Sergey Nivens - Fotolia


Mobile app development tools to improve user experience

A new series from HP was created to help app developers get an edge on user experiences, dissatisfaction and habits.

When HP updated eight mobile app development tools and launched another, the Palo Alto, Calif., company made its intentions clear to help developers better understand how mobile users interact with apps, in which areas they stumble and how those performance shortcomings can improve.

While plenty of mobile app development tools exist for measuring network performance, database speed and other technical aspects of an app, gaining quantifiable insight into user satisfaction or, more correctly, user dissatisfaction, is far tougher. The point is to enable testers and product managers to identify the pain points that drive users to abandon transactions, delete apps entirely and post damaging negative opinions on social media, according to Kelly Emo, HP's director of product lifecycle and quality.

Put out a poor app and the word is sure to travel with lightning speed via social media. That can be tantamount to a death sentence, according to Theresa Lanowitz, founder and CEO of analyst firm voke. "The app you put out is a major part of your brand promise," she said. "If it fails, there are serious consequences for your brand and possibly your survivability."

Those potential consequences are dire enough to drive companies to understand how their users interact with and navigate through an app. For SpeechTrans, in Lyndhurst, N.J., creator of speech-to-speech translation software for consumer, military, government and medical applications, it's vital to success. "We need to take action to make sure the user experience is improved with each update and that app-store ratings stay high," said SpeechTrans COO Yan Auerbach. "Now that we can see where our users are going within our app and how long it takes them to get there, we can consistently achieve a five-star-rated mobile app, a key driver of new customers and revenue." Tracing navigation through an app can reveal unintended obstacles, how users circumvent them, and at what point users simply give up and abandon their session, leading to lost sales and poor reviews.

One pixelPrepare for changes in mobile app
development, vendor shake-up

"Tools of this nature are needed now, especially with the soaring emphasis on everything mobile," said Lanowitz. "More than ever, developers need far more insight into how an app works and exactly where -- and how -- it is failing or not working properly." Noting that mobility is now widely used across the spectrum of individual consumers up to large enterprises, customer satisfaction and retention depends on understanding why an app is not performing well and what can be done to fix it. "We're just scratching the surface of what mobile apps can do for us," she said.

Identifying the factors that drive users away from an app is crucial. To find out more about this aspect, HP surveyed 3,011 mobile app users in Europe and North America. More than half (53%) said they delete an app if it crashes, freezes or produces errors. Nearly half (49%) won't use an app with response times longer than two seconds, even if it's the network and not the app that's at fault. An app that is a battery hog is a showstopper for 36%. "These are problems that can kill a brand," said Emo. "The HP tool set is meant to discover these user-experience problems, allowing developers to make modifications that can be tested and put into production quickly."

Expanded toolbox hits app performance and testing

HP released and updated a variety of software on March 30, including the following:

• The new addition to HP's development arsenal is HP App Pulse Mobile, a tool for documenting user actions as they tap, swipe or stretch the screen while interacting with an app. Used in conjunction with HP Haven big data analytics, App Pulse Mobile monitors and analyzes app performance, stability and resource usage. The tool generates a score, dubbed FunDex, that provides a top-level view of problems that negatively affect the user experience, along with recommendations for exploring and fixing the root cause of each issue.

• A new version of HP's Agile lifecycle management software assists mobile teams in adopting Agile practices and delivering mobile apps faster. Included are an update to HP Agile Manager, which supports real-time integration with HP's Application Lifecycle and Test Management; and enhancements to HP Application Lifecycle Management, meant to simplify the task of defect and test management across development and test teams, various browsers, and platforms.

• A new version of HP Mobile Center aims to speed app testing across multiple devices, supporting iOS; Android; and hybrid applications that include common JavaScript frameworks such as jQuery Mobile (JQM), Angular and Sencha. Created for testing mobile app functionality and performance, it supports English, French, German, Russian, Japanese, Korean and Chinese.

• The updated HP Network Virtualization sports an enhanced interface to help development teams incorporate real mobile-network conditions in development and testing. A new version of HP Service Virtualization, a tool for testing in a simulated production environment, provides capabilities for driving mobile development by extending support for popular protocols, such as WebSphere MQ and SAP RFC/IDOC.

Scalability, security also receive enhancements

The updated tool set also includes solutions designed to overcome scalability issues and maintain responsiveness during periods of peak user demand. To support mobile performance testing, new releases of HP LoadRunner, for testing end-to-end system performance, and HP Performance Center, used for planning and executing tests, now integrate with HP Mobile Center. This integration provides mobile QA and development teams with continual access to real devices in performance-test scenarios.

The refresh of HP StormRunner Load, a cloud-based Agile load-testing service, offers up improvements in performance analytics while extending international geographic coverage to support creation of localized loads.

Security is critical for mobile apps, and with good reason. Meant to invite legitimate users inside, they are also often the starting point for hackers and others attempting to gain unauthorized access. For application development and testing that infuses security into the coding and testing processes, the new releases of HP Application Lifecycle Management and Testing solutions are integrated with the company's HP Fortify software security suite, encompassing security testing and software security management. The suite is designed to assess and test security throughout the lifecycle.

Customer notes quicker app fixes

SpeechTrans' Auerbach had the opportunity to work with the updated tools prior to their release and said that they have already helped to speed the process of improving apps based on user experience knowledge. "Previously, it took us up to three weeks to fix an app issue. Now we can address [it] in less than two days," he said. Auerbach also noted that his company's apps are garnering more five-star user reviews in app stores, such as iTunes and Google Play, which he attributes to changes based on the HP software

The testing of mobile apps is only now beginning to mature, voke's Lanowitz said. "We have not seen a lot of testing being done in mobile apps. In some cases it's due to compressed time frames for releases. But there just hasn't been a good, reliable, comprehensive tool set across the board that developers have been willing to standardize on," she said. "With this announcement, HP is showing that it is getting back in touch with its roots, software testers."

The entire portfolio of HP's March 30 releases is available now.

Next Steps

Improvements on mobile app dev tools

CTO sheds light on selection process for mobile app development tool

Dig Deeper on Mobile infrastructure and applications