What is an Open Device Lab?

“Free access to a library of smartphones and tablet computers allowing the creative community to physically test responsive websites and native applications for speed, render and performance.”

The plethora of smart devices now available and the need for backwards compatibility means that the testing aspect of the app and web development cycle has become an untameable beast and, to have confidence in an end product, developers need to be able to physically and thoroughly test their creations on a wide range of devices.

This is where the Open Device Lab comes in – an environment housing a library of older and current devices which can be used to give the developer a tangible sense of how their product actually looks and reacts.

Just one Lab in an easily accessible location can provide a testing solution for potentially hundreds of developers where presently the alternative is to purchase devices in-house (a tad expensive) or use online services emulating a particular device (often unreliable and slow).

How Longbridge Device Lab came to be

Longbridge Device Lab was conceived of by Birmingham web design agency, Ballyhoo. Having adopted responsive web design at Ballyhoo, we were doing the best we could with a handful of in-house devices and online mobile emulators to test the websites we were building. This solution proved to be frustratingly slow at times and, where we had the opportunity to test them, there were often discrepancies between emulated devices and their real-life counterparts.

As soon as we became aware of the open device lab concept we excitedly looked to see where our closest lab was...

...to discover that while there are currently 17 Open Device Labs in the UK (at the time of writing) there was no facility in the area, despite Birmingham being the "second city". Indeed, the closest labs to our location were Cheltenham, Sheffield and Manchester.

So, after some deliberation about the work involved, in July 2014 we took the first steps on our journey to launching the Midlands' first open device lab. We approached our landlord about the possibility of housing a project like this in our office building, the Innovation Centre at Longbridge Technology Park, and with much generosity they were open to helping get the project off the ground. It just so happened that the office just next door to ours had just become vacant and, would you believe it, it was kitted out as an actual laboratory.

Why Longbridge?

Longbridge has a rich history, with the Austin Motor Company first opening its factory doors here in 1905. By the 1960s the Longbridge plant was employing over 25,000 people and making waves in the motor industry with iconic models such as the Mini coming off the production line in their thousands.

For over a century Longbridge was a manufacturing and innovation mecca, and its demise was a deep blow for the community. Now though, the innovations of today are what's driving the local economy and the technological leaps and bounds being made are bringing life back to this corner of Birmingham - something we are proud to be a part of.

Longbridge has been a fantastic location for Ballyhoo ever since we made it our home in early 2013. There's great infrastructure in the area, and the Innovation Centre in particular has proven to be a hub for like-minded people and companies. 

Although Longbridge Device Lab aims to be at the forefront of today's technology we haven't forgotten the region's roots and have tried to bring a sense of nostalgia to this endeavour, which we hope you'll see in our branding.

Our vision

We hope that Longbridge Device Lab will be somewhere that you find real value in and enjoy visiting and working in. We may be starting off small but, ultimately, we are looking to house a range of devices that accurately represent current device usage in the UK, to include both new and legacy smartphones and tablets. Longer-term, we envisage that the Longbridge Device Lab may also include wearable technology, games consoles, smart TVs and whatever else manufacturers decide to make internet-accessible (smart fridges?!).

If you feel you can contribute to our cause, please take a look at our Donations page.

Learn more at OpenDeviceLab.com

You can learn more about the Open Device Lab initiative and the many labs around the world by visiting opendevicelab.com. If you've used our lab and enjoyed the experience please don't forget to rate us on this website too.