With global mobile subscriptions now surpassing the world’s population, and with the mobile share of organic search engine visits in the United States growing to nearly half of all searches, it’s more important than ever to test your website and applications across multiple devices. But unless you have a drawer full of mobile devices, that isn’t easy and often is considered too time consuming. While there are plenty of companies offering testing services (BrowserStack) as well as grass root communities (Open Device Labs), emulators are a good alternative and a great first step.
If you aren’t familiar with the term, an emulator lets you mimic the behaviors of a system (e.g. a mobile device) on a different system (e.g. your desktop computer). This means that you can test the UI and UX of your website or application on as many different types of mobile devices as you’d like, all from the comfort of your desktop browser (pajamas optional).
The first step before you start is to determine which devices you need to test. While emulators make it easy, it’s still not feasible to test every mobile device. If you already have an existing site you can check your analytics to figure out which devices you should focus on (Audience > Mobile Devices in Google Analytics, for example). If you are launching a new site then you can search for the top device market share to as well as some basic demographic info about your target user. Here are a couple examples of what we mean by demographics:
- Age and Income: Regardless of the market share of a particular mobile device model, your target user may not spend the money it takes to have the latest iPhone.
- Location: Global distribution of popular mobile devices is location based. While high end smartphones are popular in the West, large phablets are more popular in the East (easier to type Eastern character sets), while phones with great battery life are more popular in developing countries.
Top Website Emulators
Be sure and test both landscape and portrait orientations since landscape usually will fall outside of the “mobile” media query (i.e. your hamburger mobile menu won’t show) and can cause issues for websites with larger navigations
Top Application Emulators
ANDY : Our top pick for an Android emulator goes to Andy, which lets you run mobile apps on with Windows and Mac. It’s a more well rounded Android emulator and doesn’t focus on gaming the way that BlueStacks does. Andy lets users sideload third-party apps, customize the Android experience, including allowing advanced users customize the virtual machine specs (e.g. RAM, CPU cores, etc.). This is great for testing your app since you can emulate slower Android devices. Keep in mind that Andy runs a “newer” version of Android, so if your users tend to be on older OS versions, then that is something you’ll want to keep in mind.
APPLE SIMULATOR : For emulating iOS, the Apple Simulator allows you to rapidly prototype and test builds of your app during the development process. Advanced users can install it as part of the Xcode tools, allowing Simulator to run on their Mac and behave like a standard Mac app while simulating an iPhone, iPad, Apple Watch, or Apple TV environment. (iOS for Mac).
If you run into any issues and purchasing new devices isn't in your budget, you can always purchase a cheap HDMI dongle, or a phone or tablet off of a site like eBay, Geekbuying or Pandawill.
We'd love to hear from you. Did we miss an emulator that you have used and liked? Let us know in the comments or through some other way.
BANNER PHOTO CREDIT: Andy Osmani