inessential by Brent Simmons

The Ideal iPhone App First-Run Experience Is None At All

Consider the person who finds your app on the iOS App Store. They decide they want your app: they tap the get or purchase button.

The app downloads — hopefully quickly; hopefully you‘ve made it small, because you’ve pictured this moment and you care about even this aspect of the user experience — and then the user taps the Open button.

They’ve already waited to see the app. They’re excited to see what it’s like and get started using it!

And, now that it’s here, you can put a bunch of obstacles in their way — which will cause you to lose some of these people — or you can satisfy their interest and curiosity right away by getting them into the app.

* * *

Here’s me: when I download an app with a first-run tutorial, I try to find a way to short-circuit it and get to the actual app. If I can’t, I just race through it, knowing I wouldn’t have remembered any of it anyway.

Either I can figure out the app later or I can’t.

Similarly, if an app has first-run setup to do, I try to avoid it. If it has first-run setup and a tutorial, I’ll just give up unless I know for absolute sure that I want this app.

* * *

Isn’t there some quote, maybe even from Steve Jobs, about apps early in the day of the App Store, that went something like this? “iPhone apps should be so easy to use that they don’t need Help.”

I’ve always thought to myself, since then, that if I see a first-run tutorial, they blew it. Apps should be designed so that you can figure out the basics quickly, and then find, through progressive disclosure, more advanced features.

It seems to me that the best first-run experience is to get people into the app as quickly as possible, because that’s where they want to be.

They’ve already waited long enough — finding the app, downloading it — and now you want to delay the joy even longer, and thereby tarnish or even risk it? Don’t do it!

Remember that people are busy, often distracted, and there are zillions of other apps. Your app is not the world. The person is the world.

* * *


Remember that every single thing in your app sends a message. A first-run tutorial sends the message that your app has a steep learning curve. Definitely a turn-off.

It provokes anxiety in the user immediately, in two related ways: 1) “Will I ever be able to learn this apparently hard-to-use app?” and 2) “Will I remember any of this tutorial at all? Do I need to get out pen and paper and take notes?”

And that’s the first impression. Your app makes the user anxious.