Best Practices for Mobile Onboarding

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Mobile Onboarding? Worthless. Pointless. For what it’s worth, developing an intuitive app interface is good enough. Users can simply dive in and develop a first-hand-experience of the app on their own. Why bore them with futile, fruitless, and frivolous onboarding experience?

So, if you think mobile onboarding is typically meant for feeble apps with fathomless interfaces, you are not alone.

Agreed, not all apps need user onboarding.  But then are all apps the same? Think about it. Some apps are distinctively designed and have a unique way of doing things (and some of them really popular despite having difficult interfaces). For such apps, denying the onboarding experience only means killing the app right from its birth. Much as developers try overriding onboarding, they need to lodge it in their numb brains that it’s a necessary evil. You can’t chicken out from it, at any cost, unless you have developed an app that’s as easy to operate as chewing a gum.

Though there’s no secret formula that ensures guaranteed user satisfaction, but then testing different ideas is the best way forward. And onboarding is something a developer in his right frame of mind should definitely test, say industry experts.

What kind of apps need Mobile Onboarding?

Here we help you thumb through selected scenarios where mobile onboarding can only better and not batter an app’s performance. 

1] Gesture-driven apps  –  Apps with gesture-driven interfaces are uncommon. Even Apple app reviewers, for one, were initially against apps that seemed to have ‘out of the box’ interfaces. For instance, ‘Rise’ and ‘Clear’ – both popular apps now – had to bear the app store apathy for being so different. Consequently, user onboarding has become a must for such apps. While onboarding developers need to guide users at each stage, by presenting each gesture and its function. For example, just by tapping on a specific space on the Rise app screen, you can ON the app, OFF the app, sleep 5 minutes more and so forth.

Each gesture is explained well in the Rise app, which makes the app a ‘piece of cake’ for the user.

2] Complicated business apps – Sometimes apps just form a part of the whole software system. Say, the CRM system, wherein the sales, accounts, marketing and other departments are parts of a colossal system.  Apps for such systems are so cleverly designed that each department would have specific rights and security restrictions. For instance, the sales team would have access to only certain details that’re crucial to them, minus the info that’s only accessible to the accounts department. For such apps, a brief presentation explaining the apps functionalities would go a long way to building confidence level among users.

3] Blank state apps – To avoid information overload, many app developers include ‘blank state or empty state’ screens in the apps. In other words, these are screens within the app that are devoid of content or data. You will find no status updates, comments, notifications, and things like that here. Usually, the user has to go through one more step to populate it with content. So, for such apps, nothing doing. Just get on the onboarding board right away.

Nope, we haven’t got all the ducks in a row. These are just a few important scenarios you need to consider for mobile onboarding. Regardless of the fact whether the app needs onboarding, it’s always nice to add some benefits as part of the onboarding process, even if you’ve got nothing else to onboard.

Must-Dos for Mobile Onboarding

1. Onboard before sign ups

Ensure to onboard before the user sign-ups for the service or logs into the service. If you do this, you won’t have to interrupt and irritate the users with pop-ups that sing blatant app praises.

2. Description vs Onboarding

Why have onboarding at all, when you covered every darn thing in the description? True. But then, you cannot compare the two. Both are as different as chalk and cheese. For app store descriptions, there’s no particular format to follow –  you can keep it long/short, as you wish. You are free to flesh out details in the description page.  However, in case of onboarding, you need to keep it short and sweet, and might as well include the essentials.  But since some users have the habit of ignoring the description completely, a short user presentation via onboarding would help them understand the app better.

3. Use color magic

You cannot deny the power of colors in user onboarding. Just stick to the color scheme you chose while designing the app. However, introduce higher contrast hues and other brighter colors against empty spaces to help users navigate to the right places. This will keep the users visually engaged, at the same through simple rearranging and color hierarchy you will be able to recommend users which is the best option without even explicitly stating it.

4. Talk about benefits, not features

Feature talks are frivolous. Users may find it boring, thereby dropping all thoughts of downloading your app at once. On the contrary, harping on breathtaking benefits, take our word for it, is one of the best ways to make the user onboarding process stickier. Benefits could be in terms of what the app does, how users can integrate it into their lifestyle and most importantly the value proposition it offers.

5. Showcase progression in the flow

Your onboarding should not appear as an endless journey. The user should know when their journey is going to end. This can be achieved by showing users the number of screens or steps remaining and how far have they reached. This will encourage the users to continue and complete the process.


6. Launch social media logins

 If a user needs to login to use an app, give them the social login option as well. Because, social login pages of Facebook or Twitter will connect the user to the app in nanoseconds. Creating a new account means typing your full name, email and all sorts of other info which could eat away users precious half an hour. You can try another alternative as well: e-mail based registrations. Or you can avoid registrations completely.


7. Whip up short tutorials

User onboarding is not a must for every app. That said, whether an app needs an onboarding largely depends on its genre. Apps without  intuitive designs or fewer intuitive designs, such as  complex navigation or gestures, need user onboarding at any cost.  Plus, service, e-commerce and m-commerce apps should be complemented with tutorials.

Tutorial  To-do’s

  • Keep content to the point. It would help the user figure out the app in a minute.
  • The location should be easily traceable. It would help the user easily reference it.
  • Finally, talk about the most actionable pages. Of course, home screen pages cannot be construed as actionable pages, but status update pages, take a photo, create character pages etc., are considered as actionable pages. So ideally you need close your tutorial pages on actionable pages.

8. Go slow while collecting credit card details

Both retail and service industry are very much mobile-oriented these days. Good for them. But the bad things begin the moment they start popping up requests for credit card details. Sometimes in the initial stages of the onboarding process itself, which may put the user off.  So steer clear off seeking credit card details in the initial stages.

First, hook the user.  Suggest them to take a look at the trending items before seeking any such personal details. Take a look at the Etsy app onboarding experience for guidance.


9. Keep permission settings to the minimum

Seeking permission to too many details at the early stages, like user’s contact list,  location list and more may not go down well with the user.  When the user launches an application the last thing that they want to see are popups seeking access to this and that. So keep onboarding permission settings to the minimum

If such user permissions are absolutely critical to your app then ask them at the right time and also explain to the user its importance in enhancing their overall app experience. That ways, they won’t mind giving you the access to contacts, locations and more.


Heydey app does it brilliantly. The automatic photo journal app describes the app’s value proposition in the first three screens before seeking user permission.

10. Don’t include onboarding for the sake of it

Of course, don’t use onboarding when the app is simple enough for the user to understand the moment it’s launched. And its workings are a symbol of simplicity. And, by the way, there’s no evidence that suggests that every successful app has a perfect user onboarding flow. Onboarding is sort of pampering the user and users will be okay without it if the app is as simple as breaking the bread. However, the last word lies with the developer and the designer. They are the ones who’d tell whether to introduce user onboarding.

11. Write for human beings

No doubt this is the age of pixels and Likes and A/B testing.  Everything is spoken about in numbers and traffic. But don’t forget the fact that the traffic we keep talking about is people with flesh and blood. People with emotions. So talk to them as you are talking to friends, not robots. Pocket app’s onboarding guide is one such example.

12. Listen to what users have to say

Last but not the least, listen to what users have to say. Understand app users requirements through quantitative methods and qualitative research, which will help better figure out your onboarding strategies for your unique app.

Final Thoughts:  Whether to onboard or not, the choice is up to you.  However, there are good number of reasons why developers onboard. It’s not that users are magnetically attracted towards apps that have got the onboarding process installed. It’s just that it makes the life of users a little easier and takes the confusion out of knotty apps.

OpenXcell is a market leader in app development and app marketing. So, if in case you are pursuing any serious app development and marketing plans for your organization, OpenXcell will be happy to help. We have the experience and wherewithal to make your app a super success.

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Jayneel Patel

Jayneel Patel

I am storyteller, marketer, developer, designer, thinker, enabler, rescuer, founder, CEO, whatever you call at OpenXcell and Orderhive. I do whatever best suits to my company. I love facing challenges, driving cars on muddy roads and giving surprises.