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Developing an App? Test for These Two Things Before You Ship

| August 5, 2014
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Today’s post is an excerpt from our Mobile User Testing Kit.


The normal web development mantra—launch an embarrassing website quickly and then revise it—is a recipe for failure in mobile apps.

If users don’t like an app on the first try, they often never come back. Bad reviews in the app stores tend to linger, making it very hard for a tainted app to get attention.

Instead of shipping an embarrassing app early, mobile developers need to test early and often, before they release the app.

Two factors are critical to the success of a mobile app: usability and emotional engagement. You should test for both.


Usability means the ability of a typical user to easily figure out how to use your app. Mobile users are notoriously impatient; if an app confuses them, they will probably move on to something else. You can’t assume that what works on a computer will also work on mobile; it’s a different usage pattern.

Some technologies that work on computers are not available in mobile (for example, pop-up tooltips), and the screen sizes are very different.

The usability issues you test will change depending on your development stage.

Early in development

Test the basic flow and key features of your app.

  • Do users understand what they’re supposed to do?

  • Have you made the most important features easy to find? If you have an existing desktop app, it can be very hard to decide which features to prioritize on mobile. User tests can help you answer that question.

Later in development

Focus on fine-tuning navigation and user flow.

  • Do all of the buttons and icons make sense?

  • Does your help system work properly? (Yes, you need a help system in any mobile app other than a mystery game.)

  • If you’re using a freemium business model, are you hooking people with your free features but leaving enough incentives to convert to paid usage? The conversion rate is critical to the success of many mobile apps, and user tests are a great way to fine tune it before you launch.

Emotional engagement

Emotional engagement measures the user’s motivation to use your app.

  • Are you providing features that users actually want?
  • Have you made it easy to get to those features?
  • Do people feel rewarded enough by your app that they want to return?

Many apps are opened once and then never touched again. You want to know if you have that problem before you ship.

You need to get inside your users’ heads, to understand how they react and how your app fits into their lives.

This is obviously critical to freemium apps that entice people into paying for features, but it affects all mobile apps. User testing helps you learn how your users think and what motivates them, and that helps you plant emotional hooks to keep them engaged with your app.

For more app testing tips, check out our complete Mobile User Testing Kit!