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The future’s foldable - but what does that mean for DevOps?

(Image credit: Image Credit: Profit_Image / Shutterstock)

It looks like 2019 is going to be the year of the foldable phone. Samsung, LG and Huawei have already experimented with the form factor, albeit with mixed levels of success.

At CES, LG impressed the industry when it unveiled its new roll-up, 65-inch 4K TV, and although its first set of review units proved prohibitively fragile when issued to journalists last month, a fair number of Samsung’s early work on bendable screens has made its way into products like the Galaxy Edge line. Most recently, ahead of its I/O developer conference, Google also reported that it is looking into foldable tech and has been prototyping foldable displays for quite some time.

It’s perhaps no surprise that the foldable form is proving a popular prospect; when unfolded, these devices offer the large screen space that consumers covet. And best of all, this added screen space comes without sacrificing the portability and convenience of a typical smartphone.

But no new development comes without challenges, and whilst, at first glance, these new devices might not really impact DevOps, due to the limited number of such models, ultimately their increased screens and bending mechanisms will cause major disruption in the overall release schedule.

Indeed, at a recent Perfecto webinar, we discovered that a quarter of DevOps believe that foldable devices will disrupt the quality of existing apps on a “massive” scale, and 22 per cent predict that new applications will need to be developed to support the devices.

So how can DevOps stay one step ahead of the curve?

Dealing with the challenges

With folding smartphones in the spotlight, DevOps teams will need to ensure that their apps are fully prepared to perform. As such, a greater emphasis will be placed on Quality Assurance (QA) teams and the testing they need to achieve in order to cover all the test scenarios.

QA teams will need to allocate time for fine tuning and testing apps to ensure that they’re are able to work on new devices. In addition, developers will need to consider important enhancements to their mobile native apps. Key points to consider will include catering for increased memory requirements and battery usage, multi-window functionality - and ensuring robust UI testing. Support for responsive web apps on a foldable device will be challenging too, particularly when we look at an Android ecosystem which does not have as much experience in maintaining tablet ‘footprint’ quality as iOS.

Of course, apps will have to be made so they are adjustable to different screen sizes, and the need to create apps for regular phones and foldable phones will likely increase the time and cost of app development. Another complication is the idea that apps running on foldables are going to use the multi-resume split screen feature introduced in 2018’s Android Pie operating system. This poses a challenge because devices will have juggle the needs of up to three apps running in the foreground (i.e. the ones displayed on screen simultaneously), which will all be competing for core system resources like processing power, memory and battery consumption. Then, it’s made even tougher when these apps also compete for shared specific smartphone device resources like the camera, location services, voice commands and so on.

Developers will also need to ensure app continuity; the ability to have a fluent, flawless experience when running a smartphone and unfolding the device to a tablet mode - not losing an existing session or experiencing an unwelcome lag.

One factor that is unique to foldable phones is the need to support multiple sizes / ratios for a single user. With foldable phones, developers will have little choice but to support at least two resolutions (folded and unfolded), and possibly four, if they support the rotated orientation as well. This means teams will have more resolutions to support, more test devices to buy, and more test cases for folding and unfolding.

Another effect of folding phones will be longer feedback loops for DevOps teams. This is mainly due to the added views a foldable phone provides, which creates more testing for QA teams. Teams that aren’t working as efficiently as possible will bear the brunt of this transition.

How to capitalise on the foldable opportunity

So, DevOps teams can expect releases to slow down with the emergence of folding phones. This is mainly due to tricky testing scenarios that this new breed of smartphones presents. However, in order to maintain the speedy releases that consumers require; teams must look for efficiencies and the ability to streamline ways of working, while still ensuring optimal quality.

 

How does this work in reality? Firstly teams must look at addressing the unique complexities which come with a new form factor.  Introducing more privacy protections and more control over apps and access to shared files, in order to prevent apps from launching an activity while in the background, will be important. In addition, a new settings panel API will allow apps to show settings to users in the context of their app.

For Android developers there are plenty of compatibility considerations, and it must be noted across the board that foldable tech is likely to consume more power and memory than other devices, so power saving capabilities will be important. 

In addition, although teams will inevitably need to start testing on real devices instead of relying just on simulators for this complex transition, developers need to find ways to automate the folding and unfolding of a phone throughout the testing process to reduce manual work as much as possible.

For some, success will come in the form of robotics which can take the manual folding and unfolding process away from testers. We believe that by far and away the best way to counter the challenges is through solid continuous test plans that address all the different scenarios for foldables, including UI and layout testing across screen sizes, landscape and orientation, whilst maintaining all the app’s “business as usual” essentials such as user control over location and privacy protections.

Indeed, without an efficient process, the feedback loop and releases will just become longer and longer — meaning you’d have to employ more people for QA, waste resources - and take longer to deploy software.

The adoption of “always on” automated testing tools is crucial when testing on this scale, particularly for a new and unpredictable form factor. Tools like Perfecto’s reduce manual effort and risk, whilst ensuring that tests are tailored to the team’s expertise, together with machine learning to continually enhance testing processes.

Growing pains

So, these steps will all help ensure a better experience for users of apps on foldable devices. But these are what we’d call “defensive steps” - the basics to ensure a smooth transition between devices, and a consistently good user experience.

What’s more exciting, perhaps, is the more proactive steps developers can take - to capitalise on the new marketing opportunities this revolutionary handset will offer. With more “real estate”, better screen resolution and more interactivity, the opportunities for brands to get closer to their customer are vast.

There is no doubt that foldable phones are an exciting development in the mobile sphere, only time will tell just how much of an impact this new technology will have on DevOps. What is certain, is that as with any new technology, there will be growing pains. We should acknowledge them, and we should also start preparing.

Eran Kinsbruner, chief evangelist, Perfecto
Image Credit: Profit_Image / Shutterstock