A desk covered with smartphones in the corner of a Dupont Circle office doesn’t seem like much, but it’s a first in the area — a place where software developers can pay to test their products on various devices and operating systems.
After a ribbon-cutting ceremony attended by D.C. Mayor Vincent Gray last month, the DC Device Lab opened.
The lab is really just a corner inside Canvas, a shared worked space. It holds about 30 new and donated smartphones and tablets entrepreneurs can use to test their products.
In a market flooded with new devices and operating systems, it’s difficult for developers to ensure their software is up to date, founder Mariesa Dale said.
Dale, who runs her own design and branding firm out of Canvas, collects and maintains the devices. “We tout ourselves as having this D.C. tech hub, but we have no device lab,” she explained. “I said, ‘Okay, I’m available to do that.’ ”
Dale solicited funding and devices for the lab from local businesses, gathering a few thousand dollars from Rock Creek Strategic Marketing in Chevy Chase and the Washington D.C. Economic Partnership. The District’s Office of Deputy Mayor for Planning and Economic Development kicked in $4,000.
Most of the devices are from corporate donors, but she’s also requesting individuals donate their personal devices. For October entrepreneurs can use the lab for free — starting next month, she’ll charge $5 an hour, covering maintenance fees, chargers, software updates and furniture.
Software developer Paul Murphy was among the first to use the lab. Murphy is the lead developer and co-founder of 3Advance, a three-person software development company based across the street from Canvas in Dupont Circle. In the past week, the team has walked over to spend a few hours in the lab, testing an audio-streaming app they are developing for a media company.
Without access to a wide selection of devices, the team is limited to testing software on their personal phones or tablets, or the handful of products they could afford to buy solely for tests. For instance, Murphy said, “We wanted to try out the Windows phone for how the app should be developed, but none of us have Windows phones.”
Beyond the most popular devices, the team generally waits until customers report app glitches on particular devices before they test the software on that platform. “The feedback says if someone had a problem, what device it was. Then we would get our hands on that device.”
He said he anticipates being able to do more pre-release testing on a wider range of models at the device lab, minimizing the number of glitches consumers experience later. This could save his team at least $1,000 a year — the amount they’d normally spend buying select devices to test.
“Even if we were to purchase all the high-end, most well-known devices, we’d be at a few thousand dollars, not to mention the huge range of other devices other people have under the radar. It would be completely nonsensical for us.”
Even though the lab might be physically cramped at present, Murphy said he and his team plan to use it occasionally. “I don’t think this is a thing where you spend all week. If you do your research smart in advance, you go over for a few hours. We’ll see in a couple of months if it’s really popular.”
The lab’s inventory is still a work in progress, Dale said.Right now, she’s on the lookout for the newest Windows Surface tablet.