Ten seconds. That's how much time your app has to make a first impression. I just made this number up, but I don't believe that it's any less or much more – certainly not 30 seconds or even a minute.

I am not necessarilt talking about the wider topic of onboarding experiences here. Some onboardings show up only after you've created an account and there is no dedicated onboarding for first-time users without an account. This is really just about the very first impression.

Just remember: Someone went a long way to have your app installed: Went to the App Store, searched for your app, tapped on download, entered his or her password, waited for the download to complete. This is all stuff you can't change. What you can change is what comes next: You have ten seconds with only your app on the screen. Make it count.

In my experience the key to a great first impression is not to make a bad one. Bad ones are:

  • Displaying 2 or more alerts (Location Access, Address Book Access).
  • An empty screen.
  • Crashes.
  • Complicated sign-up forms.
  • Demanding action without explaining why. (See Location Access once again).
  • Putting the product, not me, the user, in the spotlight.

This list is non-exhaustive.

I use a quick test to make sure that the first ten seconds of my app's experiences don't suck. It's as simple as giving someone a phone or tablet, install the app and make them tap the app icon.

If you feel the need to comment, give hints, explain or moderate what's going on in the first ten seconds there might be a problem. If not, you've at least mastered those ten seconds.