Q&A: Matt Johnston, Applause

The wave of wearable tech is forcing software developers to think and develop in new ways. Often, it’s not enough just to reconfigure existing smartphone apps for the wearables world. Developers entering this uncharted territory still need a way to test the effectiveness of their products. That’s where Applause comes in. The company combines “in-the-wild testing services” with software tools and analytics. Applause taps 175,000 real-world users from 200 countries to focus on the post-launch stage of an app, helping developers identify and fix bugs, improve design and catch issues before they launch. Matt Johnston, chief marketing and strategy officer for Applause, spoke with Wearables about what his company has learned about wearable tech from everyday consumers.

Q: What testing has Applause done on wearable tech?

Matt Johnston: Many of the world’s top brands rely on Applause to ensure their customer experiences live up to lofty expectations. For example, a leading activity tracker wearables vendor is expanding into a number of South American countries. In a single test cycle, Applause and our in-market professional testers discovered 51 localization issues in Argentina alone. Another one of the most popular health and fitness companies relies on Applause to serve as its quality assurance department. By providing professional testers that regularly go for walks, jogs, runs and bike rides, Applause discovers high-value defects and crashes so their customers don’t.

Q: Is wearable tech being used differently “in the wild” than creators anticipated?

MJ: Wearables, by their nature, get used differently than anticipated and exposed to vast amounts of environmental variance. They are used in ways and in locations that the creators never intended. As an example, one wearables customer told us they have users pairing the devices with a large number of unapproved devices – despite the fact that they list compatible devices on the box. This leads to frustrated users. Because almost all mobile and wearable apps are used in the wild, they need to be tested in the wild. For example, how does the wearable app react to moisture if it’s a fitness band? By constantly vetting the app’s performance under real-world conditions you can discover performance, interoperability or even battery issues that you thought were fine when you tested in the lab.

Q: What expectations do wearable tech consumers have?

MJ: Consumers have come to expect perfection from big brands, and this includes their apps. They demand that this stuff is just going to work – every time, everywhere. But as the technology landscape (devices, OSes, location-based services) becomes ever more fragmented and complex, it’s much easier to fall down on this expectation. And users are unforgiving in the apps economy. In fact, most consumers don’t know or care what technical issues are to blame for upsetting their digital experience – the blame almost always falls on the app and the brand behind it.

Q: What are the top bugs found in wearable tech apps?

MJ: One of the major bugs plaguing wearable technology has been short battery life, primarily due to device size. Also, adding complex menu systems to smaller screen sizes can overwhelm users.  Other bugs found include issues with Bluetooth compatibility, integration to system level APIs, and environmental issues.

Q: What are companies’ biggest concerns about wearables?

MJ: With wearable technology entering its growth phase, it is an exciting time for companies to participate in the market. But, they need to make sure they are delivering a consistent, high-quality experience for consumers at all times. On a phone, users can easily delete an app, but if a consumer has a bad app experience on a wearable, it might dissuade them from using the device altogether.