The web is going everywhere and anywhere it can, and the devices that people consume it on are very varied: from tiny Nokia feature phones to the latest iPad. As web developers, we want to make sure that our sites look and work great everywhere. Testing on all these devices, assuming you even have access to them, is no mean feat. To help each other, developers over the world have been creating Open Device Labs: shared community pools of devices for testing web work on.

The bigness of mobile

Mobile (by which I mean internet-connected devices that aren't desktop computers) is big . No, scratch that, mobile is huge, especially in Africa. How huge? There are almost as many sources of data as there are mobile devices, but Luke W's Data Mondays are a great place for regular stat bursts, and Jason Grigsby's A “Comprehensive” Guide to Mobile Statistics is a fantastic starting point for jumping out from.

Testing across the device multiverse

Responsive Web Design seems to be a great answer to our problems, but the situation is more complicated than that. Feature phones, smartphones, tablets (and everything in between) are more than just their screen size. Web sites need to be tested on a wide range of screen sizes, operating systems, and form factors, to make sure that every user is given the best experience they can for the device they are using. Testing over all these variations is tricky, though. Hands down the best way to test is to get hands-on with the full spectrum: with cheap Android phones, with Nokia feature phones, and try using your site as your users will.

Enter Open Device Labs, stage left.

Open Device Labs

A long time ago, in a city far, far, away (Brighton. Which is far from Cape Town) Jeremy Keith set something in motion. He talked about the collection of devices that Clearleft was amassing for testing and, crucially, offered them up free for use by the local web dev community. Thus, the first Open Device Lab was born.

In the months that followed, other device labs started popping up. I thought this was an amazing idea and started Nomad Device Lab in Cape Town. Andre Jay Meissner started keeping a list of open device labs across the globe, and recently, with a little (okay, maybe a lot) of help from his friends, he launched Open Device Lab dot com.

A selection of mobile devices

After many months of bouncing around various venues around town, the Nomad Device Lab now has a permanent home at Unboxed Consulting in Cape Town. At the time of writing, the lab is the only Open Device Lab in Cape Town. In fact, it's the only one in Africa!

We would love to have you come by to test your work across our range of devices at our community lab. If you have any old devices lying around that aren't being used, it would be fantastic if you could donate them to the lab.

Use of the lab is free, but please let us know you're coming so that we can make sure everything is fully prepped for testing and that the coffee is freshly brewed. Does your mobile site look okay on a Retina display iPad? Does your responsive site look good on feature phones or Symbian OS? Come by and find out, and get help and advice from us about Progressive Enhancement, Responsive Web Design, SMACSS, and lots of other Front End Web Dev goodness. We look forward to seeing you!