Recording usability tests on the iPhone

This week I tackled a new challenge: usability testing for an iPhone App. As usual I put together a task-based test bookended with short interviews and a survey. Nothing new there. But in any sort of research you want to make sure that your method doesn't adversely affect the results of the test. For usability testing that means creating an experience as close to an actual user's experience as possible. For this test I wanted users to hold an actual iPhone and interact with it naturally. Using a laptop was simply not an option in my mind. This presented a unique problem for recording the test and broadcasting the screen to the next room for the live observers. Here's how I did it.

Typically I use Silverback to record on-screen tests. Silverback uses the built-in camera and microphone on the Mac to record the participant and the audio, in addition to recording the computer screen. I typically run a VNC server on the test machine so that observers in the next room can view the screen. I also set up an additional video camera and connect it to a television in the observation room. This allows observers to see video of the participant and their computer screen live while I'm recording the test using Silverback.

The iPhone doesn't have anything like Silverback, despite the new front-facing camera. So my task turned to displaying the iPhone screen on the computer screen Steve Jobs style. I used iDemo along with ScreenSplitr to accomplish this, but not before Jailbreaking my test iPhone. ScreenSplitr is only available on Jailbroken iOS devices. With the iPhone screen streaming to my computer via USB I now had a means to record the screen using Silverback. But I didn't want the participant to sit in from of a laptop for the entire test but I could sit behind the laptop and have a nice view of the iPhone screen without having to look over the participants shoulder. So now I needed a video of the participant. Using the external camera I mentioned earlier, I connected it to my laptop via FireWire (IEEE 1394). And voila! Now Silverback received video of the participant, could record the iPhone screen and I had a way to observe. I was able to also connect the camera to the observation room television via composite cables. And with the VNC connection I mentioned above, the observers could see the iPhone screen.

Here's a diagram of the setup. You can also view my photos from the testing room and the observation room.

iPhone Usability Test Diagram

In the end I had a solution that met all of my observation and recording needs. And most importantly, the participant was able to use the device naturally. This proved quite successful for our team and hopefully it will benefit yours too.