Mobile apps need to be bug tested on countless devices to make sure they work as intended. Users don’t look at bad experiences kindly – 88% say they will abandon apps based on minor glitches, according to to software test supplier Qualitest (which admittedly has a horse in the race). Testing is a time consuming and expensive process, with 31% of app development companies in one poll to estimate cost between $5,000 and $10,000. And for some outfits, the highest quality testing is simply not available, either for logistical reasons or the relentless pressure to reach release.
Eden Full Goh hopes to change that – and make money doing it. She is the founder of mobot, a startup that Goh says is building the first infrastructure-as-a-service platform that will allow developers to use physical robots to automate app testing on devices. Mobot countered the macroeconomic trend this week, closing a $12.5 million Series A round this week led by Cota Capital with participation from Heavybit, Uncorrelated Ventures, Bling Capital, Primary Venture Partners, Y Combinator and Newark Venture Partners, bringing the company’s total to $17.8 million.
Goh, who was previously a product engineer at Palantir and the Butterfly Network medical device company, came up with the idea for Mobot after seeing what she describes as “bottlenecks” in the mobile app testing process. Most companies, including her former employers, hire employees or outside contractors to perform manual testing, which is often inefficient, costly and error-prone, she says.
“There are tools developed by companies like Applitools, Test.ai and others that leverage existing emulated testing frameworks to automate testing for mobile apps. However, the unfortunate reality is that many defects often slip through the cracks of software-based, emulated testing because it doesn’t accurately represent testing on real hardware,” Goh told londonbusinessblog.com in an email interview. “Mobot is not currently positioning us as a competitor or replacement for emulators and automated testing. Rather, our goal is to replace the inevitable manual quality assurance that everyone still has to and will have to do as device fragmentation increases over the next five to 10 years.”
It may sound new, but robotics has been used to test software for mobile devices for quite some time now. Tokyo-based Japan Novel Corp. once offered a robot that can simulate the process of tapping and tapping a smartphone’s touchscreen over and over again. T-Mobile has built a similar robot in-house called Tappyto stress test several phones and tablets before going to the carrier’s points of sale.
However, according to Goh, these types of machines often require a high initial investment, not to mention the expertise in robotics.
Mobot, on the other hand, abstracts the maintenance and maintenance, allowing customers to set up a test case by simply recording a video on the app and the device (or devices) to be tested. A customer success manager helps develop a test flow and integrate Mobot’s analytics into development tools such as Jira, and then a fleet of more than 200 robots utilizing computer vision will perform the aforementioned test case – tapping, swiping and turning of app-running devices, as well as connecting the devices to Bluetooth peripherals, getting push notifications and more.
When the tests are completed, the Mobot team records the results. Customers can view side-by-side reports using a self-service tool.
“As far as we know, there are very few companies that focus on physical quality assurance because the tech stack is very different from their core proposition for web and browser-based testing,” Goh said. “Our biggest competitors are, in fact, crowdsourced and outsourced manual testing services offered by companies like Applause, Infosys and Qualitest, because manual testing is most similar to the automated physical testing that Mobot does… Mobot protects the entire customer journey of mobile apps, which is impacted by missed bugs — from user acquisition (e.g., deep links, registration flows, onboarding), retention and engagement (push notifications and crashes) to monetization (checkout and in-app purchases).”
Mobot claims to have run thousands of test cycles since its inception in early 2018 and collected millions of screenshots from the apps tested. Early adopters include big names like Citizen and Mapbox, as well as Branch, Radar, Persona and about 45 others, according to Goh.
There is some competition, such as the Finnish company OptoFidelity, which provides robot-assisted testing for touchscreens and infotainment systems. But Mobot isn’t going to stop at apps. Over the next few years, the goal is to use the data the company has collected to deliver product insights and “exploratory testing features” to customers, Goh says. In addition, Mobot is building a testing framework to evolve with technological advances in augmented reality headsets, smartwatches and yet-to-be-marketed products such as smart contact lenses.
Is robotics-based testing a scalable idea? After all, robots break down and Mobot keeps his finances close to his chest for now. (Many of the company’s operations are shrouded in secrecy, ostensibly for competitive reasons; Mobot’s public website doesn’t show images of its robots.) But Goh gives the impression that she genuinely believes in the model, especially as the market for peripherals like heads — up displays is ready to grow.
“Over the next two to five years, software will become increasingly mobile and connect-device-centric,” said Goh. “We envision autonomous robot warehouses in the middle of nowhere – where real estate is affordable – filled with thousands of robots capable of testing every physical action a human would do with a product: tap, swipe, shake a device, press buttons, scan a QR code, take a photo, listen, speak and more.”
In the shorter term, Mobot will use the proceeds from the latest funding round to expand its sales, marketing and engineering teams, increasing its total workforce from 42 employees today to 50 by the end of the year. As the tech industry implements workforce freezes and cutbacks, it helps that Mobot is a “countercyclical” company, Goh claims. She says the demand for quality assurance testing in the mobile space has not diminished as companies continue to deliver new apps and updates to existing apps.
“Over there [is no] offering to democratize physical testing for the day-to-day software engineering team that would never have the expertise to build a robotic fleet on their own,” said Goh. “Mobot is a mission-critical and cost-efficient solution to streamline a technology company’s product development process.”