While developing the Walker’s mobile site, I needed to test the site in a number of browsers to ensure compatibility. If you thought testing a regular website was a pain, mobile is an order of magnitude worse.
Our mobile site is designed to work on modern smartphones. If you’re using a 4 year old Nokia phone with a 120×160 screen, our site does not and will not work for you. If you want to test on older/less-smart phones, PPK has a quick overview post that has some pointers. Even so, getting the current smartphone OS running is no piece of cake. So this post will outline how to get iPhone, Android, WebOS, and, ugh, BlackBerry running in emulation. Note: I left out Windows Mobile, as does 99% of the smartphone buying public.
Let’s knock off some low hanging fruit: iPhone
Getting the iPhone to run in emulation is very easy. First, you have to have a mac. If you’re a web developer, you’re probably working on a mac. You need to get the iPhone developer tools. You’ll have to register for a free Apple Developer account, agreeing to their lengthy and draconian agreement. Once that’s done, you can slurp down the humongous 2.3gb download and install it. Once installed, you’ll have a nice folder named Developer at the root of your drive, and navigate inside it and look for the iPhone Simulator.app. That’s your boy, so launch it and, hooray! You can now test your sites in Mobile Safari.
The iPhone Simulator is by far the easiest to work with, since it’s a nice pre-packaged app, just like any other. And it is a simulator, not an emulator. The difference being, a simulator just looks and acts like an iPhone, but actually runs native code on your machine. An emulator emulates a different processor, running the whole host OS inside the emulator. The iPhone simulator runs an x68 version of Safari, and just links to the mobile frameworks, compiled in x86, on your local machine. A real, actual iPhone has all the same frameworks, but they’re compiled in ARM code on the phone.
In typical google fashion, Android is a bit more confusing, but also more powerful. There are roughly three different flavors of Android out there in the wild: 1.5, 2.0, and 2.1. The browser is slightly different in each, but for most simple sites this should be relatively unimportant.
To get the Android Emulator running, download the Android SDK for your platform. I’m on a Mac, so that’s what I focus on here. You’ll need to have up-to-date java, but if you’re on a Mac, this isn’t a problem. Bonus points to google for being the only one to not require you to sign up as a developer to get the SDK. Once you have the file, unpack it and pull up the Terminal. Navigate to the directory, and then look inside the tools directory. You need to launch the “android” executable:
This will launch the Android SDK and Android AVD Manager:
The first thing you’ll probably want to do is go to Installed Packages and hit Update All…, just to get everything up-to-date. With that done, move back to Virtual Devices and we’re going to create a New virtual device:
Name it whatever you want, I’d suggest using Android 2.1 as your target, give it a file size of around 200mb (you don’t need much if you aren’t going to install any apps) and leave everything else as default. Once it’s created, you can simply hit start, wait for it to boot, and you’re now running Android:
Palm is suffering as a company right now, and depending on the rumors, is about to be bought by Lenovo, HTC, Microsoft, or Google. Pretty much everyone agrees that WebOS is really cool, so it’s definitely worth testing your mobile site on. WebOS, like the iPhone and Android, use Webkit as it’s browser, so things here are not going to be unexpected. The primary difference is the available fonts.
Running the WebOS emulator is very easy, at least on the Mac. First, you need to download an grab a copy of VirtualBox, and second, you download and install the Palm SDK. Both are linked from this page.
When you launch the emulator, you’ll be asked to choose a screen size (corresponding to either the Pre or the Pixi) and then it will start VirtualBox. It’s a bit more of a cumbersome startup process than the iPhone Simulator, but about on par with Android.
BlackBerry is the hairiest of all the smartphones in this post. Unless you know the Research In Motion ecosystem, and I don’t, it seems that there are about 300 different versions of BlackBerry, and no easy way to know what version you should test on. From what I can tell, the browser is basically the same on all the more recent phones, so picking one phone and using that should be fairly safe. RIM is working on BlackBerry 6, which is purported to include a WebKit based browser, addressing the sadness their browser causes in web developers everywhere.
The first thing you’re going to need to simulate a BlackBerry is a windows machine. I use VMWare Fusion on my mac, and have several instances of XP, so this is not a problem. The emulator is incredibly slow and clunky, so you’ll want a fairly fast machine or a Virtual Machine with the settings for RAM and CPU cranked up.
There are three basic parts you’ll need to install to get the BlackBerry emulator running: Java EE 5, BlackBerry Smartphone Simulator, and BlackBerry Email and MDS Services Simulator. Let’s start with Java. You need Java Enterprise Edition 5, and you can get that on Sun/Oracle’s Java EE page. I’ve had Java EE 5 and 6 on my windows machine for quite some time, so I’m not actually sure what version BlackBerry requires, but it’s one of them, and they’re both free. Get it, install it, and add one more hunk of junk to your system tray.
Now you need the emulators themselves: To get an emulator, head over to the RIM emulator page and pick a device. I went with the 9630 since that seems fairly popular and it was at the top of the list of devices to chose. I’d grab the latest OS for a generic carrier. You will have to register for a no-cost RIM developer account to download the file.
While you’re there, you’ll also want to grab the MDS (aka Mobile Data Service) emulator. This is what enables the phone to actually talk to the internet. To grab this, click on the “view all BlackBerry Smartphone Simulator downloads” link, and then choose the first item from the list, “BlackBerry Email and MDS Services Simulator Package”. Click through and grab the latest version.
Once the download completes, copy the .EXEs to windows and run them. You’ll walk through the standard windows install process, and when you’re done, you’ll be left with some new menu items. Let’s start the MDS up first, since we’d like a net connection. Here’s where you should find it:
And this is what it looks like starting up:
Now let’s start up the phone emulator itself:
For me, it takes quite a while to start the phone, about a minute. I started off with a smaller VM instance and it was 5+ minutes to launch, so be warned. After it starts, you’ll be left with a screen like this:
You can’t use the mouse to navigate on the screen, which is crazy counter-intuitive for anyone who has used the other three phones mentioned in this post. Instead, you click on the buttons on screen or use your keyboard to navigate. Welcome to 2005. To get to the browser, hit the hangup button, then arrow over to the globe and hit enter. You can hit the little re-wrap/undo button to get to the URL field once the browser launches. Here’s what our site looks like: