Open Device Lab Movement: Mobile Developers Fight Back

In Commentary by Dan Engel

Last Updated October 28, 2016

An undercover mobile testing movement is crisscrossing the globe – it’s all about building the shared resources that software developers need to test their apps and to double-check their mobile-friendly websites. It’s called Open Device Labs (ODL), and it aims to overcome a nearly impossible problem bedeviling responsive web design.

The Problem (Don’t feed the sharks!)

Mobile website developers strive to create a “simply awesome” (to coin a phrase) UX. But they do so under extremely problematic conditions. Manufacturers from Samsung and Apple onto LP and myriad others are throwing buckets of money and hordes of engineers at creating unique, groundbreaking, awe-inspiring phones. Those tech giants are frantically striving to outshine and outsell their competitors.

Consumers might delight in the unending cornucopia of new phones and tablets. For mobile designers, developers and QA teams, however, that daunting glut of phones and tablets (over 24,000 different models!) means a nearly insurmountable burden in QA testing their web pages on mobile.

ODL’s website cogently spotlights the issue:

The fragmentation of operating systems and browsers as well as the diversity of internet-enabled devices makes it impossible for the vast majority of developers to personally own a representative pool of test devices. Nevertheless, quality assurance across real devices is a must.

Designing and developing mobile-friendly websites for this superabundance of devices is akin to surfing the crest of a wave while being circled by a school of undernourished sharks. With one slip, you are swept under and shredded.

Open Device Lab: A “Grassroots Community” of Digital Producers

global_387305922.jpegBut tech people are nothing if not flexible and resourceful. From open-source code and tools to hackathons and open work spaces, they are all about collaborating, improvising and pooling their resources to sustain their enterprises.

That explains the flowering of Open Device Labs. ODLs are open-access mobile testing labs where developers can come and freely QA their latest creations on real devices (not emulators). The labs gather devices from an array of sources, soliciting donations of the latest releases and accepting old castoffs.

Here’s ODL’s avowed purpose:

Open Device Labs are a grassroots community movement. They establish shared community pools of internet-connected devices for testing purposes of web and app developers. In result, ODLs lead to an ultimate improvement of the web & app experience both for developers and for consumers.”

The labs are popping up everywhere there’s a gathering of developers in need. In January 2013, there were 37 ODLs across 18 countries with over 500 devices accessible. Now, as 2015 winds to its end, the number of labs just in the United States has jumped to 24. And around the globe, the labs extend from Bangalore to Bogota and from Barcelona to Bergen. (Check out this map of ODLs worldwide.)

Onward and upwards!

schopp1 open device labWe at Mobile1st applaud the initiative of ODL to overcome a major roadblock in QA testing and optimizing websites. And we entirely endorse their mission: Developers need easy access to real mobile devices so they can test and debug to their hearts’ delight. Those mobile testing labs needs to be everywhere accessible and easy to use so that developers and designers can concentrate their talents on creating the most mouth-watering, jaw-dropping, eyeball-gripping websites ever accessed by phone or tablet.

Can’t make it to your nearest Open Device Lab? That what’s Mobilizer is here for – easily access our online mobile testing lab from anywhere. Within a mere 35 seconds, Mobilizer tests your your website on 15+ actual leading phones and tablets and delivers the screenshots in side-by-side display right to your desktop. Scroll through your complete web page, from top to footer (especially important for innovative Single Page Sites designs). Inspect your site for glitches and bugs. In this crazy mobile world of multiple operating systems and madly proliferating devices, designers and developers don’t need extra complexity, nor misleading QA results. They need easy, 100% accurate testing right now!

PS: In response to this post, ODL asks:
Want to help ODLs? Assist us by donating a device you don’t need anymore.
Love the idea, but no ODL in your area? Establish one! LabUp and Andre Jay Meissner are ready to help.

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