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This guide describes the differences between testing mobile and web applications, the reasons to test each, and common defects when testing both platforms.

Testing methods for a web app vs. mobile app involve only slight variations in testing behaviors and testing techniques. Both share the need to test with the customer in mind. User experience is key to application adoption regardless of the platform. Accessibility, performance, security, functional and integration testing are all still inherently at the center of both web and mobile testing.

The purpose of testing applications remains the same for both web and mobile apps. The purpose is to identify defects in functionality or usage within the application before the code is released to customers. Granted, there are differences in hardware or device functionality that require distinct testing. Overall, the difference between testing a web app vs. mobile app comes down to hardware, device and connectivity variations.

This guide describes the differences between testing mobile and web applications, the reasons to test each, and common defects when testing both platforms.

Key Takeaways

  • What’s the difference between a web app vs. mobile app?
  • What are mobile app testing techniques?
  • What are web app testing techniques?
  • Discover the different techniques used for testing mobile and web apps and why testing differs.
  • Why test both mobile and web app versions?
  • Learn the common defects to look for when testing an application with both a mobile and web app.

What’s the Difference Between Mobile and Web Apps?

Mobile apps are built in one of three ways:

  • Native OS
  • Mobile web
  • Hybrid

Native OS applications mean the code is based in either iOS or Android. Developers must code each version of the app separately to run on each device type. The code cannot be shared between iOS and Android but must be coded, maintained, deployed and tested as separate entities.

The advantage of coding mobile apps in Native OS is the possible list of features and functionality available expands. There are fewer limits to what tools and options developers can use within the application to provide the desired functionality.

Mobile web apps are developed identically to a web application but work on a mobile browser including adapting to device screen size options. Users can simply use the mobile version of a browser to access and use the mobile web application as they would a standard web application outside of having to manage the differences in screen size.

Hybrid mobile applications are the most popular. Hybrid mobile apps are developed using tools that enable developers to code both iOS and Android together at the same time. In other words, development tools enable mobile app development on a single codebase but are used for both iOS and Android. No need to perform separate work efforts, it’s all in one place. Hybrid app development is popular because it saves development and testing time. The only drawback is a reduction in the number of available features when compared to the Native OS.

(That is, before .NET MAUI brings about cross-platform development. Stay up to date on the exciting progress of this revolutionary platform with the weekly Sands of MAUI update.)

Web applications are designed to run within a browser. Web applications reside on a server or cloud infrastructure and are accessed through authentication. In other words, to use a web application, you log into the server or cloud using a laptop or PC to access the web application.

Web applications can run on any device, including mobile devices that include a browser and internet connectivity. Users can access web applications on a cell phone, tablet, laptop or desktop. As a user, if you use a web browser to log into the application, then it’s a web app.

What Are Testing Techniques for Mobile vs. Web Apps?

The testing techniques used for mobile apps and web apps are essentially the same with a few distinct exceptions.

All application testing includes the following testing techniques:

  • Functional
  • Integration
  • Security
  • Accessibility
  • Usability
  • Performance
  • Device compatibility
  • API/Database connectivity
  • Third-party or embedded email and SMS messaging
  • Display and functionality based on screen size
  • Touchscreen functions for enabled devices

The differences in testing live in the details. For example, for web applications, there’s no real need to test how much battery the application consumes or whether the device can be used on and off the internet. Web applications simply cannot function without internet connectivity, whereas mobile apps often provide at least limited function and feature access offline.

Web applications are starting to mimic many mobile app functions. For example, users can interact using voice commands with a mobile device or a web app (Alexa, Siri or Google Assistant as examples). Additionally, web applications through various accessibility settings can respond to touchscreen actions or other gestures through connected devices. The functionality you may need to test for a web application may include all or many of the actions as a mobile app depending on the device used.

When planning testing efforts, cover web and mobile applications with shared testing techniques and then add specific testing to include as listed below.

Web app specific testing techniques include:

  • Cross-browser testing
  • HTML/CSS verification
  • Cookie file security
  • Backend messaging systems that transfer data

Mobile app specific testing techniques include:

  • Network and connectivity testing (wifi, cellular and Bluetooth)
  • Battery usage
  • Install and uninstall apps on a device
  • Mobile device compatibility
  • Gesture or action variant testing

Why Test Both Mobile and Web App Versions?

Many business software applications offer both a web and mobile app version. For example, banks often have both web and mobile apps for customers’ use. This serves both customer type preferences and involves syncing and sharing data between mobile and web applications.

Due to time limits or testing resource limitations, some may decide to test only one app and assume the other works as expected. The danger in not testing both app versions is they are not the same codebase. You cannot truly test one without also testing the other. Especially for more complex applications that apply functions, calculations, and transfer or update data.

The purpose of testing is to ensure the user experience is positive. Testing both app versions is the only way to ensure both mobile and web customers receive the user experience they expect and desire. Essentially, testing ensures both sets of customers are served a positive user experience regardless of which app they use.

When both platforms are provided, it’s common for defects to appear in the display. Look for differences in data between the mobile and web apps. For example, using a banking app example, ensure balances and transactions show the same data for dates, actions and values.

Many development teams split developers by function. Frequently one developer team handles the mobile while another group codes the web application. If the teams don’t communicate on API data transfer conditions, the apps often end up showing incorrect or invalid data depending on which one the customer last used.

Another common defect is consistency. How the mobile app is coded (hybrid, web or Native OS) impacts the features and tools available for use.

At a minimum, the color and branding should display the same between the web and mobile apps. A consistent brand image is important to aid customers in using apps intuitively. Keep the functions and display as similar as possible.

Functionality may differ, but the end data must match. For example, a user may scroll through multiple pages in a mobile app to make a banking deposit. The customer may make a deposit using the mobile app and then log into the web app later to verify the deposit was made.

If the data sync or API is not activated from the web app version, the customer’s deposit may not show in the web app. The timing of API and data syncing is critical to ensuring data is displayed consistently and accurately between apps. Check to ensure user functions display the same result immediately upon logging in or perform automatic updates on page access.

Although web and mobile apps are distinct and different application types, the purpose of testing applications remains the same for both web and mobile apps. The purpose is to identify defects in functionality or use within the application before the code is released to customers. Testing verifies functionality works in either app version consistently and accurately.

Need help organizing tests or even creating tests for mobile and web application testing? Consider tools to make managing all testing efficient and effective. Testing tools like Progress Telerik Test Studio leverage the latest in testing technology for creating, managing and executing both web and mobile application testing.

About the Author

Amy Reichert

A QA test professional with 23+ years of QA testing experience within a variety of software development teams, Amy Reichert has extensive experience in QA process development & planning, team leadership/management, and QA project management.  She has worked on multiple types of software development methodologies including waterfall, agile, scrum, kanban and customized combinations. Amy enjoys continuing to improve her software testing craft by researching and writing on a variety of related topics. In her spare time, she enjoys gardening, cat management and the outdoors.


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