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Everything you need to know about Simulator vs. Emulator vs. Real Device - Mobile Testing cover

Everything you need to know about Simulator vs. Emulator vs. Real Device – Mobile Testing

In 2021, the world saw a whopping 1.43 billion mobile device units sold worldwide. This has been a positive growth trend year on year, except for a small hiccup in 2020. It shows that people love this pocket-friendly device that lets you accomplish many of the tasks for which you would have needed a big desktop just a couple of decades ago. Also, if the end-user is so engaged on their mobile phone (touching it 2617 times per day on average), developing a mobile application is the best bet businesses can put for their future. As a result, Google Play today hosts 2.65 million mobile applications on their platform for Android users.

Let’s now focus on your mobile application, which will add to this list of 2.65 million when launched for the users. When so many applications are readily available to the end user and just a couple of clicks away, can you afford any mistakes?

To bring out the best in our mobile application and deliver a top-quality product, we make it pass through a variety of phases in testing. For example, we’ll check the load with load testing and performance metrics with performance testing, etc. But should we always try to perform these testing on real devices? Would that be cost and time efficient? If not, then what are our options? Can emulator testing or simulators for mobile testing help? Let’s find out by exploring their work and what they bring to the table.

What is a simulator?

The word “simulator” comes from the core word “simulation,” which roughly means “to imitate a process.” When we run or build a simulator, we imitate another process originally run on a different device, operating system, or machine. Simulators have long been in our life. Starting with a brief print in Alan Turing’s universal machine simulation to flight simulators to train a pilot. Today, in 2022, simulators are almost everywhere, even in transport offices, to simulate a road experience to check the driver’s capabilities.

A flight simulator – Source

But here in our post, we can skip all these simulators except the one that runs a mobile application called a mobile simulator.

A mobile simulator is a program (or an application) that runs on a desktop device but gives you a simulation of a mobile device. For instance, this is a mobile simulator running an iPhone 12 Pro Max:

Source

As you can see, you can interact with the simulator and feel like you are interacting with a real device. Simulators for mobile testing are a primary goal for testers to point out bugs without actually buying a new phone.

This is cost-effective, and you don’t need to worry about buying new phones when they are released (which today happens extremely frequently). Hence, simulators can help you conclude mobile testing faster. To list down its offerings, we may end up with the following:

Pros of using a mobile simulator for mobile testing

The following advantages are associated with using simulators for mobile testing:

  • Cost – Since you don’t have to buy devices, you save a lot on the costs of procuring mobile devices.
  • Easy to set up – Simulators just require two steps – download and install. You may not need to go through complex steps. A lot of the IDEs also offer simulators for mobile testing built into the editor. Do check this thing out on your editor before starting.
  • Help wrap things faster – Mobile simulators are easy to install and quick to work on. So you can quickly wrap things you want to test compared to a real device where you have to first acquire it, install the app, and then test.

Cons of using a mobile simulator for mobile testing

The following disadvantages are associated with using simulators for mobile testing:

  1. Inaccurate – Simulators are inaccurate because of their internal working. They do not consider mobile hardware and run on a desktop machine. This means you will not get accurate parameters as the hardware on which the simulator is running is much more powerful than a mobile device.
  2. Inability to simulate mobile features – Simulators are not capable of simulating mobile native features. Therefore, you might be unable to test things related to those features. For instance, phone-calling or storage-related prompts.

When to use a simulator for mobile testing?

A comparison of the pros and cons of the mobile simulator shows us that it is indeed an unreliable method for mobile testing. If we are not getting accurate metrics and just getting an impression of running our mobile app, we may end up concluding poor testing and delivering an app full of bugs.

That said, the simulator does help us with the basic stuff. For instance, how does my button look? Do these two colors contrast each other? Why not provide two screenshots with different color buttons to my manager or client for comparison? These things require quick rendering, especially when development is in progress. As for me, simulators are best utilized during development of things that do not require mobile native features. They are quick enough to render live while I am developing a feature. For the other stuff, we have mobile emulators.

What is an emulator?

The word “emulator” derives from the word “emulation,” which has been used in computers for almost 40 years. As per Wikipedia, “Emulation refers to the ability of a computer program in an electronic device to emulate (or imitate) another program or device.” But isn’t this the same definition we discussed in the simulator section? It actually is! Emulators and simulators are almost similar, and in a way, you can also remember emulators as an advanced version of simulators that help overcome their shortcomings.

Emulators started with their usage in HP Printers. However, as computers got powerful and new games started overtaking the older ones, some people wanted a new powerful computer but also older games. The most accurate way to do this was to design software that can run a mobile app on a desktop. It should also keep in mind that equal hardware capabilities are required for a fair game between players playing on old original computers and new ones.

Player playing the Tetris game on a PC

Again, we need to skip the entire universe of emulators and come down to what concerns us – mobile emulators for testing.

When we apply the same phenomenon but this time use the desktop device only for running mobile emulators, we call it mobile emulation on a PC or a mac. A mobile emulator will look like this:

It also looks similar to a simulator; by just looking at it, no one could distinguish the two. So, what’s the point of using an emulator over a simulator? The only distinguishing factor is the use of hardware that is meant for the original software. For instance, if you wish to use a mobile emulator for the Samsung Galaxy S10 that has 8 GB of RAM with 2 GB stored for system use, you will use an emulator with a 6 GB RAM lock only.

The rest of the advantages remain the same, as in the simulator for mobile testing section. However, as for the disadvantages, we can eliminate a couple.

Cons of using an emulator for testing

The only disadvantage with an emulator used for mobile app testing is that it cannot imitate all the native mobile features. For instance, network variation is something that is hard to emulate, and so are the microphone-related features. However, emulators have become highly advanced these days. I am sure you may someday use a mobile emulator to test many more things.

When to use an emulator for testing?

So, what scenarios can drive us to use an emulator when aiming toward mobile testing?

  1. UI testing – The first and foremost is the same scenario for which we reached out to mobile simulators. To see the user interface of the application, you need not have a real device in hand. You can get an accurate idea with an emulator, so you can quickly finish this part of testing.
  2. Development – Mobile emulators can be used to check out the features while they are in development. Although, these features should be supported on the emulator.
  3. Finalize parameters and bottlenecks – If you are developing a new mobile application, you might need to know the bottlenecks of its usage. For instance, what minimum requirements it supports? Or if you use this particular feature, then what will be the scenario? Emulators can give you a quick and near-accurate metric and is free to use.

Also, since emulators are free and much better than simulators, today, emulators are used much more popularly. Therefore, you might see these two words used interchangeably. It’s good to have this cleared before use.

Learn More: IOS Emulators for Windows and Mac

What is a real device?

The above two devices are called virtual devices because they are not tangible in nature. On the other hand, the device that is tangible is referred to as real device in the testing and development field. A real device is not a specially crafted device for testing or development. It is the same device that you, I, and any other end-user use personally. So you just need to buy a device, install your application and start testing right away.

A real device is the best way to test your application because since it is an actual device, all the parameters you would see will be accurate. So, why did we talk about emulators and simulators when a real device looks like the best option? Let’s see the issues in the next section.

Why real device is not always used for mobile testing?

To answer this question, let’s jump back to the first line of this post: “In 2021, the world saw a whopping 1.43 billion mobile device units being sold worldwide.” If 1.43 billion devices were sold, there must be a good diverse variety among them designed by the manufacturers. Some would be 6.1-inch screen size, some 6.5 while some 6.7, etc. Similarly, a lot of them will differ on other parameters, such as two devices with a 6.1-inch screen size will have different RAMs, maybe different processors, operating system versions, etc.

All of these things are relevant when it comes to testing a mobile application; therefore, you will end up buying a lot of phones each year. Considering that an average Android device costs $261 and an average iPhone device costs $758, you might have to re-calculate your project budget. In addition, you will be bearing these costs each year and need to maintain these devices, such as software updates, OS updates, etc. It just keeps adding on and on. This is the major problem we face while thinking of acquiring real devices.

The second problem is developing and maintaining the infrastructure with these real devices. Once you procure them, you need to connect them with the network, frameworks, testers’ machines, internet, and much more. In short, you have to create an infrastructure so testers can use devices from their systems and monitor their status. This is a hard job and requires a dedicated team. This team will also draw salaries that add to your total costs.

Both of these problems make it hard for us to consider this option and drive us into the dilemma of how to perform mobile app testing.

Emulators vs. Real Devices

For your reference, I have listed the differences between emulators and real devices point by point below:

You can use these devices as per your situation and business goals.

Optimizing mobile app testing device use

With all three types of devices in your hand and considering the high costs of purchasing real devices, you may want to optimize your testing process as much as possible.

For this, we need to make a mix of emulators and real devices and use them only according to their scenarios. However, please remember that a few companies, startups, or individuals do their complete testing on emulators. This is not recommended. Real devices should always be a part of the mix when you aim for mobile app testing.

Coming back to our analysis, emulators and real devices are efficient but in their own domain. For instance, if you wish to perform UI testing on the application, real devices and emulators will show similar results. Therefore, go for emulators to finish this faster. A similar thing could be followed for usability testing, where you just need to analyze a user’s observations and navigations.

Overcoming real device problems with Testsigma

In this last section, what if I could tell you that you can overcome real device shortcomings of maintenance and purchase without doing any of those? Yes, this is possible with platforms like Testsigma.

Testsigma provides real devices for the testers who wish to release a top-quality app for the users but are restrained due to budget or overhead of maintenance. All of this comes free of cost if your requirements are basic, like those for an individual. To test your mobile app on Testsigma, follow these simple steps:

Sign up for free on Testsigma.

Create a new project or navigate to an existing project. Click “Record” on this screen.

Select the device and operating system with the version and upload your application on the next screen.

Once done, press “Record” to start recording.

Press LOG IN on this screen to fill the center panel.

This is a mobile recorder provided by Testsigma and is an efficient tool to execute tests and save time. Here, you will see your mobile application on the right side running on a real device, similar to what an end-user would see. You can perform various actions here, such as tapping a button, clicking somewhere, inputting text, etc. All these actions will be recorded and translated into plain English on the leftmost side.

This English language is generated with the help of natural language processing which stands at the core of Testsigma’s working methodology.

All these steps can be saved in your project and run on your application’s further versions.

Testsigma is probably the best solution for mobile app testing, as you get real devices without high costs. In addition, you write test scripts in English for which you don’t need to hire experienced automation experts and save a lot of expenses here too. Explore our platform and let us know your experience in the comment section.

Conclusion

The surprising growth of mobile phones and their increasing affordability have made mobile app testing a lot more important. With 5.34 billion mobile phone users as of 2022, one minor bug can affect an extensive user base. This will be an excellent opportunity for your competitors, and they will not always let it slip. But to perform quality mobile app testing, we require a real device that our end-user is using. This is, however, not as easy as we discussed in this post.

To settle somewhere in between and make optimum use of the options available, we choose between emulators, simulators (significantly less often), and real devices. Which one to go for in which scenario is decided by their strengths and performance capabilities. Keep in mind that even though you can perform everything on a real device, it may not always be the best choice in terms of time and cost. At last, we conclude by introducing an online platform made just for people who wish to perform testing without investing too much time in programming. With this, they also get access to real devices without any overhead of procurement or maintenance.

I hope this post serves you well in your next mobile app testing endeavor. Thank you for giving your valuable time.


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