Andre Jay Meissner Works as DevRel/ BDM at Adobe and he is one of the instigators of the Open Device Labs, which is a movement that has its strength in the community by providing web developers and a wide collection of applications to devices with the purpose of testing their products and offering an improved experience with websites and mobile applications in general.
1. What’s an Open Device Lab? Where does the idea come from?
The fragmentation of relevant operating systems and browsers as well as the diversity of internet-enabled devices makes it impossible for the vast majority of developers to personally own a representative pool of test devices. Nevertheless, quality assurance across a broad variety of real devices is a must to ensure a pleasant user experience, sufficient stability, and security.
Open Device Labs (ODLs) are a grass roots community movement. They establish shared community pools of internet connected devices for testing purposes of web and app developers. In result, ODLs lead to an ultimate improvement of the mobile web & app experience both for developers and for consumers.
2. Is the Open Device Lab movement generating a good response?
Oh definitely! It is a dead simple, intelligent and heart-warming solution to a comparably new problem. These days, a lot of developers learn about having that problem of multidevice testing over learning about its solution. That resonates well. When I started what appeared to be the first global directory of ODLs on the web back in July 2012, we had eight ODLs. All of them are in Europe. Now, not even six months later, we have 34 established ODLs, across 15 countries, sharing nearly 500 devices. And there are 12 other labs about to open soon.
3. For a developer, what are the consequences of not testing against a great variety of different devices?
It depends. But even if you’re developing for a single platform I have to think for a while to come up with one that does NOT incorporate a variety of screen sizes, pixel densities, differing hardware functionality or performance – and other factors that quickly lead to something that can be very hard to foresee from within the development environment. You could say «great, just use an emulator or one of these remote testing services». Not bad and definitely an improvement over not testing against devices at all. But there is a ton of stuff that cannot be simulated or emulated. A real cell tower network connection – just to name one example.
Let me put it that way: most developers work on a high-end computer with a huge screen. Regardless if it’s a webpage or an app, chances are high that customers will consume that content on a low end featurephone. On a low bandwidth connection, in a browser that does not feature a core feature of the project in question, or doesn’t have it implemented correctly. Or in other unideal scenarios. A lot of developers still think it is sufficient to test their work against emulators, or the single personal device. The resulting projects will simply continue to fail across real devices. Nobody tested it! So it’s really an easy math here.
4. So which are the devices to test against?
That is the main problem. There is no average list. It totally depends on the project in question and on factors like the target audience or the primary markets geo. As an example, you might want to focus your testing on RIM devices when you’re building a store for BlackBerry accessories, whereas only your analytics can tell you more precisely to which extend people might be shopping at your store from Android, iOS and other platforms as well.
A guy from Facebook recently said they measure over 7.000 different mobile devices (that is make and model so e.g. «Galaxy S3» counts as 1) accessing their services – every day. I did not pursue any precise statistics but a quick glance on 2012 lets me estimate an average of about 15 new devices released by the industry – in every single week.
So, the list of devices to test against is project specific, and it will continue to change over time even within the same project. Now go and do your device shopping! Haha…
5. How does an Open Device Lab work?
There are different types of Open Device Labs. The majority is resident, which means the lab sits at a company, co-working space, or similar, and you can use it by just walking in or having made an appointment beforehand. Some ODLs are virtual labs, which mean they establish for special events, like a meet up or a conference, on a frequent basis, and recruit their test devices from the people that attend the event. Then there are mobile ODLs, that travel out of their home base to customers, events and meet ups.
All of them basically work the same: they provide a testing environment and welcome your visit. And in return they welcome your optional donation, such as a spare device, to grow the lab. Most labs will be totally free of charge, where some might charge a small fee to cover costs. Anyhow, the idea of an «Open» Device Lab is to remain non-for-profit.
6. Do ODLs act as a meeting point for developers and device manufacturers?
Whereas some device manufacturers foster well established developer relations teams also to continuously touch developer base via ODLs, the majority of manufacturers unfortunately did not realize the chances provided by permanent community contact like ODLs have to offer, yet. To build a lobby to inspire corporations about this, as well as working towards other goals like gathering and sharing knowhow, I’ve recently founded LabUp!, a non-for-profit initiative helping to establish, network and promote Open Device Labs around the globe.
7. Where can we find an Open Device Lab?
You can search them on the internet, or simply use OpenDeviceLab.com, a service we have launched just recently. OpenDeviceLab.com shows all available ODLs on a map, based on your location. You can also filter by specific device manufacturers to ensure your specific test needs are met. The service also allows you to see how others rated and commented on the lab, and to share your own experiences. Added, there is an API to access all the directory data, so if you’re interested in listing all ODLs in Spain, for example, to help promote the ODL movement via your own website or service – go ahead and do it!
8. What if there is no ODL in my city?
Establish one! There are some great people and resources on the web to help you get started, we’re trying to list them all at http://lab-up.org. And if you find yourself loving the idea and your city to be in the sweet position to already feature an ODL, go there and offer your help.
9. The Mobile World Congress, maybe the biggest mobile device congress in the world, will take place in Barcelona, February 25-28th. Will you be talking about ODLs there?
Somebody definitely should, and if I find a sponsoring company I will join MWC this year to represent ODLs. So, more importantly: If I don’t, can I assume that you and your readers will hold up the flag for the ODL movement and missionize across manufacturers there?
10. Talking about the future and the growing platform and device diversity, which platforms do you see as succeeding, mid- and long-term? What’s your take on Smart TVs?
I am certainly not hiding the magic glass ball that holds an answer on that type of questions, haha! But as much as I do not see the classic «workstation» or «laptop» computers to go away, I would not anticipate more growth in the mobile market, or for home entertainment technology, as already projected. The use case dictates the form factor and resulting succeeding platform.
As an example, just look at the still omnipresent PC «thin clients» on supermarket checkouts and other points of sale. They’ve been crazily hyped some 15 years ago, deployed where they make sense, and then some people said they’re dead – just because the concept (that included a heavy peak invest, mainly due to the proprietary server side, but really pays off on the long run) didn’t convert so well to all the projected markets.
Sure, sometimes the better concept needs time to sink in, and for sure it takes entrepreneurs and early adopters to drive the ideas. But I do not expect a big retail to switch from thin clients to tablets for their checkout counters, just because some shops in the bay area currently experiment with that, haha. Smart TVs still have to solve a list of bigger flaws, especially when it comes to input devices, but also looking at computing power and the general problems with display resolution/size vs. distance of the consumer. From which use case are these Smart TVs going to pull over user base? E-Mail, web browsing or book reading? Rather not. Media control, shopping or gaming?
Maybe. Definitely depending on the user experience.
11. And, finally… what, exactly, is an Adobe DevRel/BDM? What kind of work do you do, typically?
Haha, I know that job title is a bit confusing. It is a mix of business development and developer relations. Basically I am speaking at conferences and interface to designers and developers. I help both the market to best use Adobe products as well as our company to build the products the people request. And I get paid for playing around with the latest and greatest around web & mobile technology, such as the Edge Tools & Services and all the awesomeness around open web standards Adobe released just recently.