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Mobile App Onboarding, Done Right

Mobile App Onboarding, Done Right

Amritsawan Bhanja
 min read
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Growing users and their retention are vital for your app’s growth. What’s more important is constantly competing with your rivals in the market where the majority of the apps peter out due to bad user experience. An app user experience also includes onboarding, and if you master the art of onboarding, you can have a better retention. Some studies estimate it to be as high as 50% increase in the user retention rate. Therefore, to make your journey smooth, we will look into how you can build a perfect onboarding for your mobile apps. Let’s start with the basics:

What is app onboarding?

In simple words, onboarding makes users familiar with your app’s interface using dedicated flows and UI elements that differ from the regular app interface. Onboarding may include how users can interact with the interface and help complete any necessary steps. Moreover, it is not only for the first-time users but also for previous users, who can be made familiar with the new features or redesigns with the help of onboarding. This is critical because new users must be looking for value on your app, so the onboarding  journey must not have any friction. 

Does app onboarding have any critical need?

A new user is like a toddler on their first day at school, unfamiliar with most of its features. So, to make it easier and less complicated, we use onboarding. 86% of customers believe they take a company more seriously when it invests in onboarding content that welcomes and educates them after they've purchased something. Moreover, it is important that you explain the value and usefulness of your app in solving users’ problems. Your first-time user experience should achieve three major objectives:

  • Set up: Onboarding helps new users register and log in to the app.  A complicated app like a CRM system app has quite a few features in its dashboard. They need information from other applications and thus the login of the users.
  • Educate: Onboarding educates users about the app’s benefits, navigation, and other tips and tricks. Most applications involve a feature and symbol introduction in their onboarding processes.
  • Collect data: Onboarding can tremendously help you collect data as the user creates their profile. This data can help you personalize the user experience, such as notifications and recommendations. For example, a few applications like government applications, need KYC verification.

As it is said, the first impression is the last. Onboarding UX is significant for customer acquisition and retention. Often, first impressions are not too good, and on average, one in four users abandons a mobile app after using it just once and usually never come back. The best experience would help you gauge more users with a great retention rate.

Types of onboarding

There are several approaches to app onboarding. However, to make this easier, we will explore the four most important types of app onboarding to decide which is the most suitable for your app.

Feature Promotion

As the name suggests, it shows the best features and the benefits of your app and how it can solve your users’ problems. The primary aim of the benefits method is to grow your conversion rate by inspiring people to use your app. Moreover, this allows you to highlight what the app does rather than the mechanics of how to use it. For example, apps like Duolingo teaches different languages to people. It talks about the features, navigation path, course set-up, and benefits of the app in the onboarding journey. 

As shown in the above example of a money-saving app. The app first talks about saving starting from 1 dollar to welcome and comfort the users. Then it promotes its features like speed and security of the app.


The progressive onboarding process allows users to explore the app and access new information while navigating the app. The goal is to familiarize them with the app, allowing users to learn by doing. This method is especially helpful for apps with a difficult workflow, hidden or unique functionalities, gesture-driven interactions, or many sections. For example, this application has made the feature ‘push notification’ evident in their onboarding processes. They have also written fun phrases like instead of ‘Next’ they used ‘got it’. 


If you want to show the common functions of your app, you can use the function method. This approach allows you to dive deeper into how these functions accomplish the goals of your app. You can do so by adding a demo video so that first-time users can see how the app’s UI functions. This image shows app onboarding that explains what each function means in detail.

App activation

App onboarding is a very crucial step for a few apps that need app activation. App activation is required in the kind of apps that function only after they have been set up. Such apps need a simple onboarding process to incorporate a diverse user base.

For example, this Pinterest onboarding asks for your interest before entering the app. It is necessary to suggest to you the pins according to your likes and hobbies.

Elements of a great app onboarding experience

Now let’s dive into how this onboarding process looks. So it is the sequence of steps that your user will take while opening the app.

Sign-up Screen

Onboarding starts way before a product tour. It begins with the Sign-up screen, where the user has to fill in the details to move ahead with the app.

Product tours

Product tours help users find vital information to understand your app better. This gives you the chance to provide a better user experience and increase product adoption.


Users can use checklists to figure out where they are on their app journey. Users' time is the most important resource you can receive, and checklists can assist your users in better organizing their time.


Hotspots are essential for onboarding. So, if a user wants to know what’s important, they can simply move to the hotspot. Using hotspots allows you not to interrupt users with constant pop-ups and highlights the crucial information that people often may need.

Common mistakes

There is a fine line between creative freedom and going overboard. Here are some common mistakes to avoid when designing the onboarding funnel.

Not regularly updating the onboarding process

As the demand for your app increases, you will need to find new trends in user behavior. You will have to find patterns in your users’ behavior since the launch of the app. Otherwise, you might miss out on an opportunity to convert new users to long-term users. Find out the answers to the following questions:

●   Why do first-time users become long-term users of your app? Can you put that thing while interacting during onboarding?

●   Does your message resonate with the users?

Too short/too long onboarding length

Some applications might have a short onboarding journey that confuses the users, as they have still not understood your offering and you risk not setting up the user successfully. If it is too long, your users will lose interest, and they can end up deleting your app.

To choose the right length, you can consider the following questions:

●   Do these slides want to benefit the user?

●   How can I personalize the experience of the users?

●   Can I ask some questions later? For example, do you need the location immediately or can the users give location information during check-out?

Forcing users to create an account

We know it’s common practice to ask people to make an account on the app for signing in. But when not needed, allow the users to experience your app before signing up. If you want to communicate with your user regularly, you can surely use push notifications rather than emails. It is much more convenient for the user to permit sending notifications. Asking to create an account may cause users not to use your app even if it genuinely solves their problem.

Focus on features of the app over benefits 

If you only focus on your app features and do not include the benefits new users can derive from your app, you will lose a significant amount of traction. To build long-term users, you will have to make them understand the benefits they will receive from your app.


Best practices

What are the few standard practices that will land you long-term users? While onboarding is just the start of it, it is very effective. It is the first impression that will stay with the app downloaders. Follow the below-given tips for a smooth app onboarding process.

Plan your onboarding

Planning out the onboarding experience is crucial in your user experience strategy. Just like you do research on knowing your users and create designs based on their personalities, you must also create an onboarding experience that reflects who the user is. Consider the following factors before planning:

  • Who are your users?
  • Are they young and tech-savvy?
  • Are they familiar with the app’s main function?
  • What to include in the onboarding to make your users familiar with the app?
  • What are their expectations?

 Allow users to SKIP

Yes! Everyone wants to skip. Many users don’t want to check out the entire process, especially if they’re tech-savvy or your app is fairly self-explanatory. So, you can allow users to explore the app, which is a great way to get them excited.

Simplicity is the Key

72% of users have said that app onboarding in less than one minute is crucial in their decision to keep using an app. Therefore, have a perfect first impression and boost user retention by making the onboarding flow quick and simple.

Moreover, use fewer words and stick to the point to keep the user engaged, and don’t ask for more than you need.

Create an “Ah-ha” movement

By attaching the onboarding process to your value proposition, you can directly hit your user's heart. By making a unique onboarding user experience, you can create that ah-ha moment of satisfaction. To make this seamless, showcase the benefits in the introduction of your app to prove to users why your app is perfect for fulfilling their needs. And if you want to personalize the onboarding process, explain to the users why you’re asking questions about their personal preferences and how it will boost their experience with the app.

Highlight your core values

Highlighting your app’s core functionalities would surely help grab your user’s attention as soon as they launch it. However, avoid showing every single feature at them all at once. Rather focus on those features that directly solve your user’s problem.

Sample apps


Slack has a very simple onboarding process with four screens that help users set up or connect to their workplace and coworkers, making the process effortless.


eBay is the perfect example of how simplicity works. They instantly highlight their core features and support users to self-navigate without creating an account. Users are given an easy-to-understand dashboard that helps them quickly search for items they are looking for.


It is a popular online payment platform and the best example of an onboarding process that showcases the app's unique selling point.

When users open the app for the first time, they see a list of all the latest transactions carried out on the app. By this, you can show how useful and practical the app is, along with showing its popularity all over the globe.


Calm is a meditation app whose UI design is all about clean lines and a minimalist style that allows them to transmit the tranquility that the app wants users to achieve.


You must have understood how the app onboarding process can make a vast difference in your app’s success. Therefore, start designing your onboarding process by outlining the intrinsic value and benefits your users will get from the app and how that makes you different from other apps.

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