Mobile App Onboarding

Mobile onboarding is the process of introducing and describing a product to a user, with the goal of getting of getting the user to register to your service. Onboarding should teach people how to use the product's key functionalities and should say why the product will solve some of the users problems. If you do not leave a good impression during your onboarding, then it is likely that you will lose users. I think most people would agree that first impressions are important. If someone leaves a bad impression the first time you meet them, then it will probably take some time before they will earn your regard back. This concept works for apps too.

There are three commonly described onboarding processes:

  • Value onboarding,
  • Functional onboarding,
  • Progressive onboarding.

Value Onboarding

Value onboarding aims to teach users about what an app does and why people should use it. It will propose the value of the app; what it does, and how the user can take advantage of it.

For example, the value of using a to-do list app is that it will help people to organise their lives.

During onboarding you can tell the user about the value of your app. You can tell them about what it can do and why it is good for them. However, you should prioritise what you include. Apps can contain lots of funtionality and features; you can’t describe all of them. Talk about what makes your app unique and about the features that people love to use.

Functional Onboarding

Functional onboarding aims to teach people about how to use an app. Continuing on from our example, many to-do list apps have been released on the app store. The value of these apps are inherent; they help to organise your life. However, maybe you have designed a highly efficient to-do list whose key functions are driven by gestures. It may not be obvious how to use these gestures, and may be a good idea to teach people about your gestures during the onboarding process. However, dont describe obvious interactions; everyone already knows that a cross icon will close your screen. You don’t need to describe it.

Progressive Onboarding

A final, popular way to introduce people to you app is to do so progressively. This approach works well because most people learn by doing. You can teach people about how to use your functions when they are first encounter them. I believe that this is a fantastic way to teach functionality, but if your app is highly conceptual, then I think you should also consider a value-based onboarding approach too.

Onboarding notes

What are some things that you can do to more effectively on-board a user? Onboarding through a walkthrough is a common approach. It allows you to teach your users what your app is all about, and how it can improve their lives. Below are a set of activities that are often included in onboarding implementations.

Request Permissions

Does your app require a certain permission to operate? Then this is probably a good time ask. A camera app without access to the camera isn't very useful.

I see a lot of apps requesting push permission the first time that I open them. I am not going to grant push permission if I am not familiar with this app. What if you are going to flood me with notifications? You want to optimise the time when you ask for push permission. Push notifications are very important for actively engaging users later on. Try to provide context on why you want to enable this feature. TechCrunch has a great article on the right way to request permissions. See:

The best way is to request permission is at the time when the user signals their intent to use a particular feature requiring permission. Do they want to import a photo from their gallery? Request permission then.


Try to reduce the amount of friction in the registration process. If your registration process is too complicated or long, then you are going to lose users. This site states that you will lose 56% of new users if they can't use your app without registering. If your app supports the ability for users to try the app without registering, then you should experiment with asking them to register later on, when they are more engaged. Quotation needed.


Keep it simple: don't overwhelm the user with too much information. Your users aren’t going to read through reams and reams of information, let alone remember it all. Keep your content bite-sized. Think about trying to keep you walkthrough to a maximum of three cards. Any more than that, and your users may start to lose interest. When you are writing each card, you should try and make the copy as concise as possible. Try to provide the maximum amount of information using a minimum number of words. You should also try use verbs and adjectives.You want to quickly grab attention and communicate meaning.

Try and keep the time to complete the onboarding process to a minimum. Gone are the days when people spend hours setting up apps. Time how long it takes someone to complete the onboarding process. Does it take upwards of 5 minutes? That's probably too long. If the onboarding is taking a long time to complete and your users are starting to get bored, then you don't want them to look for an early exit point by closing the app. If possible, track when the user becomes disengaged by listening to relevant operating system notifications. For example, in iOS you can be alerted when the app moves out of the foreground.

Show rather than tell. If you can offer a subset of your functionality to show off the power of your app, then you should try that. Active learning is much more effective than passive.



Slack is one of my favourite apps right now. It has a beautiful and thoughtful interface. Their walkthrough has a very friendly ui, with large fonts, clean transitions, and a skip button so that users don't get trapped. Their walkthrough contains value and functional static information. Furthermore, they have one of the most thoughtout login / registration walk flows that I have experienced.

Slack Onboarding


Soundcloud is a good example of a value and functional based walkthrough. It is a minimalist walkthrough that uses subtle animation and colour to draw attention. They don't force users to complete the walkthrough by having an ever present "start listening" call to action.

Soundcloud Onboarding


UX Archive

UX archive provides lots of screenshots for how other apps have implemented their version of onboarding. Lots of inspiration here.


Same as above, examples of app onboarding. Though, I find this web app to be a little harder to navigate.

User onboard teardowns

Detailed and interactive walkthrough teardowns. Points out some flaws in app walkthroughs. Though, I found that some of the comments were a bit picky.

Other Onboarding explanations

Here is a list of other sites that I researched when writing this article:

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