• Posted by JB Brockman
  • On January 26, 2012

UK allies RealVNC in Cambridge and London based TestPlant are primed to reap a handsome ‘disruption dividend’ from the mobile applications
boom and the advance and convergence of new ‘killer’ technologies.

TestPlant, an international software business enjoying huge export success, has built its eggPlant robotic solution for mobile testing across all operating systems and devices around RealVNC’s technology.

eggPlant’s test automation software can replicate the human eye and link devices remotely from anywhere on the planet across systems and protocols. It applies a consistency to quality assurance testing that the mobile industry has never previously witnessed on such a scale. Given the large number of different devices on the market and the fact they run across varying operator networks, the RealVNC-TestPlant alliance delivers a rigour and uniformity that is already bringing huge performance benefits to mobile users. The partners’ solution can only become even more valuable as further technology advances drive the mobile bonanza. And the more disruptive the technology across a range of industries – from automotive to aerospace – the more the VNC-driven eggPlant comes into its own.

As mobile devices and business critical apps become more prevalent, the challenge grows of releasing apps that are stable on multiple portable devices and platforms. But when it comes to mobile apps, quality assurance can be a complex, time-consuming and costly task – especially if you rely solely on manual testing or on traditional tools. An effective testing strategy has to take into account different devices, multiple operating systems – which are constantly updating – screen sizes and resolutions and responsiveness of application. Some of this can be checked on an emulator but for a realistic test it needs to be performed on physical devices.

Many application testing suites need to be in-house so that the next big thing can be protected from prying eyes as well as test on devices that are yet to be available in the market. Customers are often worried about testing technology ‘invading’ their computer systems and causing bugs. eggPlant has got around all of that. It is an intelligent robotic test tool capable of seeing the display on the systems under test. Its image recognition algorithm can be trained to spot any variances in expected outcomes – ie bugs!

eggPlant can be tuned to detect colours – even tones of colour; it can operate in dynamic environments using Silverlight, Flex and Flash; it can be tuned to tolerate customised screens and each time an inconsistency is spotted a fault report with a screen shot of the actual point of failure is saved for easy reference by developers. As a test engineer trains eggPlant through a test procedure a simple command ‘script’ is compiled. This integrated command language in eggPlant – ‘SenseTalk’ – has proved extremely easy-to-use as it was designed for non-development users not necessarily trained in computer languages.

Another unique feature of eggPlant is the two-computer approach. eggPlant is loaded on the test controller and using virtual networking communication (VNC) a link is established with the system under test. TestPlant CEO George Mackintosh told Business Weekly: “By this method, a single eggPlant licence and user can test many systems in any hardware or operating environment across a test lab or across a global network. “In computing terms, eggPlant is technology agnostic (cross browser and cross-platform), noninvasive – it doesn’t mess with systems under test – and can link with any device with an IP address. All of these features were defined in a patent filed in 2003 and granted by the US patent and Trademarks Office in January 2011.”

TestPlant has a blue chip client portfolio to die for – you don’t have to get past the letter B to test the quality: BBC, Bloomberg and Boeing for starters! eggPlant is already used by some 500 organisations worldwide in defence and security, aerospace and aviation, healthcare and life sciences, finance and retail and in the IT, telecoms and media industries. Mackintosh said: “eggPlant was designed around RealVNC’s technology and has filled a niche. You know how itchy people become when they download new software onto their systems – will it mess them up? “If you load software onto a computer you can get a bug but it won’t necessarily wreck your system. It won’t be a disaster if you suffer a glitch. But if you are in the banking or air traffic control industry you don’t want to risk anything that’s invasive.
“This is where eggPlant scores – I can link with you to test your system without being invasive. And I can test you remotely on any platform. From anywhere in the world. “Eighty per cent of our business is now export – from Boston to Bangalore. Our technology is a business accelerator, thanks to VNC. The whole mobile explosion makes our sort of testing increasingly relevant. “We see tremendous opportunities as technology advances and converges. Apple has set some
global trends in mobile but in the next few years there will be a blurring between mobile phone technology and tablets.

“Consumers will want different designs, different shapes and sizes. Microsoft will no doubt come out with slimmer and slimmer laptops and PCs. Nokia will probably get its act together at some stage. “I see convergence and disruption over the next two or three years – and the more the disruption, the more relevant eggPlant will become as a testing tool for all systems and all seasons.” RealVNC is equally excited by the opportunity. Tom Blackie, the company’s VP of mobile, said a number of industries depended to a critical commercial degree on the ability to accurately test how their products performed across different mobile devices. “TestPlant’s customers, including banks and games developers, find this tool invaluable,” he said. “For example, if a company has developed a game they want it to run on lots of different mobiles and operators’ systems. The quality you get on Android may be vastly different from that on Symbian or Blackberry.

“Then you may need to test on 100 different Android phones. Talking internationally you have disparities in operators – is it over Orange, O2 – AT & T in the States? The combinations of devices and operators and networks is vast.” RealVNC has many more strings to its bow. Blackie and CEO Andy Harter were in on the ground floor of the company within the Olivetti Laboratory at the University of Cambridge when the original technology was developed 18 years ago. Now to say that VNC is ubiquitous doesn’t do it justice: Real VNC more than held its own at CES in Vegas where new technology bulged from every nook and cranny. Connected TV where all televisions are internet enabled; new-style screens – the cornucopia of futuretech was wall to wall. As Blackie says: “The new generations want to be able to listen to music on their headphones, text one friend while they are speaking to another and watch a film – all on one mobile device simultaneously.

“The automotive industry, in which we are engaged, is not the fastest industry to adopt advanced technology but they are embracing ours. “VNC will enable cars to connect to the cloud and back to the car and deliver some amazing infotainment technology that will be delivered in such a slick and non-invasive way that future generations will drive along happily without being distracted or having to worry about health & safety
issues. It will all go on around them and be subliminally absorbed.”

Blackie agrees with fellow Scot, George Mackintosh, that convergence – adopted well in the wireless segment but tardily embraced within the world of software – will prove increasingly disruptive and provide fresh opportunities for VNC-based solutions. He said: “Three years ago, Android was just starting to be talked about. Now it has pulled the rug out under everyone’s feet and transformed the mobile industry. “The next two big things in convergence could well be voice recognition and gesture recognition. Microsoft’s gesture recognition Kinect technology is already winning support within the medical arena. As technology continues to advance, evolve and converge, you will see more exciting things to come from RealVNC.”

Blackie is from the Scottish Borders while Mackintosh hails from the Highlands. But their paths have already converged – and it’s the high road for both of them through RealVNC and TestPlant.