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Bas Pluim in

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Buying mobile devices to test apps can get expensive in a hurry. If you’re covering three platforms and want a representative mixture of form factors, device manufacturers and OS versions, you’ll have an armload of electronics. And they’ll all be obsolete in twelve months.

Mobile device testing

Here are six ways you can take some of the pain out of purchasing devices. None of these solutions are sufficient individually; you’ll need a combination of some or all of these to really make a dent in your hardware budget.

1. Share it

If your company has multiple teams developing and testing mobile apps, chances are they each have their own arsenal of devices. Creating a shared equipment pool can dramatically reduce costs and expand test coverage. Keep in mind that managing devices is not without cost, and you’ll need to make sure one group isn’t hogging the devices. Also, to reduce bureaucracy, many companies have decentralized the purchase of smaller equipment such as monitors, printers and, yes, mobile devices. Reversing that policy can cause a cultural backlash.

2. Refurbish it

If you don’t need pristine devices, you can save a lot of money. There are tons of phones and tablets with a broken camera, a crack in the glass, a chip off the edge or a speaker that crackles. As long as the defect doesn’t interfere with testing your app, there is no reason you can’t use one of these ugly ducklings. It might also discourage people from “accidentally” wandering off with those devices too.

3. Rent it

If your needs fluctuate significantly month-to-month, consider renting devices instead of buying them. As long as you don’t need the absolute latest models, you can get reasonably modern phones and tablets for $25 per month. It reduces your up-front investment cost, and you don’t have to worry about purchasing, tracking and disposing of all this equipment.

4. Outsource it

Companies like DeviceAnywhere give you access to a host of mobile devices remotely. Think of it as “mobile in the cloud” (yes, your search engine just exploded). Most phone manufacturers provide a similar service, often for free. Keep in mind that this is not quite the same as having a real device in hand. The usability depends on how good or bad the network lag is. But for automated regression testing, this can be a very economical solution.

5. Bring your own device (BYOD)

It’s unlikely your employees will hand over their devices to your development team for testing, even in a BYOD environment. However, they may be willing to help field test your alpha version of the app. Not only is your app deployed to a wide range of devices; you also have people using your app in ways you probably never imagined. Bear in mind that this isn’t free though. Every hour they spend testing is an hour not spent on other projects, and they’re likely to be less productive than professional testers.

6. Reverse BYOD

If you absolutely must test on the latest and greatest devices, you’re going to have to buy them new, at full price. You can recoup some of that money by selling the devices after six months to employees in your company at a (substantial) discount. It’s still going to be expensive, but assuming your test team is careful with the equipment, it’s not unreasonable to get 50 to 70 percent of your investment back. Once again, there are administrative costs involved, and discount programs typically have some tax implications as well. This arrangement can be a real perk for your employees and give your business a competitive hiring advantage.

What are you doing to reduce the cost of buying mobile devices? Leave a comment or contact me through Twitter @baspluim.

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February 21, 2014
1:27 pm

Where can you rent mobile devices?

Posted by: Vitaliy
October 11, 2013
2:25 pm

@Teresa: Thanks for the positive feedback. Ironically, the large companies that have the greatest potential for savings are usually the ones worst at sharing devices. It’s scary to think how many unused phones and tablets are gathering dust somewhere.

Posted by: Bas Pluim
October 10, 2013
4:39 pm

I just wanted to say that I really appreciate the suggestions here, and really my favorite was #1. Sharing a device between teams or departments can reduce costs by a ton since it can show not only which departments truly need the device, but it will also help weed out those who don’t want the device.

Many times there are teams or departments that don’t want to make a change, but the company will unknowingly buy equipment that ends up not being used at all; and they eventually end up here. So again, thanks for these suggestions.

Posted by: Teresa Chambers
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