Thursday, 22 January 2015

Testing Mobile: Emulators, Simulators And Remote Debugging

In the early days of mobile, debugging was quite a challenge. Sure, you could get ahold of a device and perform a quick visual assessment, but what would you do after discovering a bug?

With a distinct lack of debugging tools, developers turned to a variety of hacks. In general, these hacks were an attempt to recreate a given issue in a desktop browser and then debug with Chrome Developer Tools or a similar desktop toolkit. For instance, a developer might shrink the size of the desktop browser’s window to test a responsive website or alter the user agent to spoof a particular mobile device.

To put it bluntly, these hacks don’t work. If you’re recreating issues on the desktop, then you can’t be certain that any of your fixes will work. This means you’ll be constantly bouncing back and forth between the mobile device and the hacks in your desktop browser.

Fast forward to today, when we have a robust suite of debugging tools that provide meaningful debugging information directly from a physical device. Best of all, you can use the same desktop debugging tools that you know and love, all on an actual mobile device.

In this article, we’ll explore a variety of emulators and simulators that you can use for quick and easy testing. Then, we’ll look at remote debugging tools, which enable you to connect a desktop computer to a mobile device and leverage a rich debugging interface.

Emulators And Simulators

Testing on real physical devices always pays off. But that doesn’t mean you shouldn’t also test on emulators and simulators. These virtual environments not only expand your testing coverage to more devices, but also are a quick and easy way to test small changes on the fly.

iOS Simulator

To test iOS devices, such as the iPhone and iPad, you have a number of options, most notably Apple’s official iOS Simulator. Included as part of Xcode, this simulator enables you to test across different software and hardware combinations, but only from a Mac.


Viewing a website in iOS Simulator 

First, install and open Xcode. Then, in Xcode, right-click and select “Show Package Contents.” Go to “Contents” → “Applications” → “iPhone Simulator.”

Finding iOS Simulator in Xcode 

Although iOS Simulator is difficult to find, using it is fortunately easy. Simply open up Safari in the simulator and test your website. You can switch between different iPhone and iPad devices, change the iOS version, rotate the viewport and more.

Note: If you’re not working on a Mac, you’ll have to find another option. You could look to iPadian, a Windows-based iPad simulator. Beyond that, a handful of other simulators exist, including certain web-based offerings. But, to be honest, none of these are very promising.

Android Emulator

Android also provides an emulator. Luckily, this one is cross-platform. Unfortunately, setting it up is a bit of a pain.

First, download the bundle that includes Android Development Tools (ADT) for Eclipse and the Android software development kit (SDK). Next, follow Google’s instructions to install the SDK packages, making sure to install the default selections as well as the “Intel x86 Emulator Accelerator (HAXM installer)”. You’ll also need to track down HAXM — search your Mac for IntelHaxm.dmg or your PC for IntelHaxm.exe, and run the file to install it.


Installing the Android SDK packages: HAXM improves the performance of the emulator.

Next, create an Android virtual device (AVD) for whichever device you’re testing. If you go into the AVD manager, you’ll see a list of preset devices in “Device Definitions.” These cover a variety of Google products and some generic devices. To get started, select one of these presets and click “Create AVD.”


The “Device Definitions” tab provides preset AVDs. Use one of them or create your own. 

Set whatever you like for the CPU, and set “No skin“ and “Use host GPU.” Now you can run the virtual device and use Android’s browser to test your website.


Viewing a website in the Android emulator 

Finally, you’ll probably want to learn some keyboard commands to better interact with the emulator.

Note: Manymo is an alternative, in-browser Android emulator. You can even embed it in a web page, which is pretty darn cool.

Other Simulators and Emulators

  • BlackBerry Simulators

  • Windows Phone Emulator for Windows 8

  • Opera Mini Emulator

Remote Testing

Emulators and simulators are useful, but they’re not 100% accurate. Always test on as many real devices as possible.

That doesn’t mean you need to buy a hundred phones and tablets. You can take advantage of remote testing resources, which provide a web-based interface to interact with real physical devices. You’ll be able to interact with a phone remotely and view any changes in the screencast that is sent back to your machine.

If you want to test a Samsung device, such as the Galaxy S5, you can do so for free using Samsung’s Remote Test Lab, which enables you to test on a wide selection of Samsung devices.

Additionally, you can use the resources in Keynote Mobile Testing. They’re not cheap, but the number of devices offered is pretty astonishing, and you can test a handful of devices for free.

Note: If you’re looking to get your hands on real devices, Open Device Lab can point you to a lab in your area, where you can test on a range of devices for free.

Testing Mobile: Emulators, Simulators And Remote Debugging

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