I architected my first app in 2008 with pre-release tools from Apple. Although the App Store, the phones, and the software tools have improved year over year, there are key principles that can continually guide our interactions with users. The following guidance takes a user-first approach that results in better ROI for the brand.
It takes work to have users download an app and first impressions mean a lot. That first impression should be owned by the app creator, not Apple. But all too often apps give their users a smack in the face upon launch with a permission dialog from Apple. Apps definitely need access to location and the ability to send pushes for engagement, but those prompts don’t need to be immediate.
Instead, developers can choose when these prompts appear. A large part of user experience testing and refinement should be dedicated to nailing this interaction. The deployment of analytics helps to fine tune the process over time. A good strategy for product owners is to delete their app on their phone regularly, say once a week, and re-install it to go through the onboarding process again. All too often product owners become blind to the new users of an app. Don’t let this be you!
Stop Logging Me Out
If your app requires an account to use, don’t log your user out. Ever. There is nothing that can tarnish a user’s impression of your product more than logging them out after they’ve gone through the trouble of creating an account and logging in. When is the last time that Uber logged you out? Facebook? Twitter? Your email? They don’t.
App upgrades, don’t log the user out. App restart, don’t log your user out. Just don’t do it.
My favorite example of this is the WebEx app. I depend on this app for a majority of my meetings. I often travel for work and the other day as I went to join my first meeting on the way to the airport, I was logged out. The app had recently updated. I have what feels like a million usernames and passwords, so I used a password manager to pull up the login info. Logged in, took call. Ate some breakfast. Went for call two and hot damn, it logged me out again. Unacceptable. Frustrating, time wasting, and this reinforces a negative feeling about the brand.
Learn from User Behavior for Personalization
Personalization is easier than most companies think, as long as you have a couple of building blocks. The first one is a push solution that allows for users to be placed in certain categories or tags depending on the push provider term. As the user uses the app, certain behaviors can start to tag the user. User creates an account, tag them as logged in. User engages with content under a specific topic, say art, tag them with art. User favorites some content, tag it. Over time, these tags create very targetable audiences. Modern push solutions allow for the combination of the tags to send targeted pushes for specific content. That is powerful in creating personalization with a relatively low lift. Proving personalization with these basic tactics can allow business justification for future investment.
Experiences scale. On mobile, the most basic experience scale is mobile web to native apps. Having proper deep links ensures that users visiting mobile web, tapping on a call to action in email, or potentially tapping a message delivered via SMS will drop the user to the best experience on their device. This is an effort that you must get right and requires coordination between websites, apps, and third parties. It is also important to keep up to date as Google and Apple change these behaviors between releases.
You Will Need to Start Over
Over the 10 years of iOS in particular, a lot has changed. The very language you write apps with went from Objective-C to Swift. Best practices evolved, go-to libraries for things like networking matured—then faded, and frankly, technical debt grew. If you’re doing mobile at scale there comes a time when the entire solution needs to be rethought.
If you’re reading this and it makes the hair on the back of your neck stand up, you have probably been putting this off. Long term, refactoring is worth it. The process invigorates a team, causes problems to be re-thought, and assumptions to be challenged.
The bad news? Users will hate it no matter how much better it is. That will fade over time. Don’t get too caught up daily reading reviews and observing star rating.
Ratings Do Matter
The basic strategy to great ratings is directing people who are happy to rate your app in the App Stores and direct people who are unhappy to your product support teams. Unhappy users can give great insights into things that might actually be bugs or use cases that have not been considered. There are tools such as Apptentive for helping with this and iOS 10.3 includes new workflows to prompt users to leave app reviews. Take time to have a strategy here.
In conclusion, the most pronounced change in consumers in the mobile era is a significant increase in expectations. Delight them and they will come back for more. Disappoint them and they may never come back. What’s the insurance against disappointment? Put the user first.
 Security related needs aside. REASONABLE security needs.