Mobile testing is a challenging task, especially if you have lots of different devices to take into consideration. For this reason, a few android emulators and iOS simulators allow you to test your app quickly before publishing it – this is vital if you need fast results.

Just as the process implies, a mobile device is required to perform tests. However, there are instances where testing applications on physical devices can become a costly and tedious process for product owners. We can replace real devices with mobile simulators and emulators to avoid such a hassle. 

In this article, we will talk about mobile simulators and emulators, their features and differences, and whether they can completely replace physical devices in mobile testing. 

A simulator or emulator replaces the real device by creating a virtual setting on a computer. While their main feature is similar, they differ in functions and targeted devices. Let’s take a look at the differences.

What is a Simulator?

Simulators are programs used to mimic the basic behaviors of the app’s production environment. In mobile testing, it imitates the variables and particular configurations of an application’s native environment. They are used only for features that can be altered using the software.

Mobile simulations should be used for tasks related to external applications or different settings. For example, if an app is required to send a message to another app or simply interact with an external environment, there is no need for the hardware replica. In addition, if a display feature needs to be tested, a simulator is more than enough.

What is an Emulator?

In contrast, an emulator allows copying both hardware and software elements, creating the illusion of an actual device running the app.

Emulators are required to run complex application tests. In short, if an app needs to be tested against software and hardware configurations, an emulator will provide testers with the necessary aid for mobile testing in applications dependent on hardware performance, such as different firmware updates.

Simulators Vs. Emulators

Operating SystemPrimarily used for iOS devicesUsed mainly for Android devices
Problem-solvingFeatures that are related to softwareAvailable for both software and hardware features
PerformanceFast solutions as it only mimics softwareSlower approach due to emulating actual hardware 
Provided byDevice manufacturers and external companiesDevice manufacturers
ReliabilityIt does not simulate all sorts of user interactionsDespite more features, it still does not emulate all types of user interactions

Mobile testing: When should we use a simulator/emulator?

We have established that each virtual environment comes with advantages and particularities of its own. The key points are reduced costs and time efficiency. 

For software related debugging, a simulator will be sufficient, but if the app interacts with hardware features, we can opt for the emulator instead. 
You should keep in mind that relying on a virtual environment is insufficient to undergo most pre-release tests. When more in-depth tests are required, such as for compatibility and performance, the virtual world cannot mimic particular situations that could make a difference in the real world. In these situations, the real device comes in handy.

For example, if an app needs to be tested for lag issues, such a test can only be performed on an actual device. More importantly, an app changes its behavior depending on the user’s device: a camera app will function differently based on device specifications, resulting in photos of different quality.

A virtual environment created by mobile simulators and emulators helps the QA team perform simplified, early tests that could otherwise prove costly and time-consuming. They are easy to use, making them a popular solution for running rapid tests and providing a solution in the initial stages of mobile app development.
Despite these advantages, they cannot replace physical devices just yet.