December 6, 2013

Why do so few mobile apps offer help?

Written By Martin Sandhu

Using websites has become second nature to the majority of the population, with many no longer giving a second thought to web browsing and their use of web apps. Yet despite this ‘app help’ is still a key feature built into sites, so why don’t more mobile apps have a help feature?

On the web help is relatively straightforward, be it in the form of a pop-up or rollover box or a simple FAQ area. Developers are also able to monitor user journeys and patterns in minute detail and changes are easy to make; so if a selection of visitors are getting stuck at the same point, changes can be made and put live almost immediately to combat the issue.

Some developers see adding ‘help’ to a mobile app as an admission of design failure. Apps are supposed to be a highly intuitive, user-friendly experience with the highest example of UI and UX working seamlessly together. But as such a new technology and one that we simple aren’t that familiar with, sometimes help is needed.

Using the same techniques as the web won’t work. Obviously there is no mouse on an app so pop-up help boxes don’t work, and with the size of a smartphone screen they could become an annoyance as they will regularly be passed over. Adding extra pages filled with FAQ text is clumsy and will doubtlessly impact the design of your app.

There are a few things mobile app developers can do to add suitable help functions to their apps. Firstly it’s important not to search for design perfection, what may be perfect for one user might not be for another, adding help shouldn’t be seen as a sign of design failure. One option is to add a directive overlay on first install or when an app has a major update, Google’s Snapseed photo editor is a good example of this technique. At the same point in the apps lifecycle adding tip boxes, much like ‘pop-up’ ones used online, can be useful too.

Users simply don’t have the patience or attention span to work out how to use an app, if they cannot figure it out within a few minutes they’re likely just to give up and find another. When if comes to highly functional or complex apps, help is definitely required. For others, it may be worthwhile looking into user analytics and finding out if some sort of tutorial could improve things.