Testing the usability of your mobile app in 2018 means going well above and beyond what’s usually considered ‘best practices’. Opting for focus groups to test both during development and after release is a welcome approach, but it is not without its drawbacks. Same goes for monitoring your app with traditional, quantitative analytics that supply you with numerical data.

Obviously, you will want to have real people, and a part of your target audience at that, to test your app and tell you if they see anything in its user interface or user experience that they found unappealing or lacking. There is no more hands-on or direct way to understand your app’s strengths and weaknesses than through the eyes and hands of your users.

However, placing people in a testing environment changes their mindset. Knowing that they are being watched and monitored affects the way they use the app – it changes the use of gestures, as well as the time spent on different screens, skewing your results.

On the technical side your app can perform differently in a testing environment versus out in the real-world.

As you might imagine, having distorted results on the use of gestures in an app can have profound effects on the usability of an app and, consequently, on the user experience.

As for quantitative analytics, having numerical data is a great first step to learning more about the gesture usage within an app. Its biggest drawback however, is that it can’t help you visualize key user inputs.

Yes, you know 25 percent of your users attempt to swipe up to bring the full menu, but why? Key question remains unanswered. This is where you  can harness the power of a relatively new, qualitative tool- touch heatmap analytics.

Touch what?

Heatmaps. Touch heatmap analytics is a tool that aggregates all the data on the various gestures used to interact with an app (taps, double-taps, swipes, pinches, etc.). This data is then presented visually, as a heatmap, on a layer placed over the actual app. That way it becomes easy to literally see where people are interacting with the app and in what frequency.

The frequency of these interactions is color-coded, using a typical heatmap gradient from blue to red. Blue represents places where interactions are at the lowest, while red represent the exact opposite. Spotting most (and least) popular navigation elements, app pages and features becomes effortless.

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Example of heatmap analytics with Appsee.


Touch heatmap analytics and usability testing

Testing the usability of an app essentially means paying close attention to all UI elements and the UX in general to make sure the app is intuitive and simple, that it is allowing users to go about their business quickly and get a problem solved promptly. That makes watching for unresponsive gestures one of the pillars of modern usability testing.

Unfortunately, many app pros are oblivious to unresponsive gestures and are clueless to the fact that unresponsive gestures that are left unresolved can ruin months and months of hard work. Unresponsive gestures are moments whenever a user interacts with an app, and his/hers gesture is met with no response from the app, whatsoever.

There could be many reasons behind unresponsive gestures. Maybe the app has a bug causing a certain button to be unresponsive. Maybe the user is attempting an incorrect  gesture (swiping instead of double-tapping, for example), or maybe they are trying to interact with an app’s element that wasn’t designed to be interacted with at all (for example, confusing an image for a button, or trying to swipe away from the app’s final screen).

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Example of unresponsive gesture occurrences at the bottom of a ‘Login’ screen.


Whatever the case may be, unresponsive gestures are a notable issue for an app’s usability and require immediate attention. Traditional, quantitative analytics will not be able to provide useful insight on unresponsive gestures. Focus groups might come across unresponsive gestures, but they might not react in the same manner as they would in the ‘real world’. They know they are supposed to test the app, so their perception of unresponsive gestures might be distorted. In a real life scenario, however, this could lead to frustration, app abandonment and poor reviews in app stores.


Tracing patterns in your heatmap analytics

Monitoring unresponsive gestures should be a fundamental practice for all product managers and developers. But that is not the only way touch heatmaps should be used to test for usability issues. With the help of such a tool, devs and product managers can identify other usage patterns that might signal UI or UX issues, like the issue of various screen resolutions breaking the app’s design. This typically was more important for Android devs, as those devices come in all shapes and sizes.

However, Apple’s iPhones are growing bigger, and the iPad portfolio is growing stronger, making screen size optimization equally important across both major mobile operating systems. With touch heatmaps, devs can spot if certain app elements appear off-screen, or if certain screen sizes break the app’s design.


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Image Source: Gottabemobile.com


Then, there’s the issue of distractions. Are your users being distracted by elements that they shouldn’t be distracted by? With touch heatmaps it is fairly easy to discover if your users’ attention is all over the place. If gesture activity is spread all across the screen, instead of being focused on a couple of key functions or CTAs, your users are most likely distracted. Once discovered, you can use focus groups or other types of polls to ask your users what’s missing on a specific app screen, or ask for suggestions how to improve.  


To usability and beyond!

In 2018, usability testing will continue to be a key factor when creating a well-built, successful mobile app. However, a decade into mobile apps development, user expectations have changed, and with them – our approach to testing mobile app usability.

While some ‘classic’ methods have managed to endure through the shifting tides of the mobile industry, new ones have emerged to fill in the blanks and complement them in key areas. Organizing focus groups and having people test the app in person is still essential. So is the use of quantitative analytics tools, as numerical data will always remain a sturdy alarm trigger.

App pros are finding multiple ways to employ touch heatmap analytics when building apps, usability testing included. Tracking and eliminating unresponsive gestures, tracing patterns of user behavior on various screen sizes, or highlighting user distraction are all great use cases for touch heatmaps. They’re offering app pros a new, clear and unbiased picture of their app’s usability, eventually helping them build better apps, easier.


You can see touch heatmaps for your own app’s screens. Try out Appsee’s industry-leading touch heatmaps for free.

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This post was originally featured on Usability Geek, and has been updated since. 

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