manually takes ample time and effort. Delays in execution and analysis may hinder the timely identification and resolution of usability issues. 
  • Real-User Experience Limitations: Achieving 100% real-user experience is impossible. Since the users are selected randomly to run usability tests, the expected result do not fully reflect the experience of every potential user.  

Mobile Usability Testing Best Practices 

Here are some of the best practices for your mobile app usability testing to run smoothly and for you to get the best data possible. 

Recruit Testers with Experience 

  • Recruit testers who have used the mobile device for at least 3 months. 
  • This ensures that testers are familiar with the device's operating system and have developed habits typical for that device. 
  • Results will more accurately reflect real-world scenarios. 

Run a Pilot Study 

  • Before sending out the study to respondents, conduct a pilot study with someone not involved in the setup process. 
  • Use a colleague or friend to test the study, ensuring that everything works as intended and that tasks are easy to understand. 

Test Prototypes First 

  • If you are in the early stages of creating your mobile app, prioritize usability testing on prototypes. 
  • It's more cost-effective to identify and address issues in a design prototype than to discover critical usability issues after developing the entire app. 
  • Perform mobile prototype testing before starting full-scale development. 

Diversify Test Environments 

  • Test in various real-world environments to assess the app's usability in different conditions. 
  • Consider factors such as varying network connectivity, lighting conditions, and background noise. 

Use Real Devices

  • Test on actual mobile devices rather than relying solely on emulators. 
  • Real devices provide a more accurate representation of the user experience. 

Capture User Interactions 

  • Use tools to record and analyze user interactions during testing. 
  • Video recordings, heatmaps, and other analytics can provide valuable insights into user behavior. 

Encourage Thinking  

  • Prompt users to express their thoughts aloud while performing tasks. 
  • This verbal feedback provides deeper insights into the user's decision-making process and frustrations. 

Collect Qualitative and Quantitative Data 

  • Combine qualitative insights (user feedback, observations) with quantitative data (task completion times, success rates). This approach provides a complete understanding of the user experience. 

Iterative Process 

  • Usability testing is an iterative process. Implement changes based on feedback and observations. 
  • Perform multiple rounds of testing to refine the app's usability continuously. 

Conclusion 

Mobile app usability testing is crucial in the development process to ensure a positive user experience, functionality, and overall effectiveness. By systematically evaluating user interactions, developers can identify and address potential issues early, enhancing user satisfaction and reducing long-term costs. The iterative nature of usability testing, starting from the prototype stage and progressing through multiple rounds, allows for continuous refinement of the app's usability.

Knowing how to do usability testing for a mobile application involves designing user scenarios, tasks, and gathering feedback to evaluate the app's user-friendliness and overall user experience, ensuring it meets the needs and expectations of its target audience. 

The significance of usability testing lies in its ability to optimize navigation, validate functionality, reduce errors, and help to guarntee consistency on different devices. A user-friendly app, validated through usability testing, contributes to increased user retention, a positive brand image, and a competitive advantage in the market. 

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Frequently Asked Questions

What is the core objective of mobile app usability testing?

The core objective is to systematically evaluate the effectiveness and user-friendliness of a mobile application, ensuring users can seamlessly perform essential tasks and achieve their objectives. 

Why is mobile app usability testing crucial for developers and designers?

It provides insights that  help enhance user experience, help prevent issues, and offer a deeper understanding of user behavior, contributing to continuous refinement throughout the development lifecycle. 

What areas can be tested in mobile usability testing?

Users can engage with virtually anything on a mobile phone, including native mobile apps, websites accessed through mobile browsers, prototypes, combination testing scenarios, and cross-app interactions. 

What are the critical steps involved in mobile application usability testing?

The steps include defining objectives, setting up tasks, creating test documentation, choosing test participants, and conducting usability testing in a lab or remotely. 

When is the ideal time to start mobile usability testing?

Usability testing should begin as soon as a mobile-friendly app prototype is available. It is crucial during the prototype stage and should continue throughout the app creation process. 

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