Part 6 - Testing and App Store Approvals
Many apps (even Android apps, on some stores) will have to pass an approval process before they are published; so testing is critical to ensure your app reaches the market (let alone succeeds with your customers). Testing can take many forms, from developer-level unit testing to managing beta testing across a wide variety of hardware.
Test on All Platforms
There are slight differences between what .NET supports on Windows phone, tablet, and desktop devices, as well as limitations on iOS that prevent dynamic code to be generated on the fly. Either plan on testing the code on multiple platforms as you develop it, or schedule time to refactor and update the model part of your application at the end of the project.
It is always good practice to use the simulator/emulator to test multiple versions of the operating system and also different device capabilities/configurations.
You should also test on as many different physical hardware devices as you can.
Devices in cloud
The mobile phone and tablet ecosystem is growing all the time, making it impossible to test on the ever-increasing number of devices available. To solve this problem a number of services offer the ability to remotely control many different devices so that applications can be installed and tested without needing to directly invest in lots of hardware.
App Center Test offers an easy way to test iOS and Android applications on hundreds of different devices.
When testing applications within your organization or managing a beta program with external users, there are two challenges:
- Distribution – Managing the provisioning process (especially for iOS devices) and getting updated versions of software to the testers.
- Feedback – Collecting information about application usage, and detailed information on any errors that may occur.
There are a number of services help to address these issues, by providing infrastructure that is built into your application to collect and report on usage and errors, and also streamlining the provisioning process to help sign-up and manage testers and their devices.
Visual Studio App Center offers a solution to these issues, providing test version distribution, crash reporting, and sophisticated application usage information.
Xamarin.iOS includes a unit-testing framework called Touch.Unit which follows the JUnit/NUnit style writing tests.
Refer to our Unit Testing with Xamarin.iOS documentation for details on writing tests and running Touch.Unit.
App Store Approvals
Apple and Microsoft operate the only store on their platforms: the App Store and Marketplace respectively. Both lock-down their devices and implement a rigorous app review process to control the quality of applications available to download. Android’s open nature means there are a number of store options ranging from Google’s Play, which is widely available and has no review process, to Amazon’s Appstore for Android and hardware-specific efforts like Samsung Apps which have more limited distribution and implement an approval process.
Waiting for an app to be reviewed can be very stressful - business pressures often mean applications are submitted for approval with very little margin for error prior to a “targeted” launch date. The process itself can take up to two weeks and isn’t necessarily transparent: there is limited feedback on the progress of your application until it is finally rejected or approved. Rejection can mean missing a marketing window of opportunity, especially if it happens more than once, and weeks pass between your original launch date and when the app is finally approved.
The first piece of advice: plan your app’s launch well in advance and make allowances for a possible rejection and re-submission. Each store requires you to create an account before submitting your app - do this as early as possible. While Google Play’s signup only takes a few minutes if your apps are free, the process gets a lot more involved if you are selling them and need to supply banking and tax information. Apple and Microsoft’s processes are both much more involved than Google’s, it could take a week or more to get your account approved so factor this time into your launch plans.
Once your account has been approved, you’re ready to submit an app. The actual process to submit apps is covered in the following documentation:
- Publishing to Apple's iOS App Store
- Preparing an app for Google Play
- Windows developers should visit the Windows Dev Center to read about submitting their apps.
The remainder of this section discusses things you should take into consideration to ensure your app is approved without any hiccups.
It sounds obvious, but applications will often get rejected because they do not meet a certain level of quality: after all, this is the reason why the curated stores have an approval process in the first place!
Crashes are a common reason for rejection. If it’s too easy to make your app crash, it’s guaranteed to be rejected. Most developers don’t submit their apps with the expectation that they’ll crash, yet they often do. Test your app thoroughly before submitting it, focusing not just on making sure everything works but also that you handle common mobile error scenarios such as network problems and resource constraints like memory or storage space. Use both the simulator and physical devices to test - regardless of how well code runs in a simulator, only a device can demonstrate an app’s real performance. Use as many different devices as you can find, and enlist a team of beta-testers if you can - third-party services can help manage beta distribution and feedback.
All mobile operating systems will kill an application that doesn’t start quickly enough. The length of time allowed varies, but in general apps should aim to be responsive in a few seconds and use background tasks to do any work that would take longer. Apps that take too long to load, or are not responsive enough in regular use will be rejected. Always provide user feedback when something is happening in the background, or the app will appear to have crashed and once again, get rejected.
Check Your Edge Cases
A common trap for developers is failing to address edge-cases, especially those that require re-configuring their simulator or device to test properly. It can be easy to forget that not every customer is going to “Allow” your app to access their location because after the developer has accepted the request once, they’ll never be prompted again. Permissions and network usage are specifically focussed on during the approval process, which means a small oversight in these areas can result in rejection.
The following list is a good starting point for checking edge-cases that might have been missed:
- Customers may ‘deny’ access to services – especially in iOS, access to data such as geo-location information is only provided if the user grants permission to your application. Application testers should frequently re-install the application in its initial state and disallow any permission requests to ensure the application behaves appropriately. Toggle permission on and off to verify correct behavior as customers change their mind.
- Customers are everywhere – don’t assume that an app will only be used in the city or country where it was developed! Code that works with GPS coordinates, date and time values and currencies can all be affected by the customer’s location and locale settings. All platforms offer a simulator that let you specify different locations and locales - use it to test locations in other hemispheres and with cultures that format dates and currencies differently. Latitude and longitude values can be positive or negative, the decimal separator could be a period or a comma, and dates can be formatted a myriad of ways - deal with it!
- Slow network connections – app developers often work in an ‘ideal world’ of fast, always working network connectivity, which obviously isn’t the case in the real world. Testing with slow network connectivity (such as a poor 3G connection) as well as with no network access is critical to ensuring you don’t ship a buggy app. The approval process will always include a test with the device in airplane mode, so ensure that you have tested that for yourself.
- Hardware varies – remember to test on the oldest, slowest hardware that you plan to support. There are two aspects that might affect your app: performance, which might be unusable on an older device, and support for hardware features such as a camera, microphone, GPS, gyroscope or other optional component. Applications should degrade gracefully (and not crash) when a component is unavailable.
Guidelines are more than just a ‘guide’
Apple is famous for being strict about adherence to their Human Interface Guidelines as one of the key strengths of their platform is consistency (and the perceived increase in usability). Microsoft has taken a similar approach with Windows applications implementing the Fluent Design System. The approval process for both platforms will involve your app being evaluated for its adherence to the relevant design philosophy.
That isn’t to say that user interface innovation isn’t supported or encouraged, but there are certain things you “just shouldn’t do” or your app will be rejected.
On iOS, this includes misusing built-in icons or using other well established metaphors in a non-consistent manner; for example using the ‘compose’ icon for anything other than creating new content.
Windows developers should be similarly careful; a common mistake is failing to properly support the hardware Back button according to Microsoft’s guidelines.
Encourage your designers to read and follow the design guidelines for each platform.
Implementing Platform-Specific Features
Things are a little stricter when it comes to implementing platform-specific services, especially on iOS. To avoid automatic-rejection by Apple, there are some rules to follow with the following iOS features:
- In-App purchases – Applications must NOT implement external payment mechanisms for digital products including in-game currency, application features, magazine subscriptions and a lot more. iOS apps must use Apple’s iTunes-based service for this kind of functionality. There is a loophole - apps like the Kindle Reader and some subscription-based apps let you purchase content elsewhere that gets attached to an “account” which you can then access via the app, however in this case the app must not contain links or references to the out-of-app purchase process (or, once again, it’ll be rejected).
- iCloud backup – With the advent of iCloud, Apple’s reviewers are much more strict regarding how apps use storage (to ensure customer’s remote backup experience is pleasant). Apps that waste backup-able storage space may get rejected, so use the Cache folder appropriately and follow Apple’s other storage-related guidelines.
- Newsstand – Newspaper and magazine apps are a great fit for Apple’s Newsstand, however apps must implement at least one auto-renewing subscription and support background downloading to be approved.
- Maps – It’s increasingly common to add overlays and other features to mobile maps, however be careful not to obscure the map ‘credits’ information (such as the Google logo in iOS5) as doing so will result in rejection.
Manage Your Metadata
In addition to the obvious technical issues that can result in an application being rejected, there are some more subtle aspects of your submission that could result in rejection, especially around the metadata (description, keywords and marketing images) that you submit with your application for display within the App Store or Marketplace.
- Imagery – Follow the platform’s guidelines for application icons and store pictures. Don’t use trademarked images, we’ve seen apps get rejected because their icons featured a drawing of an iPhone!
- Trademarks – Avoid using any trademarks other than your own. Apps have been denied for mentioning trademarks in the app description or even in the keywords on Apple’s App Store.
- Description – Do not use the word ‘beta’ or in any way indicate that the app is not ready for prime time. Don’t mention other mobile platforms (even if your app is cross-platform). Most importantly, make sure the app does exactly what you say it does. If you list a bunch of features in your description, it had better be obvious how to use each of those features or you'll get a "feature mentioned in the application's description is not implemented" rejection.
Put as much effort into the application’s metadata as into development and testing. Applications DO get rejected for minor infringements in the metadata so it is worthwhile taking the time to get it right.
App Stores: Not For Everyone
The primary focus of the stores on each platform is consumer distribution - the ability to reach as many customers as possible. However not all applications are targeted at consumers, there is a rapidly growing base of in-house and extranet-like applications that require limited distribution to employees, suppliers or customers. These apps aren’t “for sale” and don’t need approval, since the developer controls distribution to a closed group of users. Support for this type of deployment varies by platform.
Android offers the most flexibility in this regard: applications can be installed directly from a URL or email attachment (so long as the device’s configuration allows it). This means it is trivial to create and distribute in-house corporate applications or publish applications to specific customers or suppliers.
Apple provides an in-house deployment option to developers enrolled in the iOS Developer Enterprise Program, which bypasses the App Store approval process and allows companies to distribute in-house apps to their employees. Unfortunately this license does not address the need for extranet-like app distribution to other closed groups of customers or suppliers. Enterprise (and Ad-Hoc) Deployment
App Store Summary
The review process can be daunting, but like the rest of the development lifecycle you can help ensure success with some planning and attention to detail. It all comes down to a few simple steps: read and understand the user interface guidelines you must adhere to, follow the rules if you are implementing platform-specific features, test thoroughly (then test some more) and finally make sure your application metadata is correct before you submit.
One last word of advice to developers publishing on Google Play: the lack of approval process may seem like it makes your job easier - but your customers will be even more demanding than a review team. Follow these guidelines as though your app could get rejected, otherwise it will be your customers doing the rejecting.