Two User Onboarding strategies for mobile apps

Let's keep talking about app activation. After learning how to track your results, it's time to talk about the most effective way of improving your user's first experience, the onboarding.

The goal of onboarding is for the user to go from confused to delighted in the shortest time span possible. Even right after installing a new app, a user is still suspicious if that's application he/she was looking for. The first experience will tell if he/she keeps the app or uninstalls it right away.

Yes, a simple and self-explaining UI/UX improves the first experience, but it doesn't replace a good onboarding process.

There's two strategies (that may be combined):

Specific Onboarding Screens

Those initial screens, just for onboarding, different from the rest of the UI.

Best when you have to explain something complex. Something that can't be understood from a laid-back exploration of the app. Like why you need to ask for a location permission (now with Android M revokable permissions). Or to present a final outcome of using the app, that could take hours or days to be reached.


  • Avoid meaningless splash screens
  • Keep only one action per screen
  • Use images besides text (they explain things faster)
  • Present benefits (outcomes), not features
  • Leave a way for users to come back to these screens later

Interface Tours

Guiding the user through your UI using tooltips.

Best for simple, utility apps that users want to start using immediately. Or complex interfaces only needed later on, like privacy settings. You can use a library like TourGuide to implement them.


  • Have a good blank state, that already compels the user to take initiative
  • Use reassuring microcopy (next to actions)
  • All actions should be reversible (to avoid frustration)
  • Avoid too many tooltips and too many actions per screen (always a good rule to follow)

But more important than implementing a good onboarding experience, is to actually test it. You need to do usability tests with real users, to perfect the process. And then A/B test completely different strategies, while tracking your Activation metrics.

Need inspiration? Look at these onboarding teardowns of popular apps.