Mobile World Congress is the largest event in the mobile technology industry: a huge exhibition, long-awaited product launches, outstanding conferences and seminars, intense networking. What is a testing services company doing at such an event and, more importantly, why is it carrying a little robot by the hand?
At one of the stands from the Polish Pavilion, the MWC15 attendees could have won various prizes by answering some IT questions. "When was the first edition of CeBIT held?" was a question I answered wrongly, assuming that an event of this type could not have been started prior to 1987. The event is however older than that: CeBIT is being held since 1970. I then returned to the MWC website page to discover that it also wasn't a junior: MWC has been going on since 1987. And, looking around me, I could see it wasn't small-scale either: I could spot plenty of participants in Barcelona subway stations (many of us were flaunting our badges, despite security recommendations), in the Fira Gran Via socializing venues for the event, and pretty much all around and on the way to the other event places. All this multitude of people amounted to a total of 92 000 participants from over 200 countries in the official event statistics.
What generates all this interest in the event? Looking through my tester/exhibitor/smartphone user glasses, I could definitely catch a glimpse of some of the reasons why IT people would want to attend MWC (let alone it being held in Gaudí's Barcelona, the land of tapas and sangria). First of all, Mobile World Congress is the dazzling launching pad for mobile technologies, services and equipment. Samsung has held here their first 2015 Unpacked event introducing Galaxy S6 and Galaxy S6 Edge. HTC has revealed the One M9, the Grip fitness band and a high-end virtual reality headset, Vive. LG has launched the Urban smartwatches, one of them running on an operating system based on WebOS. And then there were Microsoft, Lenovo, Acer, Huawei, attracting as many visitors, and particularly the media. Having the chance to be among the first to explore the newest devices, shortly after their being launched, and talk about them with the manufacturer's representatives is an opportunity for gadgets fans, IT trendsetters and mobile app developers. I can confirm that a lot of participants took advantage of this opportunity at the event, given the continuous brownian motion in the giants' halls.
Other attractions for many MWC attendees are the conferences and seminars. This year there were more than 40 sessions held by C-level representatives of companies like Deutsche Telekom, Ericsson, Huawei, Mozilla, SAP or Wikipedia. The most anticipated session seemed to be the one that Mark Zuckerberg held, which continued the Internet.org saga (a story he started at MWC14) with the challenges that Facebook has in coordinating the Internet providers in developing countries. As exciting as the keynote had sounded from the description, as disappointing it was for some of the participants.
After we take out the spectacular product launches and the long-awaited keynotes, what is left from MWC15 are only 1,900 exhibitors spread across 5 halls, each one like a horizontally distributed, reasonably sized shopping mall. It's not an exaggeration when I say that in the participant's guide they should stress out, for rookies, the importance of comfortable shoes. What does a mobile exhibition look like? Architecturally, in each of the halls there are lots of stands and pavilions. Stands that look like shelves in a dressing, colorful stands, noisy or animated ones (yes, by animators; or by a variety of dynamic elements), stands built with budgets from European Union funding or from big, fat marketing budgets. Some of the exhibitors used the available space in a sober manner, limiting their product or services presence to slides, brochures. Others did it in a more glamorous way: interactive presentations, application or device live demonstrations, robots wandering across the stand, sport equipment to use while trying a wearable device; a Flamenco dancer, a barista right next to the sales representative lined up to present an offer or simply to chat with the attendees, improperly chosen palm trees, a car that was parked there to demonstrate how a driver can order food while being at the wheel. All of these to convince the attendees to stop by, try the product or ask about the service, take some promotional materials, maybe a business card, eventually to initiate a business partnership.
Beyond wandering from one stand to another, there are other, more specific, opportunities to find new business partners. Such a need could not have remained unaddressed, so at MWC there are providers of B2B Matchmaking services. These services are the object of activity for specialized companies, but I found out that some of the countries had officials that took care of promoting the companies from their area among the other exhibitors. This way, many MWC attendees have a meeting agenda set up beforehand.
There were 14 companies from Romania that had stands at Mobile World Congress this year. The Romanian Association for Electronics and Software Industry (ARIES-TM) with the help of the Ministry of Economy facilitates the presence of the companies at exhibitions like MWC or CeBIT, while trying to improve the perception over the Romanian IT market, from outsourcing companies to innovative ones. The exhibitors benefit from financial and logistic aid during the events. There are two criteria to meet in order to be eligible for it: the first one sustains the innovation focus, so that companies with innovative products or services participate at the fair; the second one is more pragmatic and looks at having the taxes paid up to date.
Having said that, at the Romanian Pavilion this year's attendees could see new models of the Allview smartphone and offers for IT solutions from the most prosaic domains: from the simulation of the driving exam (at the Dapredi Soft Systems from Timișoara) or an auto fleet monitoring system (at our colleagues' stand from Arobs Transilvania), to educational software (from Sphinx IT Timișoara) or medical one (at Ropardo stand).
Altom went to MWC15 with Altap. Among our colleagues, it is also known by the internal code name Măgăoaia (a Romanian word describing a large person or object), just to remind of its initial size; also known as Miska (Romanian for "it moves"), again, not to remove from the collective memory the iconic moment from the first demo when… it moved.
Beyond the onomastic complexity, Altap is a robot integrated with a package of automated tests that run on smartphones or tablets. Or, like a visitor suggested us, on smartwatches. It extends the capabilities we have from automated testing frameworks and it performs actions we can't do programmatically.
The demonstration we gave at MWC15 was of a test written in Appium and run on an iPad. Within the test we were verifying the error message we receive when we try to login into the Wordpress app while having the Wifi option off. While we can do most of the actions and asserts from Appium, the step of setting the Wifi off is not programmatically doable. Here is where Altap steps in: with a stylus at the end of its mobile arm, it taps on the device screen to perform the action that normally a tester would have to do manually. This way, test scripts that run on a less permissive operating system, like iOS, can be executed without interruptions for manual actions.
Alongside the animated atmosphere it created at our stand, the robot worked as a live example of the solutions we find for the testing problems we are challenged with. "Hooked" by the mobile arm, the fair participants stopped by to eventually discuss about our vision on testing and the way we approach it, about the consultancy services we provide and the training sessions we organize for testers.
Altap is the sum of the work Bogdan Birnicu, our colleague, did for his bachelor thesis, the solution that Ru, another colleague, found for the image recognition challenge, and the collective effort the Altom people made for the test design, as well as the assembly and presentation of the robot. And naming it, let's not forget that. On the hardware part, especially the 3D printing of the components, we benefited from the help of Alexandru Popescu, PhD candidate at The Technical University from Cluj-Napoca.
Without necessarily being a mobile devices and technologies promoter myself, just a smartphone user and a mobile app tester, I enjoyed participating in MWC15 to the extent that I can consider it my greatest professional experience yet.
On the one hand, visiting the other stands I had the opportunity to talk to professionals from related but variously different industry fields about products, services, challenges we encounter; about trends on the mobile market, what changes they bring and how we can embrace them. I watched the structure of their speech, the way they answer challenging questions, how they promote their company and how they sell their products or services. Also, I tried newly launched devices and equipment I may test on in the future.
On the other hand, I had the possibility to talk to developers, IT project managers and business people about the challenges they encounter. This was an excellent exercise to address testing problems and to better understand some needs the beneficiaries of our work have. Overall, it resulted into a fresh experience of training on customer awareness; an experience I enjoy talking about. So, do ask me about it.
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