The first impression is everything


This is the motto you should be following if thinking about your mobile app.

Sometimes, initial interaction with an app can be a bit confusing instead of an intuitive flow you wished for.

That’s where app onboarding comes onto the stage – it’s one of the most crucial phases of a user’s journey ensuring a great first impression and an instant connection.

What is an app onboarding?

App onboarding is a set of screens leading users through your app’s benefits and features.

Onboarding process is necessary because it shows users the app’s benefits, educates them about the functions and gathers profile information to deliver personalized content and notifications.

The entire process facilitates a positive user experience thus leading towards a higher user acquisition and increased retention.

Why do you need onboarding for your app?

It can be complicated for new users to instantly know how to navigate your app especially if your interface is different from what they’ve used to.

Statistics show that 21% of users will only use the app once – users lose interest if it takes too long to figure how the app works.

Including an app onboarding can help ensure that first-time usage is as seamless as possible, reducing the percentage of users abandoning the app.

Creating positive initial experience for users is essential for our app success as well as ensuring ongoing app usage.


As per ‘Hubspot’ blog, retention can be divided into three phases:

  • Short-term retention is the most important phase – the initial interaction with a user can either make a positive or a negative effect. This phase also affects the following two phases. 
  • Mid-term retention – the goal is to form new habits and create repetition in the routine. 
  • Long-term retention – it focuses on improving the existing product.


As the research shows that the biggest decline in usage happens during the short-term retention, your goal should be ensuring that your app is used more than once during the first week of the phase.

If you provide solid onboarding, you can activate the app’s early usage and gradually increase retention.


Photo by Tim King on Unsplash

Types of onboarding 

As there are many different types of apps and businesses today, there are also different methods of onboarding users.

All onboarding methods have one thing in common: they encourage users to learn through navigating the app.

The most common types of onboarding are:



Benefits-oriented onboarding


The method displays the benefits and what your app does for your users rather than how to use the app.

Benefit-oriented onboarding screens can also include permission requests that the users can opt-in for like accessing the location and sending push notifications.

Some guidelines for a successful benefit-oriented onboarding are:

  • Set a limit to display 3 key benefits max
  • Each slide must contain only 1 benefit
  • Prioritize to show the main benefits only
  • Consistent vocabulary
  • Onboarding prior to any registration process
  • Keep it as brief as possible

Function-oriented onboarding


This method educates users how to use your app. The common example is a short tour through the app with instructions on how to get started and/or how to perform specific actions.

Guidelines that can help if you want to use this method:

  • No need to explain obvious functionality
  • Set a limit to 3 slides with 1 function per slide
  • Set a focus: helping a user to get started

Progressive onboarding


The method shows users new information as they progress through the app.

The instructions displayed on the screen relate to the page the user is at – it resembles a live tour. For example, if users are on the registration screen, they will see only registration related information.

It’s a bit more practical as users learn as they navigate through the app instead of getting instructions upfront.

Guidelines that can help if you decide for this method are:

  • Use it to show complex workflow
  • Use it for hidden functionalities
  • Ideal method for gesture-driven interactions


The above described methods are the most common ones, but you can always combine and modify them to your advantage.



Alternative 1: Hybrid

Hybrid method is nothing more than blending one, two or all three methods together for the best service. Although it is not always possible, it can be proven useful sometimes as in the following example from the past by Flink:

Alternative 2: Video

Some apps use videos to onboard their users and it got proven worthy of the risk.

There are different types of videos for you to choose – some can be more practical in a form of tutorials while others can be advertisements in nature.

Videos can be a great means of onboarding but you should be careful with videos on websites – no matter the quality, avoid playing them automatically as users can find it inappropriate thus causing a counter effect.

Alternative 3: Sample Data

Another onboarding method can be providing sample data for your users to experience. This is helpful with apps that handle delicate data like HR or finances.

Sample data allows users to feel comfortable by trying out and making mistakes while learning how your app works. If you provide such an option, users will feel more ready for a real data input.



We’ve presented some of the most common techniques for user onboarding, yet if you’re still unsure which one to use, test one or two methods and check what works and what doesn’t.

There is no uni-size solution that fits all, so use the data to make the most of your onboarding flow.

There are many websites that provide a variety of onboarding patterns to get inspiration from such as: Pttrns, Mobile Patterns, UX Archive, Pinterest so try to check them out if you need some fresh ideas.


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