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I'm an Android user and it seems fairly standard on Android to be able to play around with an app before signing up. This is how I designed my apps. However, I showed it to some iOS users and they expected a more guided onboarding flow. I tried some iOS apps and noticed they usually force you to sign up, enable permissions, and go through the onboarding flow before you get to try the app and see what it does. Apparently this is what iOS users expect and/or want?

Since I'm reusing code across the platforms, I want to have the same design for iOS and Android. Are there studies showing people's preference for discovering apps for themselves vs being forced to go through an onboarding flow? Obviously this varies greatly for the type of app, but assuming this is for a content-oriented app where you wouldn't need to sign up to experience the app, but you'd definitely want to sign up eventually if you'll continue using the app (e.g. like Reddit, eBay, Spotify).

A compromise I could try doing is showing the signup flow by default, with an option to preview the app without signup up. The only app I could find that does this is Meetup, is there any reason not to do this from an UX perspective?

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    To my knowledge, there is nothing about using iOS that makes a user prefer to go through formal onboarding vs. discovering features on their own. The only difference I know of for sure is that the Apple App Store is pretty strict about adhering to things like minimum age, which might force authentication in apps that aren't for general audiences.
    – Izquierdo
    Jun 22, 2023 at 22:24
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    It would be great to know how many people you asked to get to the conclusion that iOS users prefer an onboarding process. Actually, onboarding processes should be in the "you'll loss users here" section of design. Which is why you want users to get a taste of your value proposition before fully committing by signing up. Jun 23, 2023 at 16:49

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There is a 3-way balancing act to be done here between

  • Showing the user what's in store for them,
  • Not annoying the user with too much handholdy onboarding and other obstacles, and
  • Achieving business goals.

The latter aspect is quite easy - if the boss is waving about with OKRs and KPIs which say "we need to increase signups", you can just gate more stuff behind logins. Likewise, if the goal is "we need to appear in Google search", you have to put less stuff behind login-gates.

The other two are much more dependent on what you can expect your users to expect.

For example, when you install and first open Audacity (an audio editor), I, as the designer, can be pretty sure at the moment that you'll either want to record something or open a file next. For this, even the current UI is good enough: It has a red circle button to start a recording, and pretty much the only other thing you can do at this point is find the File menu to open/import something.

Could it have a more straight-forward UX here? Well yes, given these are the only two tasks you can do, I might be able to present you these options a bit more straight-forward, but what I don't really need to tell you is "welcome to audacity, press the record button to record" via a popup. What I also probably don't need is a popup featuring the two options, as this now requires people to learn that there are two entry points into doing the same thing, which change depending on whether it's the first or the second thing you do.

On the other extreme, for a dating app, it'd be pretty pointless to let you do anything without first having you fill out your profile to a minimum degree at least. Here, the users actually would expect us to design a good onboarding flow.

Apparently this is what iOS users expect and/or want?

I've had to set up an android phone again the other day, and all the Google apps have some sort of onboarding as well. Though Google being Google, I of course already was authenticated in the apps by default. I'm not aware of any major differences between OS users in this regard.

Are there studies showing people's preference for discovering apps for themselves vs being forced to go through an onboarding flow?

Even within content-driven apps, this is highly dependent on context. Soundcloud vs Spotify, YouTube vs Netflix vs Vimeo has quite different experiences all things considered. Even Reddit, the website vs Reddit, the mobile web page vs Reddit, the mobile app has drastically different experiences in what you can and cannot do before you have to sign in.

User testing your app is the way here - if people get stuck finding a particular option, maybe that option needs to be made more prominent, maybe the logic needs to be changed, maybe it indeed does need onboarding.

A compromise I could try doing is showing the signup flow by default, with an option to preview the app without signup up. The only app I could find that does this is Meetup, is there any reason not to do this from an UX perspective?

There's very little that speaks against this option from a UX perspective, but you'll likely find quite a strong push from the business people to reduce the visibility of the preview button, until you might as well simplify the app and presume that everyone is logged in all the time. So while in UX terms it kinda is the most flexible option and the best of both worlds, it also tends to die more quickly than the alternatives of "everything accessible from the start" and "everything behind a login".

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I believe the necessity of a forced onboarding arises due to the complexity of the user interface. It's like the design is a mess now and you try being nice to the user say 'hey, but we got you guidelines so you could learn to use the app, but no.. you dead if you try running away from the onboarding tutorials.. hehe". Releasing a product with too ambitious user flows is a debatable topic. However there are platforms that follow the reward strategy as well. Still it's forcing the user to play your game. The irony; UX is about people! well is it??

Solution:

  • You cannot teach too many new flows all at once. Take a step at a time.
  • Test the user flows on the cognitive load it can have on them. User should be happy to move with the flow not forced.
  • It can be hectic to come to conclusion as there are different types of people who will use the app. You cannot go on customizing user flows like themes for all the user. So give the explorative touch to the user flows keeping, remember "Explore" not "Enforce".
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"The onboarding process carries numerous distinct advantages for user experience, with the most prominent advantage being the alignment with the business needs of the product. I'd be delighted to provide some examples from my experience at a large financial organization:

Critical Consents: The onboarding process in the application I worked on required essential consents from the users. According to the Bank of Israel law, we had to secure these consents.

Marketing and Advertising: Beyond obtaining critical consents, we used the process to promote the organization's products, including loans, credit cards, and new features such as push notifications.

Tutorials: When we launched a new, complex operations website, it was crucial for us to ensure the onboarding process highlighted training on the various website contents. This allowed us to demonstrate to our users the information and operations' location on the new website.

Registration and Login: To access the digital assets of the organization where I worked, one must have a credit card from that organization. While this might differ from platforms like Spotify or Reddit, it reinforces the relationship with the organization in question.

Mailing Lists: Some organizations are interested in facilitating pre-registration to include users in their database and subsequently send them targeted mailings to promote products and their business agenda.

In conclusion: Every project must have a business need and objective. Whether you're an employee of a certain organization or a freelancer collaborating with a company, it's crucial to understand what the business aims to promote and align your work accordingly.

*Speaking theoretically, if we could decide whether to implement an onboarding process or not, irrespective of any business goal, I would not hesitate to include a concise and user-friendly onboarding process to welcome users to the application. Concerning registration, I would offer the option to register through digital accounts (Apple, Google, etc.) and add an optional "I'll do it later" button. This would give users the option to register at a later time and allow them to explore the application. (Of course, the 'skip' button would be a tertiary option because, once again, the goal is to encourage users to register for my interface).

I hope this helps, good luck!"

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  • Your contribution is appreciated, but are you able to address some potential concerns about this answer being provided by AI?
    – Michael Lai
    Jul 25, 2023 at 3:27
  • "AI? I was discussing my experience from my most recent job. How could that be related to AI?"
    – Guy Bitan
    Jul 25, 2023 at 13:33
  • The question is focused specifically on app onboarding, whereas your answer covers many different aspects. Apologies for the comment.
    – Michael Lai
    Jul 25, 2023 at 23:24
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Signup walls results in Significant user churn and also majority of these signup would be fake accounts. These vanity metrics doesn't guarantee high retention.

So, I agree to your first approach where you are giving the "AHA moment" aka the value first and then asking people to signup.

Things like KYC, Dating profiles where profile info are necessary requires details. For content driven sites like yours i think you need to first provide value. Get them the value first and then make them invest time and money. For example, If "allowing" location permission is part of content personalization to hook readers than you can add before.

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    "Signup walls results in 30% user churn and also 80% of these signup would be fake accounts" - have you got a citation for this stat?
    – JonW
    Dec 7, 2023 at 14:13

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