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Home Guide Will the iOS emulator on PC (Windows & Mac) solve your testing requirements?

Will the iOS emulator on PC (Windows & Mac) solve your testing requirements?

By Shreya Bose, Community Contributor -

As of 2022, an average of 1,235 new apps are released on the App Store per day. To stand out among them, any single iOS app must be able to provide unique, flawless, and user-friendly functionality. The app must be equally exceptional in terms of aesthetics, design, and navigability. Essentially, it must be developed and updated to retain customer favor, which is a tall order given the number of competitors each app must go up against in every industry, vertical, or domain.

With such looming pressure to excel, apps must be put through meticulous, comprehensive, and repeated testing to ensure the excellence of operation in the real world. As far as is possible within a tester’s or testing team’s budget and resource availability, the app’s behavior must be verified on multiple iOS versions running on various device models, hardware specs, and screen sizes.

Irrespective of the iPhone or iOS device they use, users should be able to navigate an iOS app with reasonable ease. This is a mandatory requirement for establishing an app’s financial and social success.

Enter the iOS emulator for PC

Quick Note: Since Apple uses custom chipsets and binaries that cannot be reverse-engineered to appear virtually, there are no true iOS “emulators”. What exists are, strictly speaking, iOS simulators that mimic an iOS app or browser upon the tester’s OS. The interface is viewable in an iPad or iPhone-like window. In this case, the actual hardware and software specs of the iOS device have not been virtualized.

However, it is common to use the terms “iOS emulator” and “iOS simulator” interchangeably in industry parlance, which is what we’ll be doing in this article.

iOS emulators for PC essentially allow testers to run an iOS app without an iPhone or iPad. The iOS interface is viewed and operated through a web browser or on tools running on a Mac or Windows computer.

As mentioned above, emulators, in the true sense of their name, actually duplicate the hardware and software features of the target real device. This is exceptionally difficult to do with Apple’s proprietary assets, which is why we only have iOS simulators. 

The simulator replicates the configuration and (partly) real-world behavior of the device. It creates a test environment working at a much smaller range than even emulators and certainly real devices.

Nonetheless, iOS simulators are fairly useful for early-stage testing. At the initial stages of development in most agile pipelines, they are good for running basic sanity checks while being time and cost-effective. Testers use them to check if individual features are operating at their bare minimum, on top of which advanced capabilities can be built.

However, that’s where its usefulness ends. The limitations of iOS emulators for PC outweigh their advantages, especially in later stages when testing must encompass layered, complex features. 

Limitations of iOS emulators for PC

Most iOS emulators for PCs deal with a few significant shortcomings:

  • They only simulate the aesthetic layer of iOS, especially if they are being run on a Windows PC. The tester doesn’t actually experience how iOS features work.
  • Testers cannot use them to access the App Store and test their app’s compatibility with it.
  • Often, these emulators cannot be used to run iTunes.
  • Certain emulators have been flagged for security concerns and putting PCs at risk of malware and other undesirable elements.
  • Since iOS devices are touch screen-enabled, the final app should be designed and tested for the same. Most iOS emulators cannot simulate touchscreen issues and require testers to interact with them through a mouse and keyboard. This heavily undercuts the user experience.
  • Due to the lack of real devices, testers may not be able to detect issues with memory usage or leaks, GPS sensors, latency, network connectivity, and the like. They cannot test on custom OSes or check how an app works in low battery or weak network conditions.
  • Testers can’t evaluate app behavior when the device is receiving calls or messages.
  • While some emulators can mimic different screen sizes and resolutions, they certainly do not mimic all or a majority of iOS device screens. Since responsive design is a key element of all software design, testers cannot expect to leave this aspect unchecked (which will be on emulators).

In light of the shortcomings detailed above, let’s revisit the ritual question: Will the iOS emulator on PC (Windows & Mac) solve your testing requirements?

The answer is No. 

Testing iOS Apps on Real iOS Devices

In all honesty, there is no true alternative to real device testing. To keep up with user expectations of excellence, QAs cannot leave any part of an app’s functionality or appearance to chance.

The only way to reliably verify app behavior is to check how it works in real user conditions. This is only possible by running apps on real iOS devices and using every possible device feature (battery consumption, network strength, natural gestures, camera usage, etc.) to verify how the app works with it. 

If a testing team does not have immediate access to all or a large number of iOS devices (and most small or mid-sized teams do not), they can rest assured. The option to use a cloud-based testing platform providing real iOS devices exists and is very much a legitimate alternative to an in-house device lab populated with the right devices.

BrowserStack offers a large number of iOS devices, both latest and older versions iPhone 14, 13, Pro Max, iPhone X, iPhone 8, 6s, iPad Pro 12, Air & Mini & more. They are pre-installed with different iOS versions (v7 to 16). A user just has to sign up for free, choose which iOS device and OS version they’d like to test on and start testing. They can run manual tests or automated app tests via Appium, XCUITest, or Flutter. 

Get Instant Access to Real iPhone and iPad Devices for Free

Additionally, BrowserStack comes with a plethora of integrations for easy, hassle-free testing. Some of these integrations include:

  • App Live (for manual app testing): Gradle plugin, Fastlane plugin, Jira, Trello, GitHub, AppCenter, TestFlight
  • App Automate (for automated app testing): Appium, Espresso, XCUITest, EarlGrey

For more details, have a look at the complete list of integrations on BrowserStack.

The app testing offerings on our platform also include:

  • A wide and varied range of debugging tools, including Screenshots, Video Recording, Video-Log Sync, Text Logs, Network Logs, Appium Logs, Device Logs, and App Profiling.
  • Support for responsive testing, network throttling, geolocation testing, and natural gestures.
  • Accessibility testing to ensure app access for differently abled users.
  • Automated parallel testing to speed up tests by 10X and empower faster time-to-market without compromising on app quality.

If you’re just starting out with app testing, and are curious about how it works, try Test University. Utilize real devices for a hands-on learning experience, and get some expertise on the fundamentals of software testing on our  device cloud. Sign up for free to get started.

Since every app is expected to have a robust iOS version that is accessible via most iPhones and iPads, real device testing is completely non-negotiable. iOS emulators for PC, whether running on Mac or Windows, will not provide the scope for sufficiently extensive testing or adequately accurate results.

Given that iOS emulators for Windows or Mac cannot replicate end-user conditions in their entirety, tests run on them cannot be relied on for the final release. Apps solely tested on iOS emulators will invariably throw up bugs when being operated by end-users, contributing to a sub-par user experience, low-start reviews on App Store, and lowered brand credibility.

Since platforms like BrowserStack allow access to a large repository of real iOS devices at a lowered price (starting at $29/month), there is no longer any meaningful barrier to releasing optimally-functioning apps. A simple, free signup and payments within $29 to $199 a month will give QA teams all they require to deliver consistently flawless app experiences that meet the highest possible market and industry standards.

Test on real iPhones and iPads 

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