Big Bag o’ Mobile (aka White Van Mobile Phone Man)

Mobilism business ideas #1:

Big bag o'mobileSuppose I were to offer a service where you could book me to show up at your office with a suitcase full of mobile devices. A large spectrum of phones (& tablets), ranging from old to new, smartphones to feature phones, different software levels. iPhones, Androids, Nokias, Blackberries, etc. Let’s say about 30 different models, just to give it a number. They’d all be fully charged (spare chargers in my other suitcase), and loaded with SIM cards with data plans. You could then proceed to spend a few hours or a day loading up your app or web site on the ones you are interested in, and running through test scripts.

The benefit of this approach over remote testing, or testing with emulators, or testing with devices connected to local networks, is that you would get to feel the devices in your hand, and experience actual network speeds and latencies. (One of the biggest take-way points from the Mobilism conference was that you really have to use actual devices to understand how your web site will behave in real life.)

Another benefit is that you wouldn’t have to buy a suitcase load of phones yourself, and tie yourself to the subscriptions that go with them. You could also use the time to invite along subjects so you could run usability tests. Lots of possibilities!

Questions, then:

  • Would you (or your company, or your clients) use such a service?
  • How often, or how frequently do you think you would want to use the service?
  • How much would you (or your company, or your clients) be willing to pay for this? (Per hour, or per day.)

6 replies on “Big Bag o’ Mobile (aka White Van Mobile Phone Man)”

I use one/two devices at the time, not 30. When I develop for a device I need to get into it for a while, get confident with it.
After a little while (one week, one month?), I will change it but in the meantime I wouldn’t use the others.

At the conference, a lot of people spoke about how important it is to test on actual devices, and a lot of people spoke about how hard it is to get hold of actual devices to test on. This is also my own experience – getting your boss or a client to sign off on the purchase of even just a couple of mobile devices can be really hard. “Why can’t you just use [the emulator | your own iPhone | Dave’s BlackBerry]?” is a regular refrain.

But I’ve found that developing for the mobile web really benefits from having a dedicated device, or set of devices, sitting there ready for you to use at any time, without having to ask someone else to borrow their phone.

It’s the same argument as buying good computer equipment for your developers. Compared to the cost of a developer, the cost of good hardware is stupid cheap, and if it makes them more x% more productive, the hardware investment can pay for itself surprisingly quickly.

To be honest, that’s why I don’t think there’s a long-term business here. As more companies turn to the mobile web, and figure out that having multiple devices immediately available makes their developers more productive, it will become more common for them to make that investment, and the need for a third-party Bag O’ Mobile service will decrease.

Actually using devices and seeing the nuances in the device profiles, screen quality/resolutions, buttons, touch gestures, etc is essential. No emulator can give you that feedback.

Yes I would use it, yes I would pay, and I would probably tie it into my prototyping or release test cycle so likely about probbaly about 4-8 times a year. Pay by the day would make sense as at least that amount of time would be required.

If you combine it with high quality usability analysis work I think you have a service that many smaller software organisations would be willing to outsource.

This is going to be quite useful and I’m thinking of just getting that bag myself and use the service fee just to pay for the devices!

On the other hand there’s http://deviceanywhere.com/ that charges $12-$16 per hour of use for a package of phones (min usage applies). This is for those that simply need to make sure that their website/app works as it should.

From design perspective though, having a set of actual physical devices with screen size and input varieties is a must.

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