Since 2012, smartphone sales have outpaced desktop computer sales. Businesses and organizations can no longer afford to not think mobile-first. Everything from design to development and testing for digital products like web and mobile apps must factor in a mobile-first strategy.
What this means for development and QA teams is a short time to market, frequent releases and updates, and fast, comprehensive, cross-platform testing. High-quality, bug-free products for exceptional customer experiences are non-negotiable, but delivering this consistently is an enormous challenge.
In this Deep Dive Report, we will explore all aspects of a mobile-first strategy – right from why organizations must go mobile-first, the design and development adaptations required, to the testing requirements and challenges, and how best to navigate them.
By adopting a mobile-first approach, organizations can improve their mobile user experience, increase engagement and retention, and reach a wider audience. By the end of the report, you will be able to identify the gaps in your mobile-first strategies from a testing standpoint and the solutions you could use to plug them and compete in today’s dynamic, mobile-first landscape.
The era of mobile dominance
Mobile devices are gaining popularity and importance as more and more people turn to their smartphones to access the internet. Users are increasingly becoming mobile-dominant, often leapfrogging desktops altogether. According to a study by Statista, as of 2021, there are over 4.9 billion mobile internet users worldwide, and this number is expected to continue growing rapidly – giving businesses a continuously expanding user base to tap into.
Anywhere-anytime is the new normal
Mobile phones are an integral part of our daily lives. Studies indicate that tech-savvy Millennials and Gen Z spend over 3 hours on their phones every day and have 80+ apps installed. With innovations in payment gateways making it easier for people to pay on the go, it is expected that nearly half of all e-commerce purchases will be made through mobile phones by 2024. The recent Covid-19 pandemic has further emphasized the importance of mobile phones for a range of activities, from shopping and payments to banking and entertainment. The convenience of using mobile phones from anywhere, at any time, has made them a crucial part of people’s daily routines.
Ranking better helps
In response to the skyrocketing use of mobile devices, Google switched to mobile-first indexing in 2018. Google now focuses only on the mobile version of any website for indexing and ranking instead of the desktop version. Similarly, Google’s app store now prioritizes app quality and user experience in order to rank apps on the Play Store. They are actively making high-quality titles more visible on the app store, steering users away from lower-quality ones. The mobile experience of websites and apps, therefore, has a direct impact on SEO ranking and discovery.
Mobile-first for competitive edge
A mobile-first strategy focuses on delivering a seamless, optimized mobile experience to all users, driving engagement and customer loyalty. Businesses that prioritize mobile experiences often stay ahead of the curve in terms of innovation and technology, enabling them to respond quickly to changing consumer needs and preferences. A mobile-first strategy can, therefore, help businesses retain a competitive edge and stay relevant in today’s dynamic digital landscape.
What does it mean to be mobile-first
Being mobile-first means giving equal importance to the hitherto ignored mobile user experience alongside other platforms and devices. This approach focuses on designing and developing products, services, and websites specifically for mobile devices, taking into consideration the unique constraints and opportunities of the mobile platform. The goal of a mobile-first strategy is to provide a seamless and optimized experience for users on their mobile devices, recognizing that they are becoming the primary way that people access information, communicate, and engage with brands.
Three main aspects of mobile-first strategy
Design, Development, and Testing are the three main aspects of a mobile-first strategy.
The mobile-first framework focuses on optimizing design, user interface, and information architecture for smaller screens and then scaling up for larger screens. This approach ensures that websites and apps are accessible and usable on any device and provides a better user experience for mobile users, who make up the majority of internet traffic.
Responsive design, which enables websites and apps to adapt to various devices, screen sizes, and window sizes for optimal usability and consistency, has been around for a while. However, it is not the same as mobile-first design. With responsive design, the content, navigation, and layout are adjusted to fit smaller mobile screens, but it is still primarily optimized for traditional desktop websites.
On the other hand, mobile-first design starts with the smallest screens, specifically mobile devices, and is then progressively enhanced to fit larger screens, such as tablets, laptops, and desktops. The approach enables businesses to deliver the most essential content and features to the majority of their user base while simultaneously providing the best possible experience to those who satisfy all the more advanced hardware and software requirements of the website or app.
The mobile-first strategy flywheel
When considered as a flywheel, a mobile-first strategy can bring continuous improvement in the mobile experience and lead to increased usage, which in turn generates more data and insights that can be used to improve the experience further. This creates a virtuous cycle that drives continuous improvement and value for all users.
Adopting a mobile-first approach requires businesses to rethink their product development processes, design frameworks, and technology stack to ensure that mobile is at the center of everything they do. Companies must also have a deep understanding of their mobile users, their habits and behaviors, and their needs and pain points.
Here’s a look at the various steps involved in the mobile-first strategy flywheel:
Gather Requirements: Identify and document the needs and goals of the project.
Organize Content: Determine the most important content for the mobile experience and prioritize it.
Build a Wireframe: Create a basic layout that outlines the placement of content and UI elements.
Design: Develop the visual design of the mobile layout, taking screen size, touch-based interaction, and load times into consideration.
Test: Verify that the mobile layout works accurately and meets the requirements, testing it on a variety of devices and browsers.
Deploy: Launch the mobile-first website or application.
Optimize: Continuously monitor, review and improve the mobile layout to ensure it remains optimized for the latest devices and technologies, including accessibility and loading speeds.
What’s missing without a mobile-first approach
Without a mobile-first approach, businesses risk missing out on the rapidly growing mobile market and the opportunities that come with it. Here are some of the key things that can be missed without a mobile-first approach:
Mobile-intuitive user flow: The design and functionality might not be optimized for smaller screens and limited inputs.
Touch interactions: Support for multitouch/multi-finger interactions might be missing or inadequate.
Mobile-specific best practices: The design and functionality might not take into consideration mobile-specific constraints like smaller fonts sizes, limited real estate, limited battery usage, etc.
Mobile browser support: Many advanced styles and HTML elements may not be supported by mobile browsers.
Cost-effectiveness: Not having a mobile-first approach from the get-go can result in increased development and maintenance costs, as the need for re-development and additional testing for mobiles may arise.
Performance: Failing to account for the limited processing power and memory of mobile devices, in contrast to desktop computers, could result in a negative impact on performance.
Accessibility: Mobile devices are used by people with different abilities. Without a mobile-first approach, accessibility features such as larger text sizes, high-contrast mode, and text-to-speech might be ignored or inadequate.
Location-based services: The design and functionality might fail to leverage GPS and other location-based services to provide personalized experiences.
The mobile-first mindset: User experience is core
The mobile-first mindset prioritizes user experience (UX) as the core of its approach. The goal is to deliver a seamless and optimized experience for users on their mobile devices, taking into consideration the unique constraints and opportunities of the mobile platform. This means considering the mobile user’s needs, behaviors, and preferences first and designing products, services, and websites with those in mind.
By focusing on UX, businesses can ensure they are delivering the best possible experience to their users, leading to higher engagement and satisfaction and setting themselves apart from competitors who may not be prioritizing the mobile experience. In a mobile-first world, having a strong user experience is crucial for success, and businesses must overcome unique challenges when adopting a mobile-first mindset to remain competitive and relevant.
Mobile-first challenges and the impact
Understanding the challenges faced by different stakeholders is important when thinking of a mobile-first approach.
Inconsistent UX across digital assets
Content architecture and layout designs meant for mobile devices differ from desktop ones. Using one for the other often leads to user experience inconsistencies.
Organizations and website owners must prioritize mobile-focused content and design to deliver outstanding user experiences and reach the expanding mobile-dominant user base.
Fragmentation of devices and distributed user base
Fragmentation in the mobile devices market – different screen sizes, resolutions, operating systems, hardware capabilities, etc. – and global audiences can impact the rendering, performance, and functionality of software, apps, and websites.
Comprehensive testing must be conducted on a wide range of devices to ensure that apps and websites function seamlessly and provide a consistent user experience across all platforms.
Fragmentation of devices and distributed audiences make testing a massive challenge, as it requires significant time and resources to thoroughly test apps and websites on each device, leading to increased development costs and longer time-to-market.
Lack of scalable, reliable mobile-first testing tool
Without scalable and dependable mobile-first testing tools, testing can become a bottleneck, causing delays and leading to bugs that can negatively impact user experience. It also makes testing difficult, ineffective, and inefficient, undermining a mobile-first approach.
Testing in a mobile-first world
Mobile-first customers want digital assets – apps, websites, software, etc. – that display and render relevant content clearly, are easy to navigate and are simple. To deliver this, it is important to thoroughly test the design, functionality, and performance of websites and apps on mobile devices to ensure that it meets the expectations of the end users.
Testing as a function of usage and complexity variables
The Usage-Complexity Framework below can help businesses understand how testing needs may change over time as the app or website grows and user behavior evolves. By understanding these factors, businesses can adapt their testing strategies and tools to ensure that their app or website remains functional, user-friendly, and future-proof.
Parameters considered to define the Usage-Complexity Framework:
Number of users
Usage patterns and engagement change over time. The number of people who use the app or visit the website, the types of devices, browsers, and operating systems they use, as well as their geographic locations, impact testing needs.
Number of functionalities
Depending on the type, growth stage, and purpose of the app or website, it can have various features and functionalities. The general rule is that the more integrations and data inputs required, the more complex the digital asset and the more comprehensively it should be tested.
Testing needs exist at all stages of app or website growth. But as the app or website progresses from the initial launch stage to the growth and maturity stages, new features are added, and the number of users grows. Testing requirements evolve accordingly, corresponding to the different stages of growth.
Variables that make testing complicated
- The complexity of the system being tested
- Number of user devices being tested
- Operating System versions
- Screen sizes and resolutions
- Processor variations
- User locations
- Network conditions
- Mobile-specific features
- Integration with other systems and components
- Third-party integrations
- Volume and variety of data input required
- Battery capacity variation
- Variations in use case and user behavior
The three main ways to enable testing at scale
The three most popular approaches for mobile testing are discussed below:
In-house device labs
In-house device labs are physical or virtual testing environments established and maintained on an organization’s premises for testing purposes. These device labs can include a range of hardware, such as smartphones, tablets, laptops, and desktop computers, and are typically managed and operated by the organization’s development team.
In-house device labs provide developers with a controlled testing environment where they can quickly test and debug their code. However, this approach is impractical in a remote work setup with distributed teams and has multiple challenges:
- Cost and effort required to set up and regularly maintain the lab is high
- Not enough device coverage due to fragmentation
- Automation doesn’t run out of the box without additional time and effort for framework support
“Even if we were to maintain an on-premise device farm of only the top 10 user devices, we would have to spend upwards of $50,000 a year, and we would still not have any automation capabilities out of the box.”
Todd Eaton, Head of Consumer Product DevOps & QA, The Weather Company
Emulators and simulators
An emulator is a software program that mimics the behavior of a real mobile device. A simulator, on the other hand, mimics the behavior of a real device’s software environment but does not fully emulate the hardware components of the device. Emulators and simulators can be used to test website or app performance, functionality, and compatibility across different mobile devices and operating systems.
While emulators and simulators are easily available and competitively priced, they have several limitations when it comes to mobile testing. They fail to simulate real-world use cases and device characteristics, leading to potential inaccuracies and disruption of user experience.
- Emulators and simulators do not fully replicate the hardware features, performance, and behavior of real devices, leading to false results.
- Network conditions, such as speed, latency, and bandwidth, can significantly impact user experience but are not accurately recreated on emulators and simulators.
- Differences between the emulated or simulated OS and the actual OS can impact the functionality and behavior of the app.
- Touch and gesture inputs on physical devices may differ from those on emulators and simulators.
“With emulators and simulators, there was always a percentage of error that had to be accounted for with respect to real devices. The error rate has reduced a lot from the time we have shifted to BrowserStack.”
Ravinder Singh, QA Team Lead, OLX Autos
Real device clouds
Real device clouds provide instant access to a large pool of real mobile devices for testing and debugging of mobile websites and apps. These devices can be accessed remotely over the internet, making it easier for developers and testers to test their applications on various device models, operating systems, and screen sizes without having to physically access the devices. Real device clouds are a cost-effective solution for organizations to test on a wide range of devices without the need for expensive hardware setup and maintenance.
Testing on a real device cloud is the only solution for high-quality releases and user experience, which is why over 6 million developers and 50,000 teams test on BrowserStack.
“Our quality is going up. We now test against many different devices, especially the ones we couldn’t verify against before due to our small device pool. BrowserStack’s regularly updated cloud with a wide range of browsers and devices is a flexible and efficient solution that helps us maintain quality levels our members expect.”
Tim Gould, Engineering Manager, Nationwide Building Society
Test automation and cloud infrastructure are the way to go
The shift to automation is a gradual progression as the organization scales and matures in its journey. According to GitLab’s 2022 Global DevSecOps Survey of over 5,000 DevOps professionals:
- 70% of DevOps teams surveyed release code continuously, once a day, or every few days
- 47% of teams report their testing is fully automated today
- 35% of devs are releasing code twice as fast, and 15% are releasing code between 3-5x faster
The fast pace of code releases, combined with the trend toward automation, highlights the importance of a scalable and reliable mobile-first testing solution for digital success. According to the Test Maturity Stages outlined in our report titled Turn Testing into a Business Advantage, here’s a look at how testing requirements evolve with app or website growth as organizations mature.
|App or Website Complexity||Testing Maturity Stage||% Automated Tests|
A reliable mobile-first testing solution like BrowserStack allows teams to quickly and efficiently test their applications – manually and automated – on various mobile devices and platforms at scale without any maintenance.
Depending on support and integrations the solution provides, teams can test apps using popular automated mobile app testing frameworks like Appium, XCUITest, Espresso, EarlGrey, Flutter, etc. It can accommodate increasing demands of continuous delivery and ensure that testing processes can keep pace with fast code releases.
Why the best teams in the industry trust BrowserStack
Deliver a flawless customer experience for every user
BrowserStack gives you instant access to 3000+ real device and browser combinations across manufacturers, models, OSes (both major and minor), and browser versions to test on. BrowserStack doesn’t use emulators or simulators; all tests are run on real devices to provide real-world results and avoid any false results. This enables your team to understand exactly how the product works on all the devices their customers are using to deliver predictably good experiences every time, boosting customer acquisition, satisfaction, and retention.
Improve product quality to drive revenue growth
BrowserStack enables your team to automate and significantly expand testing coverage to ensure the products they bring to market are bug-free. The scalability of the BrowserStack platform enables you to identify issues as soon as they are introduced (Shift Left testing), creating a virtuous cycle that allows teams to automate more, innovate more, and deliver more, which leads to more revenue.
Accelerate time to market
BrowserStack eliminates the testing bottleneck by enabling hundreds of tests to run in parallel. This allows teams to test at the speed of today’s modern CI/CD pipelines without compromising on quality. BrowserStack’s elastic cloud helps teams scale up tests on-demand – there are no device reservations required. BrowserStack’s platform is powered by 19 data centers across 13 locations to give organizations unmatched performance, scale, and reliability to support faster builds and faster time to market.
Stay secure and compliant
BrowserStack’s data centers and platform are SOC2 Type II and GDPR compliant, giving organizations a testing infrastructure that meets their most stringent security and compliance requirements. With default HTTPS implementation, data controls, and access management policies, enterprises can be confident their data is safe and secure when using BrowserStack. Once a test session is complete, all test data is destroyed, and devices are put into a factory reset state. In addition, BrowserStack’s globally distributed data centers enable customers to meet in-region data privacy and sovereignty requirements.
Maximize cost savings and operational efficiency
BrowserStack keeps teams focused on what they do best, allowing them to spend their time and energy on testing, not test infrastructure. With BrowserStack, testing is fast, reliable, scalable, and hassle-free, requiring no overhead and no maintenance. In addition, the BrowserStack platform is future-proofed, giving enterprises immediate access to popular new devices and browsers the moment they are added to the platform at no additional cost.
Ready to deliver flawless mobile-first experiences?
Over 6 million developers and 50,000 teams test on BrowserStack. Join them.