What is an emulator
June 6, 2023

What Is an Emulator?

Mobile Application Testing

We can be honest here — when it comes to testing mobile devices, physical devices can be limiting for teams. While they provide the closest replication to the experience consumers will have with your app, going the physical device route means you only have the number you can afford and maintain. If you are part of a smaller testing team with limited resources, that number of devices may not be very big at all. 

You can bridge the gap between the necessity of testing your app and the resources allotted to your testing with mobile device emulators. If your app is primarily designed for Android (as opposed to simulators and Apple devices), emulators can be a big saving grace. 

If you are unfamiliar with emulators, this is the blog for you. We will discuss what an emulator is, what emulators can and cannot do, when to use emulators, and the benefits of using mobile device emulators. 

What Is an Emulator?

An emulator is a tool that can replicate and behave like Android devices — both software and hardware —on your computer. It is a software program that mimics Android device architecture. 

For apps designed specifically for Android, emulators allow teams to test applications on a variety of devices and Android APIs without the need for a physical device. Emulators provide all the capabilities of a real Android device — such as incoming phone calls, text messages, and network speeds. 

From Samsung to Motorola to LG to Google Pixel, the variety of Android mobile devices is ever-growing, and testers need to remain up to date on the Android device market — emulators go a long way in helping with that. 

What Can Mobile Device Emulators Do? What Can They Not Do?

While emulators can do wonders for teams developing Android apps and testing them, they cannot replicate Apple devices or iOSs. That means if you are wanting to test your app with Apple devices and OSs, you either need to redesign the app entirely to be suited for Apple products (meaning creating two whole apps) or recreate your app as a hybrid app (determining which app you want to develop is a whole other story). 

On a practical level, here is where you might encounter shortcomings with emulators that can only be overcome with real devices: 

  • 1:1 Functionality — Emulators cannot fully replicate some of the features found on real Android devices. These include hardware features like cameras and sensors. 

  • Physical Conditions — It should go without saying, but emulators cannot replicate physical world conditions that could potentially affect the performance of your app. Think temperature — a device being too hot or too cold. 

When To Use Mobile Device Emulators

A great use of mobile device emulators is in the early stages of your app development. A good testing strategy incorporates testing early and often, and an emulator is an excellent complement. 

Using emulators throughout the development cycle of your app will help you catch issues sooner, thereby creating efficiency and improving your app as you go. This helps developers who want faster feedback and debugging. 

Another consideration for using emulators is when a team is seeking access to a greater number of devices. This is one of the key tradeoffs between real and virtual devices — giving away that 1:1 functionality in favor of a broader spectrum of devices. 

Yet the real winning combination is the use of both real and virtual devices in your testing. Emulators can be used in parallel with real Android devices and to increase test coverage. Depending on your level of testing, emulators can be used in both manual and automated testing: 

  • Manual Testing — Testing manually with real devices can be complemented by emulators to provide greater testing options. 

  • Automated Testing — When developing test automation scripts, teams can leverage emulators to create greater access to devices. 

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Benefits of Using Mobile Device Emulators

If it is not yet readily apparent, the primary goal of emulators is to use them to complement your testing strategy. Leveraging these digital facsimiles helps bridge information gaps and broadens your testing capabilities in the service of a better app. 

Here is how they can benefit you: 

  • Cost Savings — Real devices can get expensive fast. Each device represents a sunk cost and each additional physical device compounds that expense. Emulators expand your device access at a much-reduced cost. 

  • Greater Coverage — Using emulators in tandem with real Android devices means you instantly expand your access to a wide variety of device types. That way, you can feel more confident in the efficacy of your testing. 

  • Faster Testing — Emulators inherently speed up the process of testing. You do not have to deal with physical processing power or time, thus creating instant feedback. 

  • Scalability — Testing only with real devices hampers your ability to increase both the number of your tests and types of your tests. Emulators enable teams to run a vast amount of test permutations for any virtual scenario. 

  • Maintenance-Free — Real devices get worn down just like any physical machine. Emulators do not have this issue. What is more, Perfecto’s emulators remove the headache of device maintenance by simply doing it for you. 

Bottom Line

If you want to ramp up your testing ability throughout the development of your Android app, emulators are a great tool. You can mimic most of the functionality and user conditions of real Android devices at a greater rate and a significantly reduced cost. 

With Perfecto and Perfecto’s unrivaled cloud-based device lab, you can ditch patchwork testing strategies in favor of our one-stop testing shop. Android simulators are available in all iterations of Perfecto clouds. Test against the latest Android OS or device release as soon as it’s released thanks to Perfecto’s guaranteed same-day support. 

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