10/30/90 seconds – and you app is gone

I try out quite a lot of apps on my mobile devices. Most of them get deinstalled again immediately. Some rules of thumb have emerged for my personal expectations when I first start up an app. So here’s for all the mobile developers out there:

Your app has 10 seconds to start up and get to where it’s working, then 30 seconds to give me a feel for how to handle it, and finally another 90 seconds to give me a first feeling of achievement.

Failure at any one of these stages means I’ll just close and uninstall it. No second chances given.

The stages in more detail:

10 seconds

The app has to keep me informed what it is doing. Static loading screens are unacceptable. I might just assume it’s crashed, and uninstall it right then. Animated loading bars are better, but best to just get to where I can do something as quickly as possible and then load more stuff in the background. I’m on a mobile device, so there’s a good chance I’ll want the app for a 30s – 3 min usage window. Every second of loading time counts.

There shouldn’t be any initial steps when I first start up before I get to the main interface. So don’t ask me to register an account. I may not ever use this again, so why should I wast time and give you information about myself. Asking me for a password or having to click on a link in a confirmation mail? Instant uninstall. And there’s no reason to ask me for any initial folders or other settings. I don’t know the app at this point, so how do you expect me to know better than you what works OK?

Just start the thing, with standard settings, save anything worth saving to temporary folders and accounts, and then allow me to convert this to more permanent choices later on once I’ve decided that I am a user.

30 seconds

I want to orient myself as quickly as possible to see what I can do. 30 seconds of poking around in your interface should give me an idea of the general layout, and a couple of things I might do to start using the functionality. From subtle highlighting of features to animated pointers – there are lots of acceptable ways to give me pointers here on a first run of the app, as long as you don’t go into Clippy territory. If you think a tutorial is necessary, then it shouldn’t last more than 30 seconds.

If after 30 seconds I still haven’t figured out the basic elements of your interface, I am not sure where exactly I am at the moment, and how to get back to the start screen, or I have had any WTF moment that wasn’t immediately followed by a revelation of how to do correctly what I just failed at, then I will end the app and uninstall it. Life’s to short for horrendous interfaces.

90 seconds

This is the time for a first feeling of achievement. This does not need to be an end result, depending on the type of application. I just have to feel I’ve started on the path of doing what I want to do with the app. This means being past any initial setup for the task, and into the actual entering of data, manipulation of data, or whatever else I’ll be doing productively with the application. If I’m still struggling to understand the basic workflow, or fighting with your interface, then I will just quit and uninstall the application.

Will the 10/30/90 rule lead to me ignoring apps that have an interface that is efficient but different, or apps that take a bit more initial investment in understanding the workflow, but save time later? Most certainly. But with these apps, the burden is on you to convince me that your app is such an exception that is worth the effort – within the total of 10/30/90 second

With studies showing that 30% of apps are only started once, I suspect that the general public is not that much less critical than I am. You can’t change the customers, so it’s up to you, the developers, to adjust to a reality where you have only 10/30/90 seconds to make the right impression.
PS: The caveat is that I haven’t actually timed the stages. 10/30/90 is only a guess so far. If anybody has some solid data on there, I’d appreciate a pointer.

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Filed under interfaces, mobile, tech usage

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