UX & Cross-Platform Mobile Application Development Frameworks

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1 UX & Cross-Platform Mobile Application Development Frameworks Esteban Angulo Javier Alonso Xavier Ferre 01/01/2014 Laboratorio de Ingeniería del Software Escuela Técnica Superior de Ingenieros Informáticos Universidad Politécnica de Madrid

2 Contents 1. Introduction Cross platform Mobile App Development Frameworks The pros and cons of Cross Platform mobile app design Advantages Disadvantages Classification according to categories Cross platform framework selection Detailed information of the pre selected frameworks Design for UX in Mobile Application Development UI Considerations Analytics for Usability Studies Google Analytics AppDynamics Localytics Distimo Countly Appsee Summary of the analyzed services Evaluation methodology Detailed framework evaluation criteria: Developer view Detailed framework evaluation criteria: UX expert view Evaluation Results PhoneGap Developer point of view UX expert point of view Analytics Integration Titanium Appcelerator Developer point of view UX expert point of view Analytics Integration Intel XDK Developer point of view UX expert point of view Analytics Integration Study results and conclusions References i

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4 1. Introduction Nowadays, the usage of smartphones and mobile devices has increased and become very popular among users having a supporting role on their daily activities [Di Giovanni et al., 2012]. People use mobile devices and mobile applications for reading newspapers, listening to music, interacting in social networks, playing games, chatting with family and friends, etc. There are many different mobile platforms available on the market and each one has different characteristics that make them unique such as: ios, Android, Windows Phone, Blackberry, etc. Therefore, the market demands the creation of applications that are able to work on all platforms to reach more users. The challenge for development teams all around the world is to be able to create and produce applications that can be used on several platforms. As each platform has different characteristics, at first sight, the approach is developing independent projects for each desired platform. This decision impacts on costs and resource consumption for the enterprises as more resources and a bigger budget is required. Cross-platform development frameworks offer a way of diminishing these costs. They allow the developers to create applications for multiple platforms and devices usually smartphones or tablets from almost the same codebase or from within the same design tool. The popularity of cross-platform development frameworks has increased as several frameworks have been released to the market offering cost-effective solutions [Humayoun et al., 2013]. In fact, cross-platform tools allow software companies to target multiple platforms, to reuse developer skills, share codebases, synchronize releases and reduce support costs. Despite the benefits offered by cross-platform frameworks for developing a mobile application, this approach comes with drawbacks as well such as performance, accessibility to hardware features, being updated with the newest OS upgrades, design challenges, user experience, having native look and feel. These factors can affect the development of an application and be the causes of a failed project because it do not meet the expectations of the targeted users. About the user experience, the challenge of using cross-platform frameworks is to provide responsive and fluid interfaces and interactions due to the fact of having restrictions or reduced accessibility to some specific resources (only in some cases) or due to the framework approach of managing or generating the graphical components of the applications. The user experience and its evaluation are very important and directly proportional to the subsequent success of a product. Performance and efficiency are crucial as well as the experience generated with navigating through the different screens of the application. The visual impact is also important and it is related to increase the users engagement. 1

5 Because of the popularity of mobile devices and their OS, the users have expectations about the behavior of an application and they have to be considered while developing an application and its interaction. This study is focused on analyzing the different cross-platforms available the points of view of a developer and a UX expert to evaluate its usage and features for being able to select the most suitable cross-platform framework that fulfills the evaluation criteria. To accomplish the objective, a research and a selection process was performed to discard some frameworks and reduce the list to the best three options suited to our criteria. Once the three final options were found, a test application was developed for being able to evaluate the usability of the product generated by each framework. 2. Cross-platform Mobile App Development Frameworks Cross-platform frameworks are tools that allow the coding and development of mobile applications to target several platforms without having specific project per platform. They rise as a solution to be considered when the applications should be run on several platforms. Most of them are based on the principle of coding once and being able to deploy the application in all the targeted platforms. Although the tools available in the market typically come with a write once, run anywhere promise, the amount of customization required for each platform s version can still be considerable depending on the interaction and the user experience desired. Also optimization of memory and performance is often limited which diminishes the potential of the app. Some of the frameworks offer drag-and-drop GUI design tools, and many incorporate APIs aimed at exploiting specific components like audio and GPS; quite a few are built around the Model View Controller (MVC) pattern The pros and cons of Cross-Platform mobile app design This section details the major advantages and disadvantages of cross-platform mobile app design based mainly in [Parker, 2013]: Advantages The most mentioned advantages for the usage of cross-platform frameworks are as follows: Wide scope (reusable code) Rather than having to write every specific action for each platform, a developer can just write the code once and then reuse it. The code developed can be reused as a primary reference for use in other projects to be built in whatever platform. 2

6 Easy deployment Deploying and compiling apps is much faster in a cross-platform scenario. This is especially true since various frameworks have cloud-based building tools. Easy for web developers (use of known technologies) Because most frameworks are based on dynamic or scripting languages, they are easier for web developers to jump in and use. Moreover, most frameworks also support HTML5 and CSS3 alongside calls to native functions. Plugins Some of the major frameworks offer easy access to modules and plugins that can easily plug into other services or tools. These also include offering common links to similar APIs, such as those for the devices cameras, accelerometers, or location sensors. Instead of writing unique code to talk to an iphone's GPS and a Samsung's GPS, one centralized set of code will be automatically modified to interface with both devices. Less need for platform-specific Organizations or companies to expertise can develop an app in many platforms without having to invest in a team or developer with platform-specific expertise. When deployment speed increases the cost decreases. The faster a developer can create apps, the less money it costs. This possible advantage is the one that could provide the most savings if it were true. Support for Enterprise and Cloud Services In addition to plugins and modules for specific functions, most frameworks also have the option to directly integrate with cloud services Disadvantages Using a cross-platform framework development strategy isn t always the ideal solution. Some tools have restrictions, the performance is not the same and the frameworks cannot always access to all the hardware features. Some of the disadvantages include: The framework might not support every feature of an OS or device If Google, Apple or Microsoft adds a new feature or releases a new OS version, the framework you are using will need to be updated to support those new additions. Given that the languages used are different, the communication "bridge" that the framework provides may not allow all pieces of information to go through. By using a framework, developers give up the ultimate control of how everything works in the app. Tools are restrictive You can t always use your own tools. Most frameworks mandate that developers use prescribed tools and suites limited to the software, and that can mean that users will 3

7 have to ignore their preferences and use something that they may have to learn all over again. Inefficient code Because the developer will not be working in each platform's native language, the efficiency of the final code will be determined by the efficiency of the translation engines in the tool. This may cause the final code to contain bloated code and inefficient coding techniques that a seasoned developer wouldn't use. Slower code and render time Related to the previous disadvantage, the code might not run as fast as the native one because the cross-compilation process can sometimes be slower than using native tools and calls for an app. Also, the code render time will be longer, because it will have to churn out code for each platform Classification according to categories There are many tools of different type available in the market and because the high number of these tools, the classification task is a hard task. We have considered the following classification [Banerjee, 2011] and [Banerjee, 2012] to group the frameworks into categories and inside each category we have detailed the framework s availability as follows: Mobile Web: These tools are primarily JavaScript libraries which in combination with suitable HTML5 and corresponding CSS render you mobile website on different types of devices. Some of these tools can work in conjunction with hybrid tool and the result can be packaged as a native application. Examples: Open source: iui, jquery Mobile, SenchaTouch. Visual Tool: They provide a visual interface where elements / widgets are dropped into the screen and the internal application plumbing is taken care by the tool. The result is either a native application or a mobile website depending on the tool. Examples: Free Version: Net Biscuits. Trial Version: AplicationCraft. Paid only: Kony, Verivo. 4

8 App Generator: In this category you have tools where you write your application in a specific language but the tool translates it into a deployable native application for different platforms. The deployable application may include a runtime engine or a virtual machine. The programming language varies from tool to tool. Examples: Open Source: Titanium Appcelerator, RhoMobile, Xamarin-Mono, MoSync. Trial Version: Flex (Adobe). Hybrid App: This category of tools provide a platform specific shell application which has the capability of rendering prepackaged HTML pages and extends the HTML capability through APIs which allow access to device specific features. Some of them include libraries to render platform-specific UIs. Examples: Open Source: PhoneGap, Intel XDK. Trial Version: WorkLight. Game Builder: This is similar to the previous category, but these tools are primarily targeted for game development. They have a much richer UI library and may even have 3D graphics capability. Some of them use special languages like Lua or LiveCode. Their crossplatform capability may extend beyond mobile devices. Examples: Open Source: PhoneGap, Intel XDK. Free Version: Unreal. Trial Version: Corona, Unity. Paid only: Bedrock Cross-platform framework selection This study initially started with a list of 18 tools of the 2012/2013 most popular cross-platform tools according to [Brown, 2012] and [VisionMobile, 2012] and grouped based on the classification shown above. We established the selection criteria under which all the frameworks were evaluated. All aspects are listed in the following list: Android and ios support. Well-known programming language. Open Source or Free versions. 5

9 Capabilities modeling the UI or IDE available. Access to device APIs. High use rate between developers. At the beginning, we decided to discard the paid and the trial version frameworks as well as the ones being too far from our goal, for example the frameworks for developing games. This filtering process reduced the list to 8 frameworks. Most of the remaining frameworks are mobile web oriented (HTML5/JavaScript based) and app generators (the final product is generated on native code) Detailed information of the pre-selected frameworks PhoneGap Apache Cordova [PhoneGap, 2013] - Mobile OS support: ios, Android, Windows, Palm, Blackberry and Symbian. Designed for JavaScript, HTML5, and CSS development, PhoneGap is now sponsored by Adobe and the Apache Foundation. The 2.0 version adds Windows Phone support, new command-line functions, and overhauled JavaScript libraries. It uses Apache s Cordova-JS API for tasks such as integrating PhoneGap code into larger native apps. It is an open source SDK focused on writing a native application exactly as if it is a website. Basically it is a container that allows developers to package programs implemented in a well-known programming language into native applications. In addition, it allows broadening the tool by adding your own plug-ins. It does not provide an IDE for development; developers have to write the code on the native IDE for each platform it supports (XCode for ios, Eclipse for Android, Visual Studio for Windows Phone). The UI is rendered in HTML. The tool does nothing to create the UI, you have to do it by yourself, using one of the existing HTML libraries, or building your own library. PhoneGap allows access to device hardware features such as accelerometer, GPS, camera, sound and more. PhoneGap won the People's Choice Award at O'Reilly Media's 2009 Web 2.0 Conference and the framework has been used to develop many apps, especially among web designers. Web designers become app developers with PhoneGap - Brian Rinaldi. Sencha Touch [SenchaTouch, 2013] - Mobile OS support: ios, Android, Windows, Blackberry and Web OS. Sencha s popular HTML5/JavaScript framework provides 50 built-in components, state management, and an integrated MVC system. It now offers a free native packager that streamlines distribution to stores like Google Play. This framework is free for use under the terms of their commercial license agreement. 6

10 It is a UI JavaScript Library which can be used by web developers to create UIs for mobile web applications that look and feel like native applications. Additionally it includes a set of GUI-based controls optimized for touch input. The framework can access to device components through the use of a native shell such as Cordova. Despite of a higher learning curve than most other web frameworks, it is widely accepted thanks to the great support for animations and touch events. jquery Mobile [jquery, 2013] - Mobile OS support: ios, Android and Web OS. Available under MIT license, this popular lightweight HTML5-based framework is built on jquery, and focuses on semantic markup, progressive enhancement, and customizable design. It has UI widgets that are touch-optimized and platform-agnostic. The jquery Mobile framework is compatible with other mobile app frameworks and platforms such as PhoneGap, Worklight and more. It s the leading cross-platform framework among Eclipse open source developers. Intel XDK (formerly known as appmobi) [Intel XDK, 2013] - Mobile OS support: ios, Android, Windows. The original version of XDK was released in April following Intel acquisition of the original appmobi tools in February. Actually, appmobi tools have been renamed and the company will position itself as a pure play cloud services company [Ribeiro, 2013]. The environment is available free, XDK lets you develop apps using the HTML5 foundation, the collection of standards that are intended to take the Web from being just static web pages documents to dynamic applications, then to give you a way to convert the dynamic apps for use on mobile devices. This framework has an on-screen emulator with a good range of options, so you can check the look and feel of your apps. There is also an apptester that lets you try the app out on a physical device. Once you are happy, the Intel Dev Center lets you package your app for different app stores. At first the framework didn t have an IDE, it was available in the Chrome Web Store as a complement, but after just a few months of revisions, the new Intel XDK resembles a fullfledged IDE with a new drag-and-drop interface to make it easier to create new HTML5 apps. It also has a more powerful framework that you can use to create designs that adjust to a device s native theme. AppMobi used the open source PhoneGap technology as the basis for its own HTML5 development product, so you can essentially achieve the same sort of app with both. 7

11 There is an extensive and growing community of tools and services that work with or on top of PhoneGap. Titanium Appcelerator [Titanium Appcelerator, 2013] - Mobile OS support: ios, Android, Blackberry and Tizen. It allows the development of native applications for phones, tablets and desktop applications through web programming languages like HTML, PHP, JavaScript, Ruby and Python. On January 20, 2012, Titanium Desktop was discontinued and became a separate, community-driven project. It has also been renamed as TideSDK [Whinnery, 2012]. Appcelerator claims its Android/iOS framework supports over 5,000 device and mobile- OS APIs. Unlike the more web-oriented frameworks, Titanium uses JavaScript to create native code, with claimed benefits in performance. JavaScript code can be used in the traditional sense for either application logic and for modeling the UI. Titanium Studio is a full open standard IDE that is derived from Aptana Studio which Appcelerator acquired. A remarkable feature is its platform-independent API to access native UI components including navigation bars, menus, dialog boxes and alerts, and native device functionality including the file system, sound, network and local database. It offers customizable metrics for actions and events. The application data can be stored in the cloud or in the device. Furthermore, applications can take advantage of the hardware, API access to native mobile functionality like geolocation, accelerometer and maps. This is a very popular platform among developers. Titanium gives its users access to more than 300 social, APIs, and location information services. RhoMobile [RhoMobile, 2013] - Mobile OS support: ios, Android, Windows Mobile, Blackberry and Symbian. It is designed for Ruby developers. RhoMobile is built on the Ruby language, the Rails Frameworks, and the MVC pattern. Its main objective is provide a high productivity level and development portability. In this case, as in the previous tool, the programming language used is not as general as others. However RhoMobile also supports modern HTML5 features. The final app develop requires a RhoElements license to run in a production environment. The IDE provided is known as RhoStudio, nevertheless it could be used another IDE like Eclipse, Visual Studio, Netbeans or other; the only requirement is to support HTML5, JavaScript, CSS and Ruby. RhoStudio allows building the apps on RhoHub (a new framework feature used for cloud app-building) without leaving the RhoStudio IDE. The 8

12 framework also includes style sheets customized for each device to give your applications a native look and feel. RhoMobile applications support access to device, system and framework capabilities through a common API. Xamarin Mono [Xamarin-Mono, 2013] - Mobile OS support: ios, Android, Windows Mobile. The code written in C# can be ported to ios, Android and Windows Phone using Xamarin very easily. Xamarin s C#- and enterprise-oriented package is compatible with a similar ios-based MonoTouch version, and can also share code with the C#-based Windows Phone. The last release includes Xamarin Studio, which bundled Xamarin s previous, separate ios and Android development tools into a single application and integration with Visual Studio. To develop the application s UI utilize the MVC design pattern. Especially to build native UIs, it uses different UI layers: MonoTouch.UIKit APIs on ios, Android.Views on Android and XAML/Silverlight on Windows Phone. Xamarin exposes a single set of APIs for accessing common mobile device functionality across ios, Android and Windows platforms. C#-flavored Mono for Android appeals to enterprise-focused developers familiar with Visual Studio. The platform supplies an environment conducive to Visual Basic developers, and is touted for its debugger and native binary compiler. MoSync [MoSync, 2013] - Mobile OS support: ios, Android, Windows Mobile, Blackberry, Symbian OS. The framework produces native mobile applications for multiple platforms using C/C++ and HTML5/JavaScript or any kind of combination of both technologies. The target groups for MoSync are both web developers looking to enter the mobile space, as well as the ordinary PC/Mac desktop developer with knowledge in C/C++ development. The MoSync platform can access parts of the native UI system on Android and ios devices since version 2.5, and Windows Phone devices since version 3.0. The MoSync NativeUI API has widgets for embedding webpages and OpenGL ES views in applications and all the UI widgets are handled from the same code base on both Android and ios. The following table contains a summary of the principal characteristics of the selected frameworks. 9

13 Type Language Availability Modeling UI IDE Access device HW PhoneGap Hybrid App HTML5 Open Source external JS-CSS libraries No Yes Sencha Mobile Web HTML5 Open Source/Paid JS-CSS (itself) library No Yes JQuery Mobile Mobile Web HTML5 Open Source JS-CSS library (itself) No Yes Intel XDK (appmobi) Hybrid App HTML5 Open Source external JS-CSS libraries or Drag&Drop interface Yes Yes Appcelerator App Generator JavaScript Open Source own API (native components) Yes Yes RhoMobile App Generator Ruby Open Source style sheets included Yes Yes Xamarin App Generator C# Open Source UI layers included Yes Yes MoSync App Generator C++ / HTML 5 -JavaScript Open Source Own API (native components) No Yes Table 1: Framework tool pre-selection summary table From this 8 frameworks, RhoMobile and Xamarin were discarded because they use Ruby and C# as programming language which requires extra knowledge and experience by the developer in comparison to the other ones which use traditional HTML and JavaScript as programming language. Sencha Tocuh and JQuery Mobile were also discarded as they have to be combined with other frameworks to allow access to the hardware API of the smartphones. Both are JavaScript based libraries for UI components and functionalities. The final selection list is formed by three general purpose cross-platform frameworks: PhoneGap, Titanium Appcelerator and Intel XDK. All of them were used to develop a testing application prototype to evaluate its performance and usability for developing and for the final product. 10

14 3. Design for UX in Mobile Application Development The main objective for using cross-platform development frameworks is to optimize the time spent on coding and generating the same application for the different platforms. In other words, coding once and creating several apps to reach all the targeted groups of users. Currently a lot of users have access to a wide variety of mobile platforms and the differences between each other are clearly stated. The users have expectations on the behavior of the applications according to the platform standards and an unexpected interaction or navigation can cause confusion among users. User s preferences, behaviors and reactions must be considered when designing and implementing the interaction on a mobile application. Usability and user experience are fundamental aspects to be taken into account in a mobile application development process. Having an application that offers a great user experience and is simple to understand can be a total success. For measuring the usability and also the usage of an application, it is necessary to include a tool that provides the necessary feedback to the developers for analyze the response of the users and the detection in advance the troubles that they may find during their interaction with an application UI Considerations The main objective is to provide the best user experience possible in order to engage the users to the application and facilitate the interaction and usage of the app. The problem arises when a frequent user of one of the mentioned platforms finds out that a specific application works in a completely different way of what he/she expected and is used to. If the expectations are not met, the user can feel frustrated and even stop using the application. According to Joseph Labrecque [Labrecque, 2011] some factors and paradigms must be taken into account at the moment of designing and developing the interaction on a mobile application. These factors are: Screen paradigm or how to manage the different screens of the app and the navigation throughout them. The hardware, it is not the same for all platforms and some options or actions does not behave and react in the same way. Gestures, the UI design and the interaction has to consider the usage of gestures in order to make easier the interaction between the user and the app. Both ios and Android have their own interface guidelines to consider when developing a native application. These guidelines have many differences and that fact must be considered at the moment of developing a cross-platform application. 11

15 There are three main approaches to address this subject. The first one is providing the same behavior and the look and feel according to the platform on which the application is running. The second one is having the same styles and the same look and feel on the application for all the platforms. And the third one is delivering an application with the same look and feel but customized to follow the specific guidelines for each targeted platform [Barea et al, 2013] Platform dependent Platform dependent approach consists on generating a different interaction for each targeted platform, following the platform guidelines and philosophy [Barea et al, 2013]. For adapting this approach to the cross-platform development framework environment, most of the solutions are based on style sheets (CSS) and images that have to be added to the application to generate the look and feel similar to a native app on each platform. To be able to use this kind of solutions, it is necessary to detect the device s platform in order to include the correct files and pieces of code to change how the application looks. UI libraries and frameworks can be used to obtain the desired look and feel. A customized solution can be done by the developers creating their own set of styles Own cross-platform This approach aims to keep the same styles and interaction on the application regardless of the targeted platform. The user experience is coherent between the targeted platforms. On the other hand, platform conventions are not followed; the application defines its own behavior and interaction flow [Barea et al, 2013]. This solution can benefit the development process as the styles have to be done just one time. As a downside, this approach can cause an unnatural behavior for the users. In this case, some UI libraries can be used or the development team can create the styles and interactions by themselves providing a new solution. The most important aspect is the usability level desired and the nature of the project Adapted cross-platform This approach is a mixture between the two previous approaches; it proposes the final product as an application with similar appearance but its interaction design follows the targeted platform conventions [Barea et al, 2013]. The user experience is better adapted for each platform meanwhile offering coherence and similarities between platforms. The downside of the approach is that some special features available only on one platform must be left behind [Barea et al, 2013]. In a cross-platform development framework, the approach would be creating specific look and feel and styles to maintain coherence between platforms but keeping in mind the consideration 12

16 of each platform. The usage of UI style libraries or plugins probably can be helpful to follow the platform conventions as those libraries can be applied to each platform separately Analytics for Usability Studies The usage of analytics and recording data about the products is usually associated to marketing, sales or business reports and it has been less common its use related to user experience, design and development of software product. Nowadays, this stereotype has changed, and many UX professionals have realized about the importance of having real data on which they can rely as a source to help them in their research and design decisions. The UX professionals and developers have to listen to their users but most of all learn from their users in order to be able to improve their experience and also improve the final product. The main question is what should be measured or which data and information is helpful and which one can be discarded. The recorded data can facilitate the understanding between the users and the developers. The information recorded about the behavior of the users is called analytics. There are many different services (SaaS) to record and generate several kinds of analytics for a mobile application. Depending on the needs and the characteristics of the organization, the selection of the service may vary. From the UX point of view, adding analytics as part of the development process allows the designer and the developers to take early actions and prevent problems, determine the causes that generate drops in downloads or sells and also provide information about the interaction of the users with the application. Registering and Implementing Analytics There are several possibilities or services to obtain analytics from the Apps. Several of them are paid and also not all are available to be used by cross-platform platforms, or they require the acquisition of a license or a service in order to be able to record the information and to generate reports. From all the available tools on the market, and after doing research and a selection process following specific criteria, the list for possible services to use was reduced. The analyzed services are the following ones: Google Analytics AppDinamics Localytics 13

17 Distimo Countly Appsee They have been evaluated under the following criteria: License: The service was evaluated according to its pricing. The desired one is a free service for applying in several studies. Services Provided: The information that is available or can be generated and stored by the tool. Compatibility with cross-platform frameworks: The service has to be compatible with the selected platforms. Generating valuable UX information: The service has to provide relevant and valuable information for UX proposes. A description of each tool is presented below Google Analytics This service is very complete and strong as it is provided by Google [Google Analytics, 2013]. It can be accessed from everywhere since it is web-based. Its usage is simple to understand and the reports can be customized. It allows the developers to have a lot of information about their applications such as: number of downloads, devices used, crashes, active users, recurrent users, among others. It offers special SDKs for working and integrating the Analytics platform directly with ios or Android applications. It also provides tutorials and dedicated information to the developers, and a complete interface to analyze the data generated with charts and graphics. This service includes a web part which can be used to insert the corresponding code on the cross-platform application if it doesn t allow the compatibility with the native Analytics SDK libraries. As this tool is well known and popular in the market and in the development mobile apps world, there are some third party modules or plugins to integrate the Analytics service from Google with the application that is developed in the cross-platform frameworks. For a usability experiment, the data provided may be not enough and a complementary survey or data collection would be required. On the other hand, it provides useful information and also real time features which can be used during the experiment to follow the behavior of the users. The service is focused on analyzing mobile applications and therefore the information provided includes the devices, the users information, application events and even a navigation flowchart 14

18 AppDynamics It is a new application and currently is on its Beta state. It can be used for web applications and mobile applications. This beta version allows the analysis of native ios and Android applications. It provides information about errors and slow transactions generating basic diagnosis and alerts. It has a forever free version and a quote version (Pro Version). It provides charts and graphs to deliver an analysis of user segmentation, device segmentation, and download rate, among others. According to the information provided in their website [AppDynamics, 2013], it should be used on transactional systems and they are introducing to the market their software for analyzing mobile applications Localytics It is a complete app used to obtain valuable data for marketing and analytics purposes. It provides several features such as: Real Time Analysis, User segmentation, Engagement analysis, A/B Testing, among others. It is very complete and is mainly centered on marketing and financial aspects of the apps rather than usability purposes [Localytics, 2013]. The application also provides charts and graphics according to the official website. During the evaluation process, a demo was requested but it was not possible to perform it because there was no answer from the providers. Some of the biggest companies in the world are using their services in order to obtain relevant information about the performance of their apps. The main issue is that it is a paid application but according to their pricing plans, up to 10,000 monthly active users it is free. It provides a 30 days free trial Distimo It is a free service which produces and generates analytics about different applications. It is free for developers who want to analyze their own apps. It is compatible with ios and Android native apps as well as with cross-platform development frameworks like PhoneGap and Appcelerator applications [Distimo, 2013]. According to the information provided, there is no code insertion to start using their analytics software. The application provides different services such as: multi-level data sharing, notifications, no third party plug-ins required, automated data sync (from different stores) and automated translation of the reviews. 15

19 Important and big companies are using their services to manage their data from mobile apps. They provide also a conversion tracking analyzer, which generates information about campaigns and the places where the users come from. In our particular case (usability studies), this application basically can be used to determine the download rate, the rankings of our app, the revenues (in case of paid apps), reviews distribution, benchmarking of our apps, among others. As all the other analyzed options, this application provides charts and graphics to illustrate the different information that is available. The app is more focused on financial aspects rather than usability issues or user experience Countly Countly is a paid service, $69 (51 ) for 500,000 active sessions. This service offers total support for all kinds of smart devices and a framework to create an own SDK to be able to track the data. It provides a lot of statistics that allow the developers to understand the user behavior as well as the app behavior [Countly, 2013]. It provides graphics and charts that can be customized by periods of time (30 days, last week, 90 days, etc) and also provides specific analytics for different topics like: users, users loyalty, sessions, session s frequency, devices, countries, etc. All this information is shown by dynamic charts that can be seen in different periods of time. It also allows the creation of reports in PDF. As it is a paid service and does not follow the desired criteria it was not analyzed more in depth Appsee This service is really interesting and specifically adapted for usability evaluations. It works only with ios applications and devices. According to its website [Appsee, 2013], it provides several functionalities that can be used to produce important data for the experiment purposes in order to improve the user experience: User Recordings: Allows recording all the interaction between the user and the application. In this way, developers can find out where the users have more troubles to use their apps and where they can improve the usability level. Touch heat maps: The maps record all the interaction gestures between the mobile device and the user. Using this app, the developers can establish which parts of the screen are more used, which action buttons are ignored or where the best place to locate the action commands of the app is. Crash Recordings: This service can record if there was a crash and an unexpected close of the application caused by a failure. 16

20 Also the regular charts and graphics are provided to show the number of users who have the app, the time that they spend in the app, the device that they are using, etc. After performing the demo with a person of the Appsee company, these are the conclusions: For the moment, the service is only available for ios applications and ios devices, the service will be provided for Android at the end of the year or at the beginning of The most interesting functionalities and the differences between this service and many other analytics services or software is that the evaluators are available to record videos to follow the paths of their users as well as generating heat maps to check which the most tapped controls were. The functionality of recording buttons can be set according to the requirements of the experiment or the analysis. Not all the sessions are recorded; the users can set the percentage of sessions that they want to record. And also the conditions under which the videos are uploaded to the Appsee servers; this means, only when the user is connected to a WIFI network or always. Also there is a possibility to have a sort of script or table of contents on which the evaluators can follow the steps of the video and check on which part of the application are the users at a certain moment. Aside from the recording functionality, the 100% of the sessions provide information to be able to create the heat maps with the total amount of data provided by all the users of our application. It provides images of the screen and highlights the most used interaction points by the users; it also provides information about the percentage of interaction, the gestures used, the places that were tapped but have no interaction at all (this can be useful in order to determine the expectations of the users or to improve some functionalities or the usability of the app), etc. The service provides also the Analytics data, similar to Google Analytics information. From our point of view, the interface seems easy to use and easy to filter for finding the information that the evaluators are looking for. On the other hand, I also think that Google Analytics provides more complete and detailed information. Appsee also provides a Crash Report with detailed and video recorded information allowing the evaluators to check exactly at which point the app crashed or eve to detect the error that caused the crash of the application. About pricing, this service is free up to 1000 sessions. At this point is convenient to establish what a session is: A session is counted as the times that a user opens and works with the application. So 1000 sessions doesn t necessarily mean 1000 users; it means 1000 uses of the application per month. If in some case there are more sessions, the information about the 1001 session and beyond is not recorded. 17

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