Programming the Mobile Web : Testing and Debugging (part 1) - Remote Labs

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We talked about emulators and simulators and how can they help us to see how our websites will be rendered on real devices. These tools are very useful and provide a simple, fast, and fairly accurate testing solution. If it doesn’t work in the emulator, it probably will not work on the real device, and if it works in the emulator, it probably will work on the real device (probably, again probably!).

There are some problems with this testing approach, though. For one thing, there are hundreds of differences between real devices, and hundreds of bugs. Furthermore, there are several platforms without emulation. That is why real device testing is mandatory.

But how can we get access to multiple real devices? Here are a few suggestions:

  • Acquire as many friends as you can (with different devices, if possible).

  • Buy or rent devices. Some vendors offer promotions for buying or renting devices for developers and their partners.

  • Use a testing house company. This is an expensive solution and not recommended for mobile web developers; we need to be as close as possible to the devices.


Mob4Hire ( is a mobile social network aimed at joining testers with mobile devices around the world and developers who want to test applications or websites using a payment service. You can search for testers by country, operator, and device to access the devices you want.

  • Create a beta tester program, for receiving feedback.

  • Use a remote lab.

The last item of the previous list sounds good: a remote lab. What is this?

1. Remote Labs

“Any sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic,” said sci-fi writer Arthur C. Clarke in 1961. When I demonstrate some of these remote labs in my classes, I see a lot of astonished faces.

A remote lab is a web service that allows us to use a real device remotely without being physically in the same place. It is a simple but very powerful solution that gives us access to thousands of real devices, connected to real networks all over the world, with a single click. You can think of it as a remote desktop for mobile phones.

There are three kinds of remote lab solutions for mobile devices:

  • Software-based solutions, using a resident application on the device that captures the screen, sends it to the server, and emulates keyboard input or touches on the screen.

  • Hardware-based solutions, using some technology (magic, I believe) to connect the server to the hardware components of the device (screen, touchscreen, keypad, lights, audio, etc.).

  • Mixed solutions, having some hardware connection, some software additions, and maybe a video camera for screen recording.


As these are real devices, only one user can make use of them at any given time. As such, the devices are a limited resource.

Let’s take a look at some of the remote lab solutions currently on the market.

1.1. Remote Device Access

Forum Nokia offers a free (yes, free!) remote lab solution for Symbian and Maemo devices called Remote Device Access (RDA), shown in Figures Figure 1 and Figure 2. To use the service, you can access (you’ll need to have already created a Forum Nokia account). You will need Java Runtime 5.0 or newer, because RDA is a WebStart Java application.

Figure 1. Remote Device Access is a free and simple way to test on real Symbian and Maemo devices.

Figure 2. The devices are connected to real 3G networks (you can even call them), so you can accurately test speeds and transfers.

At present, usage is limited to eight hours per day. The main features are:

  • Complete usage of the device

  • 3G and WiFi connection support

  • Application installation

  • Device rebooting

  • Changing screen orientation

  • Browser and widget WRT support

  • Reservation of devices for future usage

  • Usage of devices with SIM cards connected in Europe

  • Saving screenshot images

  • Incoming calls and SMS available

At the time of this writing, there are more than 50 devices available. There is no audio or accelerometer support, and depending on your network bandwidth you can select the video quality you want.


There is a bug in the display recording mechanism in RDA that doesn’t show the cursor arrow over non-touch devices. This makes web browsing difficult. You can include the meta tag to apply focus navigation  to solve this problem.

1.2. Samsung Lab.Dev

Samsung also offers a free remote lab web service, using the same solution provider as Nokia’s RDA, called Lab.Dev. It includes some Windows Mobile devices. Depending on your membership with Samsung (free or partner) you will have access to more duplicated devices for testing purposes.


Using some commercial products ( and even using a simple webcam and following some instructions (, you can create a small testing lab with real devices that can take screenshots and save videos of a real mobile screen. There are also some software-based solutions.

Lab.Dev has the same features as RDA, so you can test web applications and widgets using this solution. The devices don’t have SIM cards, though, so you can only test WiFi connections (not 3G).

You can access this remote lab from

1.3. DeviceAnywhere

DeviceAnywhere is the leader and pioneer in remote lab solutions for mobile testing. It offers a hardware solution that allows any device (low-end, mid-end, or smartphone, from any vendor) to plug into the architecture.


DeviceAnywhere is the selected provider for this book’s testing suites, and for some of the screenshots taken.

This is a commercial solution, with different price models depending on the package. DeviceAnywhere Test Center offers more than 2000 devices (iPhone, Android, Nokia, Motorola, Sony Ericsson, Samsung, BlackBerry, LG, Sanyo, Sharp, HTC, and more) connected to 50 live networks all over the world.

You can apply for a free trial at The IDE (Device Anywhere Studio) is a Java application, so it should work on any OS. Easy-to-install packages are available for Windows and Mac OS X, as shown in Figure 3. The company offers a special plan prepared for mobile web testing.

Figure 3. With DeviceAnywhere you can use thousands of devices with pixel-perfect resolution, and optionally with a DOM Inspector and an HTTP headers sniffer.

The solution includes:

  • Access to the registered packages and devices from DA Studio

  • Access to all hardware features (lock/unlock, close and open, change orientation, power off and on)

  • Ability to place calls, send and receive SMS messages, access the carrier’s portal, and buy premium content (as the devices are on live networks)

  • Pixel-based perfect image rendering, so you can save screenshots and videos of your testing for offline review (audio is also supported as an optional feature)

  • Ability to manage multiple devices at the same time

  • Virtual onscreen keyboard, and shortcuts to use your own desktop keyboard for testing

  • Team management for testing a device and sharing the screen with other users

  • DOM Inspector and HTTP headers viewer using an included proxy

Many manufacturers and carriers have selected DeviceAnywhere as the official testing solution for their Virtual Developer Labs (VDLs). Some of the Virtual Lab solutions include:

  • Forum Nokia VDL (Series 40 and S60)

  • Sony Ericsson VDL

  • Palm VDL (Palm OS, Windows Mobile, and webOS)

  • Motorola VDL (Motorola OS, Windows Mobile, and Android)

  • BlackBerry VDL

  • Symbian VDL (Nokia, Motorola, Samsung, Sanyo, Sony Ericsson)

If you want to access VDL websites, you can see a list at

To use DeviceAnywhere, you’ll need to subscribe to one or more packages. On top of the monthly subscription fee (averaging $100), you will pay on a per-hour-basis or subscribe to a prepaid plan. On a per-hour-basis, the maximum price is $16/hr. There are also other promotions available on the website, and different manufacturers’ VDLs can have different pricing models.


If you apply for a free trial, you will get 3 or 5 hours of free usage and you will have to enter valid credit card details. It is safe to add this information, and it is a requirement because this is a live network where you can buy premium content.

The time spent on the system is calculated beginning from when you open a device and finishing when you release it, in 6-minute-minimum time slots.

Package options include:

Carrier package

You select a carrier and a country (for example, Verizon in the U.S. or Orange in France), and you will have access to all the devices available.

Manufacturer package

You select a vendor, and you will have access to several devices from that manufacturer.

Official VDL

You select a vendor or a carrier’s official package.

Web Developer package

This is a special package for web developer testing. You can select U.S. or Europe-based devices (from a range of manufacturers).


For independent developers, there is a special package called the Independent Developer Plan that provides access to iPhone and Android devices. The fee is $30 per month, and $20 per hour.

1.3.1. Usage for mobile web testing

As DeviceAnywhere uses real devices from different manufacturers, you will need to learn to use every operating system interface to access the web browsers. You will generally find an icon in the home or applications menu labeled “Browser,” “Internet,” or even the name of the carrier’s online service (for example, “MediaNET,” the AT&T Wireless service).

When in the mobile browser you will need to type your URL using the phone’s features: a numeric keyboard, a QWERTY keyboard, or an onscreen touch keyboard. DeviceAnywhere also offers a feature where you can type or paste any URL and then press a button to automatically generate all the keypresses required on the hardware to type the URL.

In numeric keypad devices the URL typing process can be slow, so it’s better if you first minimize the URL using a shortener service, like

For mobile web debugging purposes, DeviceAnywhere includes an excellent proxy-based browsing solution that brings into the IDE an HTTP sniffer and a DOM Inspector so you can see what markup is actually rendered on the device.


Remember that these are real devices on real networks. If you want to test an application or installable widget you will need first to upload it to a web server (DA offers a solution) and then access the URL from the browser, typing it or sending it by SMS to the device.

1.3.2. Testing automation

DeviceAnywhere offers many advanced features. One of them is testing automation, a premium service that allows you to create testing scripts and schedule them to be tested on several devices automatically. You can then access the results via a web report.

1.4. Perfecto Mobile

Perfecto Mobile ( is a new company offering a software/hardware hybrid solution for mobile testing, shown in Figure 4. Perfecto Mobile uses a video camera for screen recording. A good point for Perfecto Mobile is that the whole environment is built on top of the Adobe Flash Player, so you don’t need to install anything, and it works from any desktop browser. You can try the system by registering for a free trial; it will be activated in minutes.

Figure 4. With Perfecto Mobile you can manage real phones (here, a Nexus One and a Motorola Droid) with a Flash-compatible browser. The images are from cameras pointing at the devices.

With this service, you have access to the whole list of devices and carriers from the same pricing policy. The devices are on real networks in Canada, Israel, the U.S., the UK, and France. The company also has an agreement with the French company PACA Mobile Center (, where you can access 1100 devices connected to French operators with a 10-hour trial promotion.


If you are using non-touch devices, for website scrolling it is better to have a key pressed down for a long time. You can emulate this using the Control key on your desktop keyboard.

1.4.1. Pricing structure

Perfecto Mobile has a simple pricing model. There is no monthly fee or other package costs, and you can access the full cloud of devices from $16/hr, or with a prepaid plan starting at $12/hr. There is also an Android-only option (the Droid Cloud) that you can access at a rate of $9/hr, or $99 for 20 hours (without the hours expiring). The charging is done in 1-minute time slots.


In both DeviceAnywhere and Perfecto Mobile you can use two or more devices at the same time. Your per-minute charges will be counted separately, so you will be spending two or more minutes at a time.

1.4.2. Main features

The main features of Perfecto Mobile for mobile web testing are:

  • When you take screenshots it uses the real screen image, not the camera one.

  • You can record videos and share or embed them easily.

  • You can send an SMS or invoke a call to the device from the UI.

  • You can transfer files to the device (if file transfer is supported).

  • There is an OTA mechanism where you can upload your app or widget and the device will receive an SMS link to download it within a 15-minute timeslot.

  • You can easily share a URL, so customers and coworkers can see what you are doing with the device via live streaming. The only requirement for the other parties is that they use a browser with Adobe Flash Player support.

  • You can request Automation, a macro-like recording feature that supports advanced actions and wait conditions using screen recognition and OCR (for example, “go to this URL, wait for the word “Hello” to appear on the screen, then take a snapshot”).

  • In Automation, there is a ScriptOnce technology that includes multiplatform templates for common actions.

  • You can test how your mobile website is rendering on multiple devices at the same time without your intervention. This feature, called Website Validation, is shown in Figure 5.

Figure 5. This is what the Website Validation report looks like in the Perfecto Mobile service.

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  •  Programming the Mobile Web : Widgets and Offline Webapps - Platforms (part 2) - iPhone, iPod, and iPad
  •  Programming the Mobile Web : Widgets and Offline Webapps - Platforms (part 1) - Symbian/Nokia
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