I'm looking to send an email to our users that directs them to our app. This uses a mobile deep link (custom URI scheme) that we have been successfully using for a while now. If the user presses the link from a desktop computer, they are shown a website explaining that they should scan a QR code or open the link via mobile.

My issue lies with users opening the email on their desktop computer, where the deep link will not work.

What we are doing today is having multiple targets:

either scan the QR code or click the link

(sorry these are blurred, I can't share the links themselves)

The QR code goes to the same link as the link to the left. Unfortunately, this is confusing and has not been accepted well, both because there are two click targets and because the design is overstating one over the other.

I came up with two mockups that might solve my original issue, but I'd like to hear if you have a better idea (and thoughts about my ideas):

The first:

one target

Pro: One target area.

Con: Confusing (who clicks a QR?)

The second:

read text, click link

Pro: Pretty straightforward.

Con: People don't read.

I would love to hear your thoughts and ideas.

Some clarifications from comments to others' answers:

  1. If the user clicks the link from a desktop computer, they are shown a web page that explains how to scan the QR code from a mobile device.
  2. We can not offer the same functionality on a desktop computer since the app is meant to be used on-the-go and mostly outdoors, where you don't have access to a desktop.
  3. If the user clicks the link from the mobile device and the app is not installed, they will be redirected to the App/Play Store to download, so this is not the issue here.

4 Answers 4


I don't think you should force users to switch devices. Instead, you should focus on providing additional ways to access content. This may be quite similar, but in fact it's different regarding perception and construction of the email.

Thus, I would construct this email like this:

[Go there now (button/link)]

or scan QR code:

[(QR code goes here)]

Regarding the link: users should go to a place where server-side based OS detection should take place and depending on its result they should then be redirected:

  • to the application (if they access it from a mobile device),
  • to a landing page explaning the idea and containing the QR code (if they access it from a desktop device).

Regarding QR code - it can be only used when user has two devices, meaning that they can only scan a code using a phone while it is displayed on e.g. desktop computer. Users will understand it. Basically, the target address may be the same as in case of the link.

I think this way the communication will be very straightforward and the results - optimal.

  • Regarding additional ways to access the content: Yes, this might happen some day in the future, but for at least a while this won't be possible. Regarding the link: This is what currently happens. Regarding the QR code: We've tried this (as you can see from the current state) and users have failed to understand this over and over again. Commented Mar 10, 2014 at 10:29
  • I get it, but at the moment you ask user to decide if s/he is on mobile device or not - while this should not matter. You provide alternative, not a condition. And on a landing page, while accessing it from desktop, user would see the same QR code, so s/he could eventually scan it. Commented Mar 10, 2014 at 10:36
  • Yes, this is what the landing page looks like :) Commented Mar 10, 2014 at 10:37

There is a way for desktop users to download content for their mobile devices.

Google Play let's you add your devices to your account, enabling you to download and install apps directly on your Android phone.

iTunes let's you download apps for your iPhone too. The user then opens the app store on their mobile device, goes to updates > purchased which gives a list of downloaded content. The new app they downloaded on their desktop should be at the top and stored in the cloud (a cloud icon is shown).

I've used these methods before to download stuff for my phone, but I've never been on the other end (the sellers point of view) so I'm not sure if you can link users to your app in the appstore from an email. Linking to the Google Play store should be easy since it's an web app.

If you could make it work, I think this could be a perfect solution.

  • Mobile deep links are not there for users to download the app, but instead for the app to be initialized on the device with a set of parameters (so that you can navigate to a specific part of it when it starts). Commented Mar 10, 2014 at 10:38
  • 1
    @OmervanKloeten ah! Misunderstood that part, sorry. Commented Mar 10, 2014 at 10:39

Take a look at what "chrome-to-phone" can achieve (a 1m43 video explains this). With mobile push data from your server you can launch application into a context. This does not use the deeplink URI as primary channel.

So UX for desktop email - get email with link - link bounces off server - server activates the app on phone

  • I appreciate that, but this is not the issue (we already have that part covered ;)). Commented Mar 10, 2014 at 12:36
  • Ok, sorry then I definitely did misunderstand the question. What is it that approach won't this let you achieve? I think it will provide a "one click through into the app" (i.e. the server bounce will not be in the UI flow)
    – Jason A.
    Commented Mar 10, 2014 at 20:33
  • My question assumes, to make things easier, that the device already has the app installed. The crux of the question is how to get the user to open the email on their mobile device to click the link (or to get them to get to the link on the mobile device if they opened it on a desktop computer). Commented Mar 11, 2014 at 8:19
  • Ok - I think what you have is a non-user-goal. In this case Jeff Atwood explains the "App-pocalypse Now" syndrome blog.codinghorror.com/app-pocalypse-now The requirement is to force the user from reading eMail their nice comfy desktop into finding same email in a little mobile device, to follow a link. Because you don't have a web version of your application? I hope you'll appreciate the straight answer but that is a fundamental UX issue (I realise you probably now have to do the best of a bad situation, so I'll change my answer to something more useful)
    – Jason A.
    Commented Mar 11, 2014 at 11:12
  • I appreciate what you're saying here and I have read Atwood's article and agree with it. Unfortunately, there is no way to create the same experience on a desktop device, since the app is meant to be used outdoors. This email simply arrives before the outdoors experience and we want to prepare the user to start using their mobile device. As you can see from the first two images, we have planned for people to be able to use the email from their desktop computer, but this is just too confusing for most. Commented Mar 11, 2014 at 12:13

I know this is kind of an old question, but we were researching optimal solutions. The best solution would be in my opinion, to have a single link that would act differently depending if:

  • on mobile and the app is installed
  • on mobile and the app is not installed
  • on desktop

The technique to do this today is simple:

  • use a url in the email
  • the webpage (accessed through the url) will asses the environment (iOS, android, windows phone, desktop):
    • when on mobile: test deep link (specific to platform)
      • app opens (do nothing on page)
      • no app opens: redirect to app-store page or show web page with information
  • when on desktop: redirect to (web) app-store page or show web page with information

There are some tricky parts in this and I found (after a very shallow search) the following interesting resources (both open source and commercial solutions):

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