Mobile applications nowadays possess substantial technical quality – they are fast, stable and working – at least for the most part. This has made the battle for attention among users shift towards “user experience”, that all-inclusive term describing the arcane power of making people actually enjoy using an app, as opposed to making it feel like a chore.This has given usability issues plenty of stage time, as those are now being perceived as the number one killer of user experience.
So what are usability issues, how do we classify them, how do we track and analyze them, and most importantly, how do we remove them? Those are the things you will read about below so make sure you devote a few minutes of your time for this article – it might help you improve your app’s next version, significantly.
What is mobile app usability and what are the most common usability issues?
There is no academic definition to call upon here, but it would be safe to say that usability means the ease of use, as well as a having a smooth learning curve. Testing for usability means knowing how users interact with an app and its elements such as content and navigation. It also means knowing what they think and how they feel about using an app. The latter seems pretty abstract and elusive but bear with me, you can actually track and improve these things.
Here are some of the most frequent, common mobile app usability issues out there:
Ignoring landscape mode – Landscape is the preferred mode for two-handed operation, especially while static (sitting or lying), while portrait is generally considered one-handed and while moving. App pros' ignoring of the landscape mode usually manifests by having the exact same app, with the exact same structure and navigation in both modes. They simply can't be bothered to change things up in the landscape mode, so they simply tilt the app 90 degrees.
Knowing that one-handed navigation is not the same as two-handed navigation, and knowing that the attention levels differ whether the user sits or walks, warrants a different approach to the overall app design, interface included. Ignoring those facts can create quite a painful user experience.
Ignoring platforms, OS versions – iOS versus Android. Android 7.0 versus Android 8.0. Different operating systems have different navigation standards and best practices. Newer versions sometimes bring in new navigation options. For example, Android has recently introduced a double-tap feature that acts like a fast switch between two apps, something like ALT + Tab on the PC. Features like this one can improve usability and user experience, and if one is not keeping tabs on them, they might get left behind the competition.
Deep navigation – Having multiple levels of navigation in an app means there is going to be a lot of back and forth going on. This has the potential of severely hurting the user experience, as users might end up not knowing which page they started from, where they ended up in the navigation tree, or where they were heading in the first place. Optimizing deep navigation for usability is a must.
Ignoring resolutions – Phones are getting bigger, with tinier bezels. This has resulted in better resolutions, but perhaps even more importantly – weird aspect ratios. Given that smartphones come with severely limited screen real estate, using the device’s maximum potential is a must.
Paying attention to different resolutions can bring a lot of positives, like having a nicer looking app with more screen space to fit more content or features. If you ignore the reality of resolution differences you app can suffer from flaws like cut off visuals, lost copy or, oh the horror, tiny navigation. With tiny buttons, users will have a hard time tapping the right buttons, or even seeing what they're tapping – which is a huge UX killer.
Unresponsive gestures – Unresponsive gestures include, but are not limited to, navigation elements that do not work. This also includes navigation elements that are not intuitive or parts of the app’s UI that users expect to be a navigation element when they actually are not. This is a very common occurrence and one of the bigger usability issues for mobile apps.
Auto-filling customer data – Those who ever typed a single sentence on a smartphone’s touchscreen know how difficult the struggle can sometimes be. Especially if you one of your hands is occupied and you are trying to hold a 5.7-inch behemoth in your hand. Auto-filling customer data that was once already submitted improves the app’s usability by a mile.
Confusing content – If one plans on using pop-ups or any other way to communicate certain messages to the users, they must be absolutely certain their messages will be received and perceived as intended. Vague explanations for things like permission requests or personal data requirements can leave the users feeling suspicions of the app pro’s good intentions.
Onboarding – The process of onboarding new users feels like an amalgamation of various elements mentioned above. The content must be clear-cut, all navigational elements must be responsive and intuitive, it shouldn’t be too long or overwhelming, but also should not be non-existent. Yet, creating that perfect onboarding experience is a tough of a task as any, as it requires showing users the app's uniqueness, while keeping it short and relevant. You can learn more about the art of good mobile app user onboarding on this link.
Finding and fixing usability issues with qualitative analytics
Now that we know what to look for, it doesn’t seem so impossible to learn what users think, and feel, about an app, right? That still does not answer the key question of – how do we track these user experiences and sentiments? I know what you are probably thinking – we just ask the users! It does seem like a logical deduction. After all, what better way to learn if the navigation is too shallow, or too deep, than by asking users? However, there are a couple of potentially game breaking issues here. Sometimes, users don’t know what they actually want, when surveyed. Other times, researchers are hindered by what’s called the research bias. You can read about it in more depth on this link, but in a nutshell – there’s a good chance the data one gets by questioning the users might be skewed or distorted in some way.
Common mistakes and errors with user interviews can be:
— Subconsciously guiding users towards a specific answer
— Group influence on user’s answers
— Users already being aware of the purpose of the research
All of this can be avoided if users simply don’t know they are being questioned. And that, my friends, can be achieved through qualitative analytics tools. Things like touch heatmaps and user session recordings allow app pros to discover what users think and feel about an app without ever asking a single question, ending up with clear, unbiased, unfiltered answers that will guide them in the right direction with absolute certainty. Let’s see how these tools help with finding and fixing in-app usability issues:
Example of touch heatmaps with Appsee app analytics.
Touch heatmaps capture and aggregate all interactions users have with an app, be it taps, swipes, pinches or anything in between. These interactions are then presented as a layer on top of the app, showing exactly how users interact with the entirety of an app, as well as individual elements. This is a great tool for spotting unresponsive gestures, confusing content, or problems with deep navigation.
User session recordings
Example of user session recordings with Appsee.
The name is quite self-explanatory. User sessions are recorded and played back in real-time, allowing app pros to see directly how users interact with an app. This tool can help app pros spot weaknesses in an app, like the need for auto-filled customer data (have users left after being prompted to fill forms, again?), or the need for better landscape-mode design (are users switching back to portrait as soon as they’re presented with the landscape mode?).
Users are quick to abandon apps they deem unworthy. That makes the speed at which iteration cycles are completed essential for success. And with usability issues being at the very core of user experience, being able to quickly test for issues means being able to complete iteration cycles faster. Consequently, that means being able to develop a solid app faster, keeping ahead of the curve and keeping those happy customers coming in.
At a time when user experience plays a pivotal role for the success of an app, usability as a factor has grown in importance. And with iteration speed making the difference between a good and a great app, qualitative analytics tools that help app pros track, analyze and eliminate usability issues have become a critical part of their arsenal. Consequently, they are able to tackle and eliminate these issues at speed, with great precision.
The article was written with the help of Appsee, app analytics platform.