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User Onboarding Best Practices From 3 Popular Mobile Apps

Matt Anderson
By Matt Anderson on 9th March, 2016 Updated on 1st February, 2017

Mobile app onboarding is changing for the better.

App developers pave the way for higher rates of user opt-ins – and more effective communication with users later on – by focusing on building user trust. Over the last few years, the norm has been to ask users to create an account, sign in, opt in, and then use the app.

I’ve chosen three examples of the trend for not asking users to sign up for an account immediately, or without justification. Instead, users are eased into trusting the app.

invoice2go, Two Dots, and Hotel Tonight are three apps that exemplify the following mobile app onboarding best practices:

  • Point out the app’s benefits before requiring user information
  • Quickly get the user immersed and enjoying the app
  • Create a successful experience the very first time
  • Pick the right moment to request opt-in to notifications
  • Give the user as much time as possible before asking her to create an account

1. invoice2go

What they do right: They let users create something right away (users don’t want to just fill out forms).

invoice2go is a tool for making professional invoices. The compelling thing about the app is how the user creates the thing that justifies the use of the app within a few minutes. Whether a technology expert or novice, the user is customizing and prototyping an invoice as part of the onboarding experience.

Step 1: 5 screens on the benefits of the app teach also show users what they will be doing in the app

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Step 2: Set up your company (with many creative options for invoices)

Screen Shot 2016-03-09 at 6.53.05 PM

Step 3: Opt in to notifications

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Step 4: Create your first invoice

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UX Result: You haven’t paid for anything yet, but you’re already emotionally invested in using this app because you put on your creative hat, experimented, and built something. It’s the same reason why you’re attached to that Ikea table. Also, they asked you to opt in to notifications, so they will be able to reach out to you.

How can your app give users a running start like invoice2go? Can you provide simple tools for them to customize and experiment with the basic functionality?

2. Two Dots

What they do right: They make onboarding genuinely fun.

Two Dots is a puzzle game that takes the user through onboarding by making them play the game. They do all the right things in making the user feel comfortable, because the user succeeds and gets congratulated before the first official puzzle. 

Step 1: Do you want notifications? Do you want to create an account? You can decline both and still play.

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Step 2: Your training, which you can’t skip out of and can’t fail

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Step 3: Level 1, after using the app for ~1 minute

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Step 4: Level 2, because you’re already a superstar in less than 5 minutes

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UX Result: The user has a very successful first experience with the app, all because the process of onboarding was made easy and enjoyable.

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3. Hotel Tonight

What they do right: They give you a result fast and streamline the account creation process.

Hotel Tonight is an app that handles when you have a business trip that just got extended another day, or a sudden road trip to Las Vegas. It takes an anxiety-inducing situation and puts the user back in control. But that’s not why I’m showing it here; I’m showing it because you can download the app without even having an account and book a room in two minutes.

Step 1: Where are you?

Screen Shot 2016-03-09 at 7.02.51 PM

Step 2: Showing you the area. 

Screen Shot 2016-03-09 at 7.04.07 PM

Step 3: Looking at the details of the hotel. 

Screen Shot 2016-03-09 at 7.04.29 PM

Step 4: Booking the hotel. 

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UX Result: So did you notice that you created an account in Step 4? That was only required after you’d browsed the list and performed an action. How different would the experience have been if you had to create an account before choosing the hotel, or before downloading the app?


Many mobile app developers are changing their approach to designing their onboarding process, and these three apps show why it works:

  • invoice2go pointed out the app’s benefits before requiring user information
  • Two Dots quickly got the user immersed and enjoying the app
  • Both invoice2go and Two Dots created a user success the very first time they tried something
  • All three apps tried to pick the right moment to request opt-in to notifications, preferably after they’ve established the trust of the user
  • And lastly, best shown by Hotel Tonight, the apps try tried to give the user as much time as possible before asking her to create an account

The next time you’re designing your mobile onboarding, remember that the goal is to get them to the “aha!” moment as quickly as possible.

For more example-driven best practices, check out the free 2016 UX Trends Ebook Bundle. In addition to mobile best practices, the book also explores web design and UX techniques. The single download includes 350+ pages of advice supported by 300 examples.

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