initial evaluation of device anywhere

One issue when developing software for mobile devices is the need to test it on all devices you support. For mobile devices each carrier contracts with a manufacturer and gets a unique OS for the hardware platform they choose. As you can imagine there is a very large hardware/os matrix even if you are just supporting a couple mobile OS’s (maemo, windows mobile 6+).

So one approach we are looking into is deviceanywhere.com. This is a company that provides an online service where you can access and get full control over a given mobile device. What is even better is these devices have access on all carriers are are geographically spaced out!

Today I did my initial eval of the service and really liked it. You have to download proprietary software which is easy to download and install (tested on Mac OS X 10.5.7). There is a web based account management tool where you can buy credits, see your usage, access screenshots, upload files for later use, etc… Overall it is a pretty usable package with lots of flexibility.

My first test was to pick a Palm Treo and install Fennec on it. You can filter devices based on carriers or other high level things (I filtered on windows mobile [us/ca]). Unfortunately you cannot filter on carrier, hardware specs (touch screen, RAM, cpu). This is really easy to use and the response time is fast. Launching IE, searching for Fennec A1, and finding the release notes was an easy process. Installing was sort of problematic as the release notes reference a http site and we need ftp when using pocket ie! Here is where I found that using the keyboard (arrow navigation, and typing) is a slow process.

Fair enough, In 20 minutes of air time I had figured it out, downloaded fennec and had it running. Not so bad, I just wouldn’t want to spent 15-20 minutes installing Fennec each time around. I get testy and acquire another device for testing. Very easy and it becomes obvious that I can do 6 devices at a time (3 on the screen, and 3 off the screen). Unfortunately I start running into more problems with the other devices. I couldn’t even get a web browser started for 10 minutes on a blackjack device (finally realized it wasn’t a touch screen), then when I did, why can’t I do a search! Same luck on a Verizon tablet (I assume it is an lg brand) although it is touch screen, I couldn’t figure out how to get to the internet.

Well, enough of that. I did see the potential and found some great tools. For example, on each device that you access, you can reboot, unplug, pull out the battery, connect a data cable or grab a screenshot:

Fennec on Palm Treo

Fennec on Palm Treo

.

As a summary here are the pros and cons:

pros:
– easy to use for check in/out of devices
– full access to device with tools to do just about anything (hardware keys and all)
– wide selection of devices and carriers and physical locations

cons:
– learning curve on each device
– lack of filtering in device selection even if you know what you want
– slow input for accessing the device (although this is the case in person)
– could get costly if you spent airtime minutes for learning curve or installing special software

I still have about 100 minutes left to evaluate, next I will try some basic website testing and look into some of the scripting capabilities they offer (record/playback, automation of UI).

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