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I am working on an iPad app. It's in the medical field and the app will be sold for $99, which is kind of expensive!

The client and the developer want to force the user to give his/her email address to build up a data base and also provide services in the future. The main reason why a doctor would give the address would be because he/she wants to export a PDF. They want to make it compulsory. If you don't give your email, you can't use the App.

As the UI and UX designer, I tell the client and the developer that it's a very bad practice to ask for the email in a paid app before the user can use the app. I keep telling them that they will have a far better opt-in conversion rate if they let users use the app before asking for this.

I think it's a very bad practice, what do you think?
How would you explain to them that it's not good (if it's not good)?

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if you want emails like example@example.com, president@whitehouse.gov, sadfsda@sdafasdf.com, and expletive laden email addresses, then by all means, force me to enter one. –  Sean Cheshire Nov 6 '13 at 15:17
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Selling an app which cannot be used without the user being bombarded with a newsletter is probably illegal in the EU, you must look into the european laws for opt-in and opt-out. If it works as I think it works, then the only way to keep a "usage is only possible if we may send you a newsletter application" legal might be to get an opt-in before he buys the app, and refuse to sell it if he doesn't want the opt-in. But IANAL, only basing this on some c't articles by lawyers, so you really need a professional opinion on this. –  Rumi P. Nov 6 '13 at 15:54
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Will this requirement of providing an email-address be revealed before purchase? Otherwise you risk having to issue a lot of refunds - at least that's what I'd consider if a 99$ app forced me to provide my email-address with no sensible reason. Or actually, even with a sensible reason I'd think twice before supporting a developer with such practices... –  Tobias Kienzler Nov 6 '13 at 16:15
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@TobiasKienzler +1. Normally these type of annoyances are the things that would nudge me to trade up my 'fremium' version to the fully-paid app. If you're doing this after already taking $100 from me, forget it — massive negative ratings & refund requested. –  anotherdave Nov 6 '13 at 19:57
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@SeanCheshire I'm partial to the address that FTC requests people send spam complaints to: spam@uce.gov –  Dan Neely Nov 6 '13 at 20:24
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14 Answers

Generally speaking you should always try to avoid forcing users into doing things, and avoid putting in place barriers that slow down or inhibit access to them to actually use your software to achieve things.

On top of that from the user perspective its a bit harsh to require that they have to provide personal information just to be able to export to PDF. Even if there is no other way to provide PDF export, you should let users make use of the app as much as possible and only require an email address at the point of trying to export to PDF.

Something to consider: provide an incentive to the user. Make it obvious, worthwhile, and a no-brainer for them to supply their email address. Supporting a company in building up a database about them and other users isn't a compelling reason!

Having said all that you're selling a $99 app. This doesn't seem like a scenario whereby users are trying out your app or service and an irritating requirement to enter their email address will drive them away. Your users are likely to already be committed to using your product, following some consideration on whether to purchase it or not in the first place. Forcing them to provide their email address will still be an annoyance, but is less likely to deter them from using your app compared to if it were free or 99 cents.

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Thank you so much for your insights on this problem. I am blown away by all the response. Awesome community support! –  XVRT Nov 12 '13 at 8:26
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If your have to ask for an e-mail address due to business reasons, then I would recommend doing these things to make the experience better:

  1. Make an opt out button. If you don't add this, then people who want to opt out will just enter a fake e-mail address and you won't know how many sign-ups are real. Adding it makes the user experience more friendly. This is a win/win. If you really want the e-mail later you can prompt users before allowing access certain features.
  2. Offer the user something in return (even if it is intangible). Something like "enter e-mail for password recovery" or "enter e-mail to link accounts" indicates that there is beneficial functionality that requires an e-mail address, and you are not just going to spam the user (even if you also send marketing e-mails).
  3. Include a link to your privacy policy. It shows good faith, even if 99% of people don't read it.
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The reasons why it's horrid in terms of UX are obvious, but there's actually a very easy way to tell your client why you can't do it: Apple will reject it.

I once developed an iPad app where the client forced me to include a prompt for an email address at application boot that couldn't be cancelled. Apple promptly rejected the application due to that and made it so I had to provide a way to opt-out from the email collection screen (just a close button on the popup that remembered the user closed the popup and didn't show it again sufficed).

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Good point. I've just had a scan over the Apple Human Interface Guidelines PDF (Pg 26) where they say "Start Instantly - Avoid asking people to supply setup information" which seems to support the suggestion that Apple may reject apps if they don't follow their advice. –  JonW Nov 7 '13 at 11:55
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The App Store review guidelines specifically prohibit requiring an email address in order to function:

17.2 Apps that require users to share personal information, such as email address and date of birth, in order to function will be rejected

In saying that, I have an app in the store that requires a user to create an account in order to use additional features of the app that aren't available to those who haven't created an account, but the account enables use of an associated website as well, so goes beyond simply harvesting email addresses.

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As a general rule I strongly believe that you shouldn't force the user to enter anything before the user will actually need to use the entered information. So instead I would use a form, where you export the pdf, where you can enter your email-adress (and possibly choose to save it).

But then again, that's from a UI perspective only. If we're talking usability, I think the business goals should matter as well, and if it's a clear business goal that can be fulfilled by having the users email-address then by all means save the address. Having a registration form when starting the app the first time is not a strange thing, and should not matter if you keep the registration smooth and simple (eg email adress and password only).

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Given the price-point of the app, it seems more likely that a business would be purchasing the app for the office, not an individual. This makes it much less likely to get a good email address from the user (since the product probably belongs to "Dr. Smith's Medical Services" and not the specific user "Nurse Kathy"). Getting an email address from the user in this situation may be harder...if I'm Nurse Kathy, who's email address should I use? My own? My boss's? Is there a catch-all company address that would be better suited to use? This can be problematic if you need to use the app right away, and doesn't allow people to give you their information at their leisure, and is somewhat demanding.

Best to make getting the email address optional, but make it sound like they're gaining something by registering the product to their business. Let them opt-in for product updates, promotions, or news in the future. You could remind them after a few uses: "You have yet to register your product!" and march them directly to the page where they can put in their email (or allow them to continue using the product without registration), just to ensure that they are aware the option to register exists.

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Follow the path of least resistance.

When users begin using the app, ask for as little as humanly possible.

When they want to export a PDF, then ask them for their email (the first time only). If they want that PDF, then they need to give you the email.

If their email serves no purpose except for receiving exported PDFs, good UX would say that you shouldn't need to get that email from them until they want the feature that needs it.

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I agree with you, if I buy an application I dont like given away more info, if they want to have that information to export a pdf it should be in settings part of the the application, or when a document is about to be exported, if there is not email saved ask for it and them saved in the settings.

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I totally agree with you, as believe you shouldn't present the user with any challenges, before start using the app, as the fluency harmed this way, and user curiosity and expectation of "first time usage" are interrupted. If this is a compulsory requirement for this specific feature, it can be presented as a feature during the export to PDF directly (as "send the PDF to email address"). Hope it helps :)

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Quite opposite: I think what you should realize in this particular case is that the user has already put up-front a $100 bill out of his pocket. Asking for an email address and sending a confirmation right away with some "Thank-you-for-your-buissness-with-us" and even a "Welcome!" message, I believe in your case, is actually required as an act of courtesy and professionalism.

If I pay a $100 for an app, that would be a once in ten-year-buy and you bet I want a good thank you email from you, your company and Mr. President to cherish the moment.

However make it easy in the UI:

  • Use a pre-filled box (example@gmail.com) you save yourself a curse rate of 30%,
  • put a big box- from your App description probably you are dealing with elder users (their eyesight is not as good and no one "ages" being-dexterous as a virtue)
  • Be smart, put everything else, privacy policy, etc. in the email instead for confirmation.
  • Be subtle, but imply this (confirmations, etc.) is why email log-in is mandatory.
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I would allow as much as possible without the email and have a prompt/banner telling the user:

mockup

download bmml source – Wireframes created with Balsamiq Mockups

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The short answer is no, don't force them to give you an address.

The long answer is you could try to entice them to give you an email address. For example "What to see an example of the PDF that will be sent? Enter your email here __"

In one of my apps, I ask users if they want a free trial and still get asdf@asdf.com type emails. Forcing them will greatly diminish the value of any list you would create.

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Yes - require it. (Maybe)...

In one of our projects with a paid service, we found that there was a higher conversion to sales when the user was required to enter their email address at the beginning vs. no friction at all. All other things were equal in this split test.

My hunch is that these results will vary depending on the type of service you're dealing with, so I highly recommend split testing for this kind of decision. You'll get a slow start at first, but it will ramp up to something much more effective.

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To expand on my comment: I looked at a source which claims to contain information on EU law in concise way (explanation of EU law for newsletters). Here is what you must do if you want to send a newsletter to EU citizens:

  • You have to get them to agree to getting the newsletter. If they gave you their e-mail for another purpose, e.g. password recovery, it is illegal to send a newsletter to this address. You need their explicit consent.
  • To get their explicit consent, you have to offer them an opt-in. Opt-out is not sufficient to comply with the law. So, if you have a "send me a newsletter" option on the registration screen, it has to be unchecked by default.
  • The user has to be able to opt out anytime. Each newsletter issue must point that out anew.

These laws arise from EU Directive 2002/58/EC Directive 2002/58/EC, Directive 2003/58/EC and Amending Council Directive 68/151/EEC. These being EU directives, it means that in each individual EU country, there should be a country specific law implementing each the directive. The country specific laws can be just as the directive, or more strict, but not more permissive.

The law as stated above does not say explicitely that you cannot refuse your services to somebody who refuses to sign up for your newsletter. I strongly suspect that, if you choose to do so, the customer has to be informed about the restriction before he pays for using your app, and you probably have to return his money if he cannot use the application because he exercises his right to refuse the newsletter bundled with the app.

I may have gotten some of the details wrong, and even if they are right, maybe there is some legal loophole which will allow you to implement the compulsory newsletter application. But I think you can see that the law is written with strong customer protection in mind, so if you get sued, the spirit of the law will be against you. And the sentiment of your own customers as well. My advice is to refuse to implement this before your employer has had a consultation with a lawyer aware of EU laws.

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