While apps certainly do make our lives easier and more convenient in many ways, there are definitely things that apps do that tend to irritate, confuse, or downright enrage users. From breaches of privacy to unnecessary push notifications, the best of apps can start out with good intentions but along the road lose their way. In this article, we’re going to look at eight different common irritants in apps; these tend to make users especially peeved, but on the other hand, all of these can be easily avoided by savvy developers.
Don’t ask me to follow you
Most apps these days offer a social presence of some type, whether that is on Twitter, Facebook, Pinterest, LinkedIn, etc. Many users enjoy connecting with their favorite apps on these services; could be that they want to be first in line for special offers, receive announcements, or maybe there’s a personal connection with the app that they want to pursue. It’s perfectly reasonable to ask users if they are interested in following the app on these services; however, it turns from reasonable to cheeky pretty fast if a request for followers is accompanied by blackmail: “If you want to get up to the next level follow me on Social Network Flavor of the Week”. Most likely, users will want to level up and will follow the request, but it leaves a bad taste in the mouth. If your app is worthy of a follow on these services, don’t worry – it will get followed. That’s how social networking works these days. But smarmy, used car salesman tactics rarely end up being sustainable long-term.
Watch the intrusive ads
Full-screen and video ads on a smartphone or tablet have a special place reserved for them in the seventh circle of Hell. One app I use on almost a daily basis shows up with a full-screen ad every time I open it. The ad is barely responsive to touch, so after I inevitably click through to the full-page ad, I then have to wait for my phone to stop going crazy over the too intensive graphics and get back (finally!) to the app that I still use in spite of this daily annoyance. These ads are a fact of life, it’s totally understandable that they are used since there are mouths to feed, however, they shouldn’t take over the entire app experience and be the main thing I remember from using it.
This is 2013, the year of responsive design, and users shouldn’t have to use their tablets/mobile devices somewhat dicey zoom feature in order to read your content. Make it so the content can be read on a small screen with minimum control tweaking.
Unless there’s something tangible to be gained by connecting the user to Facebook, don’t make it an option, and definitely don’t make it the default. This is seen as intrusive by most users, and is an unnecessary infringement of personal data:
“Millions of people on Facebook who use third party applications on the site, including the popular quizzes, do not realize the extent to which developers of quizzes and other applications have access to personal information. Facebook's default privacy settings allow nearly unfettered access to a user's profile information, including religion, sexual orientation, political affiliation, photos, events, notes, wall posts, and groups.” - ACLU
Too many emails and push notifications
Too many notifications of what other people are doing can be incredibly annoying. But making the controls for filtering these impossible to find is even more annoying. Make it easy to adjust app settings so people can choose to receive these or not – even better, make it possible to filter which groups these notifications come from.
In addition, irrelevant push notifications are one of the worst irritants an app can possibly inflict on the user. Just because Uncle Fester uploads a picture to Facebook, doesn’t mean we need to know. User settings in apps should be easy to find and easy to use; unfortunately, judging from the amount of apps that get installed and instantly uninstalled on a daily basis, this isn’t happening as much as it could be.
“You like me! You really like me!”
Frequent requests to rate the app can become bothersome quickly. Are you doing a big update? Might be a good time to ask the user to rate the app. Is the user currently uninstalling? Might be a good time to ask for the reason, but don’t rate it. However, many apps seem to ask for approval more than is considered prudent, placing the user in a difficult position. Consider carefully when and how these requests for approval are made.
Lack of control
Imagine inviting someone into your home who immediately flops on the couch, puts their dirty feet up on your coffee table, and then loudly barks at you to get them everything chocolate-related in your refrigerator. You probably wouldn’t ask this person to come back into your home; in fact, you would probably rustle them out as soon as possible. Apps that exhibit this kind of behavior, i.e., taking over and using stuff they don’t need to use, are in the same boat:
“If apps could announce their information use practices as you enter a relationship with them and when you enter a relationship with me, then at least you could be better informed. This awareness enables you to decide whether you really do want to use the app. Imagine:
- As you enter a contact into your smartphone, you would be informed as to how all the apps on your smartphone would use that information.
- When you add a new app to your Facebook profile, it showed you how the app was going to use your social graph data – an impact assessment.
What this gets back to is a desire for control. An app that tries to be as upstanding as you are would provide better visibility and choice with respect to the use of information about your relationships. Apps that are bad actors will not provide such choice and likely go to great lengths to hide their actual use of the information.” - Gartner.com, “I Like You but I Hate Your Apps”
Lack of disclosure
This goes right along with lack of control. If you’re going to use my information, that’s fine – as long as you tell me how, what, when, or where:
“First and foremost, apps developers must declare how they use information gathered by their apps. There are too many issues related to notice to list here, but we can agree how information is used must be declared to all parties in the relationship. That declaration must be in a language that all parties can understand. Explaining to grandpa in rich legalese that pictures he shares will be associated with his contacts in his social graph and used for targeted marketing is not acceptable. Thankfully the movement for clearer, more approachable notice is well on its way.”
Obviously, this shouldn’t get in the way of innovation, but information and how it’s going to be use must be disclosed to the user, in a way that is easy to understand.
Don’t freeze me
According to the 2012 Mobile App Review Survey, the number one reason why people uninstall an app immediately or give it a bad rating is freezing. You can’t get a much worse user experience than an app that refuses to work so badly that the phone or tablet has to be completely restarted in order to function. This also has the added effect of immediate (negative) feedback on various social networks, as well as word of mouth; not great for the developer, for sure. After freezing, the most common reasons for a quick uninstall are crashes or too-slow responsiveness:
“The study, carried out online by uSamp, found that freezing (76%), crashing (71%) and slow responsiveness (59%) were the primary bugbears when it came to app problems, with heavy battery usage (55%) and too many ads (53%) also mentioned. Users stressed that performance mattered the most on banking apps (74%) and maps (63%), with the latter no doubt much to the chagrin of Apple, which has had some difficulty with its own maps software on iOS 6. For almost every respondent (96%) said that they would write a bad review on an under-par app, while 44% said that they would delete the app immediately. Another 38% said that they would delete the app if it froze for more than 30 seconds with 32% and 21% respectively indicating that they would moan about the app to their friends or colleagues in person or over Facebook and Twitter. A considerable 18% would delete an app immediately if it froze for just five seconds, but 27% said that they would persist with the app if they paid for it. Those experiencing bad apps urged developers to fix the problem (89%) first and foremost, followed by offering easy refunds (65%) and a customer service number (49%).” - Business Insider, “Customers Hate Freezing Apps”
Are bad apps “malicious” apps?
Bad apps could possibly be reported as malicious to app stores, which could have dire consequences for the developer. Now, this might not be necessarily true, but someone who might not be as technologically savvy as the next person might be peeved enough to report an app as malicious when it’s not:
“As a developer, if your application is deemed malicious, not only does Google have the option to bar you from distributing apps in Google Market Place, but legally you are required to refund Google all amounts you received for application sales, plus any associated fees. How hard Google would push this point is anybody’s guess. I suspect the majority of infected apps were free downloads.
It’s interesting to note that Google’s content policy doesn’t just stop at malware. Google reserves the right to remotely uninstall apps that contain: sexually-explicit material, violence and bullying, hate speech, impersonation, confidential information, intellectual-property infringements, unpredictable-network usage, and gambling…. A malicious app is one that, unbeknownst to the user, steals sensitive data from the user’s device and uploads it to third-party servers. This data may range from emails, text messages, call logs, contacts, to sensitive information such as un-encrypted passwords stored in the file system from other applications.” – TechRepublic, “Avoid Bad Apps”, emphasis mine
A list of best practices meant for users looking for good apps has implications for developers as well. Let’s take a look at these through the eyes of both users and developers:
- Users: Only install apps from known marketplaces Developers: stick to known app stores that get enough traffic to instill a sense of trust in their user base
- Users: read the reviews Developers: get good reviews from your users by building great experiences
- Users: check out the developer website before installing Developers: build a personal website so users can check you out beforehand
- Users: read the fine print Developers: make the fine print as easy as possible to read and understand
- Users: is this app asking for unnecessary information? Developers: don’t ask for unnecessary information that is not intrinsic to the app experience
What does this mean for developers?
The app ecosystem is growing like gangbusters, and shows no sign of slowing down. Only the best apps that manage to create a good experience for the users and at the same time keep their trust and goodwill will survive. The information discussed here is (mostly) from a user perspective, and only emphasizes the need for developers to watch carefully any problems, feedback that could indicate a problem, and overall app performance.