Xamarin hopes to simplify mobile app testing with new service

Test Cloud will become available during the third quarter

Xamarin has announced Test Cloud, an automated service that lets mobile developers test their apps on hundreds of mobile devices.

Getting an application to work properly on multiple mobile devices is a big challenge because of the many different screen sizes, operating systems, and versions of those operating systems from different manufacturers, according to CEO Nat Friedman, who spoke during the opening keynote at the company's inaugural user conference, Evolve.

"If you are a company that wants to support a lot of devices, you literally have to test on hundreds of devices," Friedman said.

Making sure that applications work properly on all targeted devices is crucial because users are on the go and apps only have a few seconds to impress them, according to Friedman.

Today, most developers rely on manual testing. Only 8 percent of 300 developers queried by Xamarin used any kind of testing product on mobile.

"This was OK when mobile was like new and in its infancy and we were all cowboys and that's cool. But it has grown up a little bit now," Friedman said.

The company is hoping to change that with the introduction of Test Cloud. It uses a Web-based interface, but can also be integrated with popular continuous integration systems such as Jenkins, TFS and TeamCity.

To add a new application for testing using Test Cloud, developers first have to upload the APK file if it's an Android app, for example. Test Cloud then lets developers choose what devices to test the app on. The last step is to choose how to test, and the options are either to upload customized scripts or choose a feature called App Explorer, Friedman said.

App Explorer automatically tests an app by exploring the user interface, visiting every tab, pushing buttons and filling in text fields. It uses one device as a reference to create a script and then runs that on all the other devices. User interface elements are identified by object IDs, so that tests continue working even if changes are made to the layout.

The resulting report shows browseable screenshots of each step from the app running on different devices, performance monitoring, and detailed device logs and stack traces to help developers find and fix bugs quickly.

Test Cloud will become generally available during the third quarter. It will not only be integrated into Xamarin's own platform, but will also become available to developers building apps using Objective-C, Java and other frameworks. The service is based on Calabash, the most widely used cross-platform mobile test automation framework, according to Xamarin, which has acquired LessPainful, the company that created it.

What the service will cost remains to be seen. Pricing details will not be made public until it ships, but users who want to get their hands on the beta version can sign up on Xamarin's website.

Send news tips and comments to mikael_ricknas@idg.com

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