Offline apps are trending

Having worked a lot with ­­offline-capable apps lately, I started to see similar trends everywhere. Of course, that is partly because of frequency illusion, also known as Baader-Meinhof phenomenon – “When a thing you just found out about suddenly seems to crop up everywhere.”

Nonetheless, offline is really trending. As broadb and connections and 4G cell phones become commonplace, and everyone and their mom talk about IoT, streaming and The Cloud™, it might seem strange to focus on the eventuality that you would temporarily lose your precious connection. But I find it perfectly reasonable. The more we get used to online services, the more we depend on them, and the worse the damage done when they unexpectedly stop working. Considering and handling offline scenarios is proactive damage control.

*in some countries...
*in some countries…

YouTube supporting offline

During a recent trip to Mumbai, India, I noticed while browsing YouTube on my Android phone that a new button had appeared in the app. I was able to download videos for offline viewing! Eureka! There were some restrictions; only videos uploaded by non-commercial accounts seemed to work, and only if the clips were ad-free. But still, a great feature. You could even choose the video quality, balancing a trade-off between resolution and disk space.

Alas, when returning home to Sweden, my new favorite button was gone. India only feature, it seems. Apparently, in most markets, this ‘YouTube offline’ feature will instead be marketed and sold as YouTube Red, a premium subscription option that initially launched in the end of October in US, at $9.99 per month. Oh well.

The headline means "Watch offline", and is heavily promoted on the Swedish Viaplay site.
The headline means “Watch offline”, and is heavily promoted on the Swedish Viaplay site.

Viaplay promoting the offline use case

Another offline-capable app catching my eye lately is that of Viaplay, probably the biggest Swedish movie/TV streaming service, originating from a major TV network. Even though the stability and speed of internet connections in Sweden is very good, Viaplay is currently running ads in the Stockholm subway network, inspiring customers to view movies that were pre-downloaded to their devices. How come? In a time when Netflix shouts from the rooftops that they will never, ever, ever support offline viewing, Viaplay is simply filling a gap. Offline is now one of their USP’s. And of course, it helps their case that mobile data is getting increasingly expensive.

There is no such thing as an unlimited data plan

Because it is no secret that mobile carriers are charging more for data compared to a few years ago. We make fewer voice calls, and EU legislations have enforced lowered roaming costs, so the carriers have to make their money somewhere else. If you are one of the lucky ones to still be on an old mobile plan with unlimited data, treat your SIM card like a precious valuable. And if you do have such a contract, chances are that your carrier has already tried to sweet talk you with a free iPhone or something similar, just in exchange for “renewing your subscription”.

It's not the end of the world
It’s not the end of the world

How to develop apps for offline…

If you as a developer are including offline or caching features in your app, of course you should test out the functionality in realistic conditions. Set the device to flight mode and give it a go, right? No, a bit more complex. There are design choices involved with supporting sudden network loss. A good list of considerations from Infoq:

  • Displaying comprehensive error messages when network calls fail.
  • Allowing the use of the application in “guest mode”, where certain features can be delayed until the user actually signs in.
  • Visually displaying the absence of network connectivity on the UI (connected mode/offline mode).
  • Disabling controls in the absence of network connectivity.
  • Allowing the user to query and act on data while no network connection (offline data access).
  • Testing the application under different network conditions!

… and how to test offline

Testers, on the other hand, will do well to try out a few different scenarios of connection loss, reconnections, app booting, and how to handle data access when your device is totally isolated from communication. Google has some offline testing guidelines which are primarily intended for web apps, but which go just as well for native mobile apps for Android or iOS.

Make sure your app works well under the following circumstances:

  • The app is installed,and then immediately goes offline. In other words, the first use of the app is offline.
  • The app is installed on one computer and then synced to another.
  • The app is uninstalled and then immediately installed again.
  • The app is running on two computers at the same time, with the same profile.
  • The app must behave reasonably when one computer goes offline, the user does a bunch of stuff on that computer, and then the computer comes online again.
  • The app has intermittent connectivity, switching often between online and offline.

PUBLISHED BY

Peter Skogsberg
Peter Skogsberg is an ISTQB certified software tester and holds a Master’s degree in Information Technology. He has been on both the development and the testing sides of several mobile and web applications.

Beta Tester of The Month – November 2015 – Amit Kulkarni

It’s a new month and time for another awesome beta tester to take the limelight here at the Beta Family Blog. This month we’re featuring Amit Kulkarni who’s been a part of our community for several years. He has some interesting tips on how to become a successful beta tester so keep reading and have your notepad ready!

Name: Amit KulkarniAmit

Age: I am still young in testing 🙂

Nationality: Indian

Interests: Cycling, Music, Writing, and of course testing variety of apps

Devices you own:

iOS: iPhone 6, iPhone 5, iPhone 4, iPhone 3GS, iPad mini, iPad 3

Android: Galaxy Note II, Galaxy S 2, Galaxy Ace, Galaxy Tab 2(7”), Galaxy Tab 10.1, HTC Desire C, LG Optimus Vu

Windows: Lumia 520

BlackBerry: BB8520

How many apps have you beta tested?

At the Beta Family community I have tested 46 applications. It may sound less when compared with other testers around the world and part of this community, but there are other factors that affect the actual numbers.

What’s your best quality as a tester?

Perseverance, creative thinking, and of course patience.

What’s your favorite app?

Well, this is kind of a question where you not necessarily have a specific answer. I always keep trying new applications as and when they are available in their respective stores. But since you need specifics – I’d say that Strava (Fitness ), Peak (Education), Microsoft Outlook (Productivity), Swipes (Productivity), Wally (Finance), hike (Social networking) , 8 Ball Pool (Games), and any casual games like Candy crush, Daddy was a thiefand many more.

There are others as well but that list will be quite long so I tried to list one from each category that I use the most. To sum up; any application with interesting concept, excellent UI and feature set would be my favorite app. It does not need to be from a big company and can be from a startup or sole developer.

Do you have a favorite app developer or company?

I truly believe that all developers try their best and it would be harsh to pick one or for that matter the company. Just to give the background I like the developers/companies which actually listen to their user base. This is very important today since we are becoming more impatient and with growing large number of options, we are always on a lookout for a switch if needed. Users are ready to pay more for a good deal so I feel that all the companies/developers try to match up to the expectation of their user base.

Over here at BetaFamily I like to work with some developers like Dave V and Tamas Laszlo. Having said that, it doesn’t mean that I do not like others but I just wanted to be specific. (Not diplomatic :D)

How come you started with beta testing?

I really don’t know. But, I guess I got to know about BetaFamily while going through some article. They have come a long way and there is quite a long path to cover, but I believe I was the early adapter to the BetaFamily community.

What kind of apps do you most like to test?

I like to test any kind of application where there is a new concept behind its implementation. By that I mean, not necessarily that it’s a totally new idea but the implementation is such that it makes the app different from the rest.

Over here at BetaFamily I feel that developers take a chance to actually see if there is any interest for the idea they have in mind before going to the larger audience. I like to play or test any games or an ideas that is something new and I haven’t had a chance to use any app like that before.

As you’ve tested lots of apps you must have encountered many bugs and faults. Is there one bug or fault you see often that you feel developers should know about and fix before starting the beta testing?

More often I find that there are quite a few applications which have not been tested when offline (no connectivity) and that results in a crash.

Why are you a part of Beta Family’s community?

I am part of the community because I get a chance to play with the apps before other people. I get to interact with developers and underst and their point of view. There have been instances when the developers have helped me with something I thought could be different. Also, the community has quite a good testers and that’s helps.

The support team here is quite good as they take time to respond to each and every small question, and fix an issue with the platform at the earliest. The good part is they don’t mind you contacting them – it may take some time but there is always a reply.

How long have you been a member at Beta Family?

It has been almost 2 years. I signed up with Beta Family in the month of December, 2012 so I am counting from 2013.

Do you have any tips for newly started beta testers?

  • Be practical while applying to the tests (make sure that you can dedicate them the time it requires.)
  • Interact with developers when unsure.
  • And most important focus on quality.
  • Bonus tip (for reading thus far): Imagine developers as a friend of yours who need constructive criticism from you even if it hurts.
  • Try to win the confidence of the developers with your testing as that could go a long way.

What’s your philosophy towards beta testing?

I feel that beta testing in general is quite good as that gives developers a platform where they can see if the idea that they have in mind could attract audience. It has two fold advantages as it gives developers a platform and new testers to get better at testing. However, new testers can also spend time on open source application under some mentor to learn more about testing and get better at it.

I feel beta testing is also useful for the companies who feel they need testing but can not afford too much of money pouring into it. Such companies can take advantage of the platforms like BetaFamily.

What do you need to be successful in beta testing?

  • Most importantly you need to be patience, as it is really something that is going to help you in long run.
  • Need to be honest with your criticism while submitting the feedback. A developer does not mind if you tell them truth of what you actually feel about the application, rather they appreciate your honesty and not just good words for the app.
  • Try to be as helpful as possible and when needed – do not hesitate to interact with the developers to put forth your point if you missed out something in your report
  • Refrain from using words that are too harsh in your feedback even if it is constructive criticism.
  • Help BetaFamily if you encounter any issues with their site as that way they would be in better position to fix something that needs immediate attention
  • What are the best and worst things about beta testing?

Best:

  • It is your choice what to and what not test.
  • Chance to work on the applications not yet gone live.
  • A platform with quite useful features that helps you with your feedback.
  • Helpful team of developers and support team.
  • And of course a chance to earn money while you test the apps.Bad:
  • Less communication with stakeholders.
  • At times the information related to the app is not adequate or sufficient.Would you rather test apps for bigger companies or new start ups?

That is good question. What matters to me the most is communication. I love to work with the companies which are ready to communicate, helps you understand and answers any of your question unless they are not too obvious. There I feel start ups are more open and they tend to be more co-operative with you. Other advantage of working with startups is that they are ready to listen and willing to change something if that makes the app better.

I believe that both startups and sole developers who are working on these apps and needs some constructive opinion are the most often willing to communicate if you have any question. There is no way for us (testers) to actually come to know whether it is a big company or startups at Beta Family so this I am saying from my personal experience. It has been pleasure to be a part of this community.

What makes an app exciting to test?

Creativity.

How many apps are on your phone right now?

As you can see I have a lot of devices and it would take some time to count them all but just to go by the new device that I own i.e. iPhone 6 – I have 100+ (107 to be very specifics and growing).

Are you a gamer? If so, what kind of games do you like?

Hmmm, yeah! But I would point out that I do have control where I do not keep on playing the games for hours. Mostly I enjoy any new game with something new in it. I do not have any special choice or specific category as long as the game keeps me interested. At times I had to clear some space and it is hard choice which one to remove. 🙂  I kind of feel I should just keep on adding any new game that serves the purpose of having a good/fun time.

Thanks to Amit for taking time to answer my questions about beta testing. It’s been a pleasure having Amit in our community here at Beta Family and we hope he’ll stay with us for many more years. Check out some of our previous posts to learn from other Beta Tester of The Month winners. Stay tuned by subscribing to our blog.

PUBLISHED BY

Malin Klockare Gullesjö
Malin Klockare Gullesjö is working with Beta Family’s online profile. She has previously worked as a community manager on social media in the tourism industry.