iPad usability testing - our equipment

Following on from James's post iPad app user testing : Observations from the field, this post reveals the equipment we've refined to collect iPad test data and how to deliver an engaging experience for the project owners.

Testing apps and websites on the iPad

From our perspective the killer feature that the iPad 2 introduced was screen mirroring. The question was how to take full advantage of following the user's journey in real time. And how to do this without Jail Breaking (hacking) the iPad.

Our goals for iPad user testing:

  • The participants experience of using the iPad has to be as natural as possible. That meant no cameras fixed to the iPad that stop people turning or tilting the iPad, or cameras mounted on glasses or other intrusive off putting equipment.
  • The clients experience of observing the tests has to be rich and engaging. This meant: screen mirroring, video of the user (just like website user testing) and an overview camera so we can see how the participant is using the iPad e.g. gestures, tilting, turning, getting closer to read small text etc.
  • We had to gather rich material to analyse. An overhead or document camera just wasn't good enough.
  • We had to be able to easily analyse the data. That meant getting all the video and audio in one easily managed file, no nasty synching of separate files for us thanks.
  • The gear had to be easy to use. Simple software and simple equipment.

Our iPad user testing solution
Our iPad test equipment meets all of these requirements and worked out of the box, really simple. Anyone who's seen me cursing MS Windows will understand how much I like simple.

The equipment / software list:

  • Apple iPad 2
  • Apple iPad – VGA cable
  • Epiphan VGA2USB frame grabber
  • HD webcam
  • Quicktime Player
  • Silverback
  • Floor standing boom mic stand

ipad user testing kit

The simple setup:

  1. First, get your HD webcam mounted on a boom mic stand, it lets you position the webcam over the action and isolates it from vibration.
  2. Now open up Quicktime Player and select the webcam as your source. You won't use Quicktime to record, just to show the webcam picture on your laptop screen.
  3. Next plug the VGA cable into your iPad2, plug that into a VGA splitter. One side will feed the screen in your observation room. The other will get plugged into the Epiphan VGA2USB frame grabber.
  4. Plug your VGA2USB frame grabber into your laptop and open up the frame grabber software that comes from Epiphan. It works a treat and you can see the iPad screen mirrored on your laptop.
  5. So, now you've got a webcam feed and the mirrored screen of the iPad on your laptop screen.
  6. Finally open up Silverback and set up a new project. Your going to use Silverback to record the screen and provide a picture-in-picture of the participant using the iPad.
  7. Position the laptop in front of the participant. Set up a Silverback session and dim the laptop screen so the participant can't see anything on the screen. Don't worry it'll still record all the action.
  8. That's it, hit record on Silverback and your away.

What you get

Silverback will record the iPads mirrored screen, the webcam feed and the picture-in-picture and the audio of the test in one file. Nice and tidy.

The resulting iPad usability test video contains rich compelling evidence for your analysis. and provides great contextual information about what the participant did, how they did it and why they did it.

iPad testing output


cxpartners have heaps of experience testing iPad prototypes, apps, websites, mobile sites and have conducted exploratory research with people about what, when and why they use iPads and smart phones instead of laptops and desktops. Why not find out more about what we know.



The photo below illustrates my comment made on March 2 2012. It shows an example of the simple handheld test equipment we use to allow as natural environment as possible.

Walt is an esteemed former member of the cxpartners team. His articles are still here to enrich us.