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Brian Rowe, a digital developer at Brand Innovation Group, reviews the compatability of devices to check programs.

New device lab leads way

City native opens library so area developers can test software, apps

Rowe hopes to add more devices to his open lab where other developers can test programs for compatibility.

Brian Rowe says in an increasingly virtual world, some things need verifying.

So to make sure Web and app developers can run tests on mobile devices – instead of depending on software emulators – the Fort Wayne native has founded an open device lab.

Rowe hopes to establish a free library of sorts so that designers can conduct analyses on actual gadgets. He is counting on donations, sponsors and other users lending their devices once they’ve borrowed from the lab themselves.

The effort actually began in Europe about three years ago. There are more than 100 labs in 24 countries.

The reason behind the program is simple. Software emulators don’t always work well and buying every possible mobile gadget to make sure an application or website runs smoothly can quickly get costly.

“It’s kind of like ‘have a penny, leave a penny,’ ” said Rowe, a 36-year-old digital developer for Brand Innovation Group, a marketing firm in Fort Wayne.

Rowe began his campaign in December.

“Right now, obviously I don’t have a lot of devices but I’m hoping once we get the word out, the lab will take off,” he said.

A device library is needed, local developers say.

Over the last few years, Web and software-developer positions in northeast Indiana have held steady, including information technology, advanced and defense manufacturing and insurance.

There are about 1,600 positions in the 10-county region that includes Adams, Allen, DeKalb, Huntington, LaGrange, Noble, Steuben, Wabash, Wells and Whitley, according the Community Research Institute.

The median salary ranges from $24.69 to $44.73 an hour. For the self-employed developer, median pay is $13.44 to $23.97 an hour.

Research institute officials stress that these are the types of high-paying jobs Fort Wayne longs to attract and foster.

Nate Reusser of Reusser Design believes Rowe is on a noble mission.

“There is a huge need for something like this and I’m glad Brian has taken it up,” said Reusser, owner of a Roanoke Web development firm. “There has not been a good solution to device testing. There are software emulators and virtualized devices, but they’re no where close to using the physical device itself.”

Quality assurance, stability and security are at stake, Reusser said. Many in the industry say a proliferation of device labs would eliminate a lot of the problems that consumers encounter once downloading an app or navigating through a website.

For example, users who’ve downloaded apps from the Google Play Store might be less likely to encounter performance issues if the developers can conduct tests through device labs.

“There are such a wide variety of Android devices out there and there’s no way of knowing that an application is going to work on every single one,” Rowe said. “Some developers have to wait to hear feedback and then go back and address problems.”

The issue is why Kurt Elster joined the device lab initiative about a year ago. He is managing partner of Ethercycle, a Web development company in Park Ridge, Ill., 15 minutes northwest of Chicago.

“I kept getting people asking me to test things out on older-generation devices, so I thought maybe this is something I should do apart from the company,” Elster said. “It’s been going well. Microsoft donated a Windows phone.”

Elster believes it’s better to concentrate on stockpiling older generation devices and other mobile gadgets that may be considered out of the mainstream.

“That’s because everybody already has the latest models,” he said. “I learned that’s one of the mistakes device labs have made.”

Elster said although he has bought devices on eBay, he prefers to get them through his lab.

“They’re out there,” he said. “A person gets a new phone every two years and a lot of people just throw them in the drawer as a quote, ‘backup,’ but they never use them. They could donate them.”

Rowe’s work is gaining some traction as Reusser anticipates partnering with the Fort Wayne device lab. The effort also has drawn interest from officials at the Northeast Indiana Innovation Center, an incubator for budding entrepreneurs.

“I may have to contact him about this,” said Mike Fritsch, entrepreneur-in-residence, at the Innovation Center. “Emulators can do some things, but running (applications) on the actual device is the final test. Most developers will put something out there first and then wait for people to tell them about problems, which is not the best way to do it.”

No need to tell Rowe that.

“You can’t replicate a mobile device because there are too many variables,” he said. “I want to set up a place where people can run their tests to make sure what they’re creating works.”