In the United States, nearly 41 hours are spent every month by smartphone-users on app usage. Interestingly though, the average number of applications installed in a handset has been hovering around 27 for the last couple of years – a clear indication that new apps have to fight it out with existing ones to gain traction among final users. Also, out of every 10 new apps downloaded, 8 or 9 are deleted soon enough (after maybe a single-time use) – owing to various quality-related factors. This is precisely where the importance of the ‘15-Seconds-App-Rule’ comes into the picture. Experienced mobile app entrepreneurs across the globe agree that, unless a new application manages to leave a positive impression on users within the first 15 seconds, it is near-certain to face rejection and criticism. How to ensure that this does not happen? Let’s take a look:
Store reviews and ratings
Word-of-mouth publicity plays a big role in determining whether a person ends up downloading an app or not. If your app has any sort of performance glitch, expect 1* ratings and negative reviews to pile up at the app stores. While browsing for apps at the Google Play Store or Apple iTunes, people would, understandably, give such poorly-reviewed applications a cold shoulder (even if you release bug-fix updates soon, the damage is already done). Make sure that the first point of interaction (POI) between your app and its prospective users is a positive one. Focus on quality at all times, so that negative reviews are always at an arm’s length.
Smooth download and multiple device compatibility
High-speed internet connectivity is common in even the relatively lower-end smartphones. It should not take more than a 5-7 seconds for a new app to be downloaded. If the download keeps getting interrupted repeatedly, do not expect users to linger around (way too many alternatives are available). In addition, your app needs to have custom versions for smartphone, tablets, phablets, and (if applicable) smartwatch/smart TV. In case your app is meant to be used only on mobiles, specify that clearly in the store description. There should never be any ambiguity.
This one’s practically a no-brainer. The generation-Z smartphone owners have thin patience levels – and they do not have the time for apps which take a long time (anything more than 8-10 seconds) to load. The splash screen, which is displayed as an app gets ready for use (i.e., loads) after a user has tapped the app icon, should not be visible for more than 2-4 seconds. There should also be something dynamic about the splash screen (say, a progress bar) to keep the attention of users from wavering.
Streamlined onboarding process
Think of ‘onboarding’ as holding your user’s hand and showing him/her the way around your app. It is generally not required if your application does not require any user inputs. Even in cases where onboarding is necessary, ensure that the process is fast – and only the main features and controls are showcased. Avoid making an elaborate tutorial involving all screens and every feature – since that would only bore people. Instead, provide a short guide, and let users learn the rest by interacting with the app. There should be an option to ‘skip’ the onboarding/tutorial as well. After all, a person downloads a mobile app to USE it – and not spend time learning about it.
Note: Do not make an overly complicated application (even if you are a real smart programmer!). Such apps will require lengthy onboarding – not a particularly desirable feature. Ensure that your app actually has a core benefit on offer for users. There needs to be a motivational factor among people that would drive up the app download count.
Free tour before registration
Yes, you want people to sign up on your app – that’s understandable. However, do not just push the registration screen as soon as the app is launched by new users. Let users swipe through the app screens as ‘Guest’, get actually convinced about the value proposition of your application – and then prompt them to sign up. The onus is on mobile app developers to determine the level of this free (pre-registration) access. A screening questionnaire can be added to gather an idea of the users’ tastes and preferences. Of course, there should be multiple sign-in options – through email/password, and social media (Twitter, Facebook, (if applicable) Instagram).
Note: According to survey reports, an app can lose up to 56% of its user-base, if registration is mandatory BEFORE people can check it out first.
Keep the users in control
While using a mobile app, people like to be in control at all times (we own the app, and it’s not the other way round!). The controls and overall in-app navigation should be very easy-to-understand and execute. The ‘call-to-action’ points (e.g., ‘Add to cart’ in a mobile shopping app) should be clearly visible, easily tappable, and completely distraction-free. As a rule of thumb, it should not take more than three screen taps for a user to find whatever (s)he is looking for in an application. If you are working on a mobile app for kids (a storytelling application, for instance), be extra careful about including child-friendly controls. At every point, let your users know what they can/should do next. Without this prompting, people might feel confused and drop-off from your app.
Empty State designing is vital
How do you judge the pickup of a motorcycle? You find out how long it takes for the bike to go from 0 to 60 mph, right? Drawing the same analogy for a new mobile app, you can broadly divide its presence in 2 two different states. First is the ‘empty state’, when a user has only just downloaded the app – and second, the ‘60 state’, when users have already been using (and have grown familiar with) the app. The ‘15-Seconds-App-Rule’ strongly recommends app designers to prepare interfaces for the ‘empty state’ – where there is no recorded data to be displayed. Unless users are impressed by the look and feel of the ‘empty state’, why would they be bothered about staying on till the ‘60 state’?
The ‘WOW’ factor
The world of mobile apps is a crazily competitive one. Unless you are making a ground-breaking app (if you do, it will probably not find many takers, anyway!) – you need to include something extra…something over and above the core feature of the application. That would serve as the unique ‘wow factor’ of your app – adding an extra layer to the attractions of your application. For instance, offer free in-app currency (coins, stars, points, credits, etc.) for the first few hours after an app is downloaded. You can also encourage people to invite their social media friends to the app – in exchange of rewards (like, say, in Uber, where you can get handsome discounts on cab fare when you send out invites and friends sign up). If your audience ‘likes’ your app, that’s no longer enough. They have to ‘love’ it.
Note: Of course, gimmicky add-on features are not going to work, if an app does not perform its main function(s) well.
Use in different scenarios
The average Joe uses mobile apps during his leisure time. While on the bus, he can play a mobile game; before going to sleep, he can fire up a meditation app; and while on the move – he can check out news aggregator applications. Prepare your application in such a way that it can be used, whenever, wherever, and for as long as the user wants. Most apps and games should have offline modes as well – so that they can be used even when there is no/poor network coverage. Pay attention to the screen orientation of your app as well. Users should be able to toggle between portrait mode to landscape mode with ease.
Note: Many users prefer interacting with mobile apps with one hand, while on the move. Design the tabs and buttons of your applications accordingly.
10. App size and effect on battery
Both iOS and Android can detect apps that cause excessive battery drain. There is simply no scope to hide an app which is a battery/bandwidth hog – and users are certain to get rid of them as soon as they can. During the mobile app testing phase, make sure that your app does not adversely affect the battery performance of the target handsets in any way. The app should not cause device overheating or any such problems either. Also, avoid making apps that are too large. Smartphone-users are perennially running on low memory space – and they would always be wary of downloading an app whose size runs into hundreds of MBs.
11. Quality of advertisements
Only a very small fraction of users actually bother to upgrade to the premium, ad-free version of your free application. Now, in-app advertisements are one of the most effective ways for monetizing an application – but you need to be very careful about what ads are to be displayed, and how they would be shown. Stay away from pop-up ads, which are uniformly irritating. If your ads are to be displayed at the bottom or the sides of the screen, make sure that they do not cover the actual ‘interaction area’ (for mobiles, that would be the ‘gameplay area’). Video ads should never be shown too frequently (after every level in a game, for instance) – and viewers should have the option to ‘skip’ these advertisements. Never include ads that can be considered as ‘inappropriate’ or ‘obscene’.
Note: Many mobile apps offer in-app rewards to users in exchange of watching video ads. Such rewards include additional lives, or hints, or points/coins.
12. How ‘iconic’ is your app?
Remember how we started out with the importance of in-store reviews/ratings of apps? The logo, icons and screenshots you choose for your application are equally (if not more) critical. Prospective users should get a fair idea of the nature of a new mobile app by simply checking out its logo and icon…even before they move on to the app description section. Upload the most relevant screenshots of your app for display at the stores. Double-check to ensure that there are no errors in these screenshots. The ‘15-Seconds-App-Rule’ does not start AFTER an app is downloaded – it starts from the moment a user arrives on your app’s page at the online stores.
13. Testing by new users
Think from the perspective of the end-user (and not as the app developer) while testing your application. Features that are pretty much self-evident to you might appear to be downright confusing to someone who is using your app for the first time. To counter this, the manual testing should be done by a group of people who were not involved in the development stages in any way. Such testers would also be first-time users, and they would closely replicate the behaviour of those who actually download your app. Focus on the testers’ feedback, and fix problems (if any) prior to release.
14. Powerful social integration
Mobile apps need to ‘go social’ – there are no two ways about it. Think beyond the social sign-in options, and try to integrate social media integrations wherever possible in your application. Drop subtle hints about using these social media features as well. A user should be able to invite Facebook friends/Twitter followers to your app, challenge friends in a game, and even (if possible) directly interact with fellow-users. Candy Crush Saga does this really nicely: users can connect to Facebook to track the progress of friends, ask FB friends for ‘extra life’, and even request help to pass on to next stages. While using your app, people should be able to stay in a ‘familiar environment’.
Bonus Tip: Use bright, high-res images in your app. They can enhance the visual appeal of the application greatly.
First-time User Experience, or FTUE, is the single-most important factor in determining the success of any mobile application. If the FTUE is anything short of optimal – average users would not only abandon it, but they would also spread negativity (deservedly!) at the app stores. That, in turn, will harm the prospects of the concerned app as well as put a dent on the brand image of your mobile app company. Follow the ‘15-Seconds-App-Rule’ rigorously. If you miss a trick, your app is going to suffer!