For months, you’ve watched as your developers built what seemed to be the perfect mobile app. Now, the long-awaited launch date has arrived. It’s been uploaded to the app stores. You’ve announced your new app’s arrival to the world and thousands have already installed it! But when you check in a couple hours later, you’re horrified to find a slew of negative reviews and the uninstall rate has shot through the roof.
It seems your team overlooked a major problem and it’s causing smartphones to freeze! How in the world was this missed? Your company invested lots of time and money in comprehensive QA testing, and you even performed multiple rounds of closed beta testing with a couple hundred participants.
The reality is that this scenario plays out on a fairly regular basis—many apps are unveiled before they’re really ready for official release. A small pool of users and QA professionals can overlook or underestimate key problems, resulting in a situation where you release an app that is, at best, in need of refinement. At worst, your app is downright glitchy. This may leave you scrambling to perform testing, but much of the damage is done because it’s very difficult to overwrite those negative first impressions. But these problems can all be avoided by performing open beta testing, which gives you the opportunity to gather feedback from a large pool of actual users.
What is an Open Beta Release and Why Do I Need One?
An open beta release is akin to an unofficial pre-launch for your app. There are two basic forms of beta testing. Closed beta testing refers to a small group of “insiders” (i.e. employees, executives, etc.) who are usually hand-picked to try the app, whereas open beta testing involves offering the app to the general public (or in the case of an enterprise app, to all company employees).
While both forms of beta testing have their benefits, a large, public release tends to bring the greatest benefits, including the following:
- More data – An open beta release provides your developers with a chance to utilize robust, non-optional reporting and data collection tools. It’s typically impractical to use these reporting and analytics tools in the official release. This means your open beta testing generates a more comprehensive data set.
- Fewer negative reviews – Negative reviews, especially early in the game, can harm your app’s ability to compete. An open beta release provides you with an opportunity to address bugs and glitches before your app is formally listed in the app stores. This reduces the number of negative reviews that arise as a result of issues that were initially unrealized or underestimated.
- More user feedback – Your developers will typically integrate a prominent feedback feature in your app’s beta version, allowing users to offer their comments and valuable insights.
- Fewer negative impressions – Users tend to be far more forgiving of flaws in the case of an app’s beta release. The very act of releasing a beta version is a way of acknowledging that it’s a work in progress; one with room for improvement.
Why Isn’t QA and User Testing Sufficient?
Many less experienced developers (and the clients who’ve hired those developers) can be lulled into a place of overconfidence because they’ve performed QA testing and user testing (including closed beta testing). But unfortunately, these measures are not foolproof and some major issues may still remain. There are a few inherent, unavoidable flaws that tend to arise with standard QA and UX testing protocols.
- Tech-Savvy Testers – QA testers typically have a strong tech background and a higher-than-average technical aptitude. And while they’re well-trained to be on the lookout for issues that technologically-challenged users may encounter, it’s impossible for a tech-smart individual to replicate another’s experience with 100 percent accuracy. This can result in unforeseen UX problems, even with the most talented QA team.
- Limited Testing Pool – Closed beta testing and more general user testing is typically limited to a small group that may not represent your typical user base. Many issues only become apparent when the app undergoes large-scale testing on a wide variety of devices, with a multitude of different operating system versions and apps installed. App conflicts and incompatibility with an outdated OS are examples of issues that are frequently overlooked (or underestimated) with a smaller testing pool.
- A High Degree of Familiarity – Many developers use the same pool of QA testers at various stages in the mobile app development process. As a result, the QA team tends to develop a high degree of familiarity with the app. This results in a situation where they’re less apt to identify and properly weight problems that will affect new users.
- Selection Bias – In cases where individuals are selected to participate in a round of closed beta testing, selection bias can be a real problem. This can result in a scenario where your testing group demographics differ from those of your target audience. As a result, the overall efficacy of the testing will be compromised. This is where open beta testing brings a major advantage over closed beta testing.
Other Considerations When Launching a Beta Version of a Mobile App
A beta launch allows you to generate more buzz for your app, which is important for B2C and consumer-facing apps, particularly those with lots of competitors. You’ll also gain insight that will allow you to market the mobile app more effectively.
Even B2B apps can see a major benefit from a beta release since it will decrease the probability of a negative first impression. Negative first impressions spur a reluctance to use the app in the future, which can lead to a major stumbling block for B2B and enterprise apps, which require widespread usage in order to maximize productivity.
Many flaws and problems can be avoided by working with an experienced team of mobile developers, as they’ll have a greater ability to identify potential problem areas early in the process. Based in Dallas, San Antonio, and Austin, SevenTablets’ talented team of developers have created and refined a unique open-source platform, STAX, designed to reduce the mobile app development timeframe and costs by as much as 35 to 40 percent. Since we’re not reinventing the wheel, many clients find they can dedicate more time and money toward comprehensive QA and beta testing. This results in a higher quality finished product; one that often requires fewer major updates immediately following the official release. We also offer independent app testing services, providing clients with an added measure of confidence knowing their app is user-friendly and ready for the big reveal. Contact us today to learn more about our mobile development solutions.
Shane earned a B.S. at Texas A&M (whoop!) and studied mathematics as a graduate student at Southern Methodist University.
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