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What the rise of IoT means for your testing practices

(Image credit: Image source: Shutterstock/everything possible)

It seems nowadays that you can put ‘smart’ in front of any word and it suddenly becomes all the rage. It began with smart phones and has spread to smart homes, smart toys, smart watches, smart assistants...the possibilities are endless. But when it comes to certain aspects of our lives, consumers are rightly skeptical (opens in new tab) of the potential for absolute connectivity. 

In a market that’s still nascent, quality and security are especially important. Consumers need to be convinced that their new product will both work well and be safe. To ensure that connected devices are both secure and functional, manufacturers are going to have to consider unfamiliar situations and manage new challenges. One of the most effective and efficient ways of tackling these challenges is through new methods of testing.   

Testing is crucial for the IoT 

As our devices become smarter, more challenges arise both for the product manufacturers and for the software developers testing the products. The more complex the application and the more interfaces available, the more important the performance testing stage becomes. 

IoT systems are very complex - they involve a variety of different devices, apps and data systems that all have different requirements for testing. This no longer gels with the traditional testing approach - that is, having a small team of testers working in a laboratory. Relying on a QA lab alone to test such complicated IoT systems could easily result in a number of errors going undiscovered. And when one of the the key selling points of a connected device is to be “always on,” you don’t want to be dealing with any user functionality issues. 

User experience comes first 

User experience can make or break IoT devices. The whole purpose of welcoming one into your home is that they’re easier to use than the olde worlde ‘unconnected device’. It should make a marked difference to your life to have the option to manage your home remotely or to have your smart assistant read you out your calendar appointments. But if poor functionality means that your IoT device makes your life harder rather than easier, then there’s no point in having it at all. 

This means that first impressions matter. If your customer is opening and closing a smart door lock for the first time, delays of just a few seconds are already going to be perceived as deal-breaking. Otherwise, they might as well just use a traditional lock and key. Successful IoT devices require fast response times combined with an intuitive user experience right from the start. 

New devices mean new requirements 

The rapid growth of the wearable market has led to a proliferation of smart devices that have potentially limitless applications. Fitness gadgets, portable cameras, smart watches, GPS tracking devices, smart clothing… the list expands every day. In fact, Gartner predicts (opens in new tab) that the amount of IoT applications will reach a whopping 20.4 billion by 2020, with spending projected to reach $2 trillion this year. 

As we welcome connected devices into our everyday lives, they are being subjected to real, human environments that can be wildly unpredictable. Consequently, test methods and environments should replicated those of a real user. How, for example, can you ensure a fitness tracker will work just as well in extreme heat as in the cold, or in the forest as in the city? Does the data flow seamlessly between the app and wearable device? How does the device behave abroad? 

The reality is that some errors can only be discovered by the user. As a result, it’s vital that devices are tested by real people on real equipment and in everyday situations, not in a laboratory. At Applause (opens in new tab), we call this ‘in-the-wild’ testing. 

Lab testing is out, in-the-wild testing is in 

In-the-wild testing enables software testers to react to the constant changes and updates at play in IoT systems. The results reflect the actual or potential user experience much better than is possible testing in a lab. For example, IoT devices and applications are made by multiple different vendors and must interact with each other - it is impossible to replicate this diversity in a laboratory. The interplay of different components has to appear seamless from the start and every time after that. 

Results gained from in-the-wild testing should, where possible, be transferred to automated test cases. Automated tests are fast, iterable, and therefore cost-efficient, especially when it comes to high maintenance software products which require more thorough testing.   

Safety first 

Connected devices are, by definition, part of a network of other IoT-enabled devices. This leads to the worrying possibility that if one device is hacked, then every device in that network is vulnerable. And when devices and applications for the IoT carry highly sensitive data, this means that security is paramount during the development process. Protecting and securing customer information must be the top priority and will be a decisive factor for the success of the IoT industry as a whole. Consumers won’t be convinced to buy into a product - or even a sector - they don’t trust.   

New weaknesses are constantly being discovered, which makes the task of securing IoT devices a challenging one. Companies need to integrate safety features into their design when developing devices, and experienced security experts need to perform security assessments on each application. Similarly, you can fix security issues through stringent testing in order to safeguard products from any bugs that could be hacked. Human testers are vital to finding both superficial and substantial errors that cannot be replicated in a lab.   

The emergence of the IoT is one of the most important developments in technology of the past five years. Once the security of connected devices can be proven to customers and becomes increasingly faultless, it will be exciting to watch more and more industries adopt them. It goes without saying, however that if consumers are going to enjoy using connected devices in years to come and if companies are going to ensure their lasting impact, these devices need to exist in a bug-free zone. To make sure this happens, testing methods need to be front of mind.     

Sam O’Meara, UK Director at Applause (opens in new tab) 

Image Credit: Everything Possible / Shutterstock

Sam O’Meara is UK Director at Applause, which stress tests the digital offerings of companies like Google and PayPal by connecting them to its global network of 300,000 expert testers.