Mobile apps need to be debugged on countless devices to ensure they work as intended. Users don’t take bad experiences lightly – 88% say they will abandon apps due to minor glitches, according to software testing provider Qualitest (which admittedly has a horse in the race). Testing is a time-consuming and expensive process, with 31% of app development companies in a survey estimating the cost to be between $5,000 and $10,000. And for some outfits, the highest quality tests are simply not available, either for logistical reasons or the unrelenting pressure to get to release.
Eden Full Goh hopes to change that — and make money from it. She is the founder of Mobot, a startup that Goh says is developing the first “infrastructure-as-a-service” platform that allows developers to use physical robots to automate app testing on devices. Bucking the macro trend, Mobot this week closed a $12.5 million Series A round led by Cota Capital with participation from Heavybit, Uncorrelated Ventures, Bling Capital, Primary Venture Partners, Y Combinator and Newark Venture Partners, bringing the company’s total capital raised to $17.8 million.
Previously a product engineer at Palantir and medical device maker Butterfly Network, Goh came up with the idea for Mobot after seeing what she describes as “bottlenecks” in the mobile app testing process. Most companies — including their former employers — hire employees or outside contractors to perform manual testing, which tends to be inefficient, costly, and error-prone, she says.
“There are tools developed by companies like Applitools, Test.ai, and others that leverage existing emulated testing frameworks to automate mobile app testing. The unfortunate reality, however, is that many bugs often slip through the cracks of software-based emulated testing because they don’t accurately represent testing on real hardware,” Goh said in an email interview with TechCrunch. “Currently, Mobot is not positioning itself as a competitor or replacement for emulators and automated testing. Rather, our goal is to replace the inevitable manual quality assurance that everyone still needs to do and will increasingly need to do as device fragmentation increases over the next five to 10 years.”
It may sound novel, but robotics has been used to test software for mobile devices for quite some time. Tokyo-based Japan Novel Corp. once offered a robot that could simulate the process of repeatedly flipping and tapping on a smartphone touchscreen. T-Mobile internally built a similar robot called Tappy to stress-test various phones and tablets before heading to the carrier’s stores.
But these types of machines tend to require a hefty initial investment — not to mention robotics know-how — according to Goh.
In contrast, Mobot abstracts maintenance and upkeep and lets customers set up a test case by simply recording a video on the app and device (or devices) under test. A customer success manager will help develop a test flow and integrate Mobot’s analytics with development tools like Jira, and then a fleet of 200+ robots using computer vision will run the test case mentioned above – tapping, swiping, and rotating devices, on which apps are running, as well as connecting the devices to Bluetooth peripherals, receiving push notifications and more.
After the tests are completed, the Mobot team records the results. Customers can view reports side-by-side using a self-service tool.
“As far as we know, there are very few companies that focus on physical QA because the tech stack is very different from their core web and browser-based testing offering,” Goh said. “Our biggest competitors are crowdsourced and outsourced manual testing services offered by companies like Applause, Infosys, and Qualitest because manual testing is most similar to the automated physical testing that Mobot performs… Mobot protects the entire mobile app customer journey, The overlooked bugs it affects – from user acquisition (e.g. deep links, signup flows, onboarding), retention and engagement (push notifications and crashes) to monetization (checkout and in-app purchases).”
Mobot claims to have run thousands of test cycles and collected millions of screenshots from the tested apps since its inception in early 2018. According to Goh, early adopters include big names like Citizen and Mapbox, as well as Branch, Radar, Persona and around 45 others.
There are some competitors like the Finnish company OptoFidelity, which offers robotic tests for touch displays and infotainment systems. But Mobot doesn’t want to stop at apps. Over the next few years, the goal is to use the company’s collected data to provide customers with product insights and “exploratory testing capabilities,” Goh says. Additionally, Mobot is building a test framework to evolve with technological advances in augmented reality headsets, smartwatches, and pre-launch products like smart contact lenses.
Is robotic testing a scalable idea? Robots eventually break down, and Mobot keeps his finances a secret for now. (Much of the company’s activities are kept secret, ostensibly for competitive reasons; Mobot’s public website doesn’t show pictures of its robots.) But Goh gives the impression that she genuinely believes in the model, especially as a market for peripherals like heads-up displays is ready to grow.
“In the next two to five years, software will be increasingly mobile and device-centric,” Goh said. “We envision autonomous robotic warehouses in the middle of nowhere — where real estate is affordable — filled with thousands of robots capable of testing every physical action a human would perform on a product: tap, swipe, shake a device , pressing buttons, scanning a QR code, taking a photo, listening, speaking and more.”
In the short term, Mobot will use the proceeds from the latest round of funding to expand its sales, marketing and engineering teams and increase the total number of employees from 42 today to 50 by the end of the year. As the tech industry implements hiring freezes and downsizing, it helps that Mobot is a “countercyclical” company, Goh claims. She says the demand for quality assurance testing in the mobile space hasn’t diminished as companies continue to ship new apps and updates to existing apps.
“There [is no] on the market to democratize physical testing for the everyday software development team that would never have the expertise to build a fleet of robots themselves,” Goh said. “Mobot is a mission-critical and cost-effective solution for streamlining a technology company’s product development process.”