Under the Radar

Under the Radar 92: Notifications to Increase Engagement


  welcome to under the radar a show about

  independent iOS app development I'm

  Marco Arment and I'm David Smith under

  the radar is never longer than 30

  minutes so let's get started so today we

  wanted to talk a little bit about the

  ways in which you can motivate your

  users to come back to your app and the

  situations and scenarios where you might

  do that an inactive way or in a passive

  way and kind of some of the implications

  for that because it's I often find

  personally this is an area that I I have

  a lot of sort of hanging hand-wringing

  about because there's this one part of

  me that thinks you know I want to do

  everything I can to get my users back

  into my app I mean in many ways the you

  know my business is largely supported by

  advertising and so the more I can get

  people into my app the better my

  business does but on the flip side like

  I also want to make respectful apps I

  want to make apps that I enjoy using

  that I hope my customers enjoy using and

  so I want to do you know bring them back

  into my app for the right reason and

  this has all come to the surface

  recently for me because the next major

  version of pedometer plus plus is all

  geared around the concept of

  achievements and badges and you know so

  as you walk so many steps you earn

  badges as you go you know so you get

  badge when you hit you know you had a

  twenty thousand step day good job you

  know you get a badge and achievement in

  the app and I built that you know built

  the feature out for just like showing

  and displaying those badges but then you

  get the run into the question of you

  know how should I show this to people

  should I try and you know should as soon

  as you earn a badge you know pop up a

  notification that says hey you earned a

  badge you know come and check it out in

  pedometer plus plus like and I could and

  in weird way like that almost seems to

  be like the trend and I mean if you take

  a look at the Apple watch it is the

  chattiest thing by default with

  notifications for things like this where

  breathe David you have to stop and

  breathe yeah they could take a minute

  stop and breathe there's all the

  coaching ones that soar like great jobs

  starting off today you'd have already

  gotten half your move goal keep it up

  anything it's so chatty and that seems

  like from Avenue Apple which is

  ostensibly like you know in a company to

  try and imitate they do a lot of this

  but it never really sat well with me and

  so in the end what I did was I tried to

  be more subtle and you know in the app

  itself there's just this nice little

  sort of glisten shimmer effect on the

  badge icon in the top right corner of

  the app whenever you have badges you've

  earned would haven't looked at and my

  hope is that you know it's a subtle

  thing that if you open the app you'll I

  think notice because it moves around a

  lot but it's not going to ever get in

  your way it's not something that I'm

  trying to you know I'm not asserting

  that you earning a badge is more

  important than you seeing your current

  step count which is the core and main

  feature of the app and so but it was

  kind of an interesting journey to work

  through because I feel like knowing

  whether it's like knowing when to find

  that what went to notifying when not to

  notify is tricky and I think you know in

  this particular case and like where I

  ended up but it feels that odds with the

  DES general trend and that always makes

  me nervous and so it seemed like

  something that was worth discussing yeah

  definitely I mean I think you know a lot

  of times we have to you know as

  programmers I mean let's face it where

  there's a lot of similarities among

  programmers were usually a certain type

  of nerd and for example when we want to

  sell t-shirts for our things I believe

  it is the programmer instinct to sell

  only black t-shirts and that's why there

  are so many black t-shirts for technical

  things and eventually I think some

  people realize that you know or we're

  told like hey you know what the rest of

  the world exists to beyond just eeks

  and some people want different colors of

  t-shirts and so in some cases like that

  we have to overcome our geek

  sensibilities to make everything just

  black and to offer color to the world

  because I actually want that and I think

  there's something to be said for the

  style of more chatty notifications more

  aggressive notifications to increase

  engagement in your mobile applications

  you know all these things that we don't

  usually like to even think about let

  alone talk

  or consider some of that is just a style

  of usage some of that users actually

  want like I was actually so in this case

  I I have had pedometer plus plus your

  app installed on my phone for a very

  long time probably since it came out and

  usually it is in a folder on my second

  screen because you usually don't check

  it every day

  however while I'm on vacation I'm in a

  place where I'm doing a lot of walking

  tons of tons of walking and so I've been

  checking it every day now the way I used

  to rely on the Apple watch's activity

  rings too close you know and I would

  make sure I close those now I'm making

  sure I really hit my goals in pedometer

  plus plus hidden all this walking during

  this vacation and I was actually just

  thinking yesterday before you and I

  discussed the topic for this show before

  you told me you were thinking about are

  these notifications yesterday I was

  thinking you know it would be nice to

  have this app update me throughout the

  day in some way if I need a little bit

  more to reach my goal or something like

  that you know you know and the watch

  does this too but to have you know I was

  literally thinking in my head requesting

  a feature that you just said you weren't

  sure you wanted to do yeah and the fact

  is that not all of your users will want

  this just you know just as many of you

  have many of tech podcast listeners and

  app users happily buy black t-shirts

  because we're all nerds but there is a

  portion of your user base that actually

  not only would not see this as annoying

  or spammy they actually it would

  actually increase the value of the app

  to them they actually want this and it's

  it is against so many of our

  sensibilities to offer a feature like

  that or to build that in or especially

  to do something like enable it by

  default because let's be honest if you

  don't enable these kind of things by

  default you know you know you might as

  well not even build the feature because

  so few people will use it but sometimes

  that actually is what people want and we

  you know we are so conservative about

  annoying people or about you know

  prompting them with notifications whose

  sole purpose is reengagement with the

  app rather than like this is a fact that

  happened you know it's like like when

  overcast send notifications are

  currently overcast only thumbs

  notifications for two things only for

  new episodes that of podcast that you

  have said note if

  me about this or if you have gone on the

  website and said notify me when ads are

  available for purchase in this category

  I will notify you for that as well

  that's it I don't have any notifications

  in there for things like hey you have

  you know 40 episodes queued up why don't

  you think about a time to listen to them

  today something like that like and I

  probably should consider something like

  that because that is such a common

  engagement thing and and it turn and and

  you know those things first of all it is

  questionable whether they are permitted

  in the app review guidelines technically

  anything that is promotional or for

  marketing purposes is not allowed in

  practice apps violate that constantly

  really really big apps to like absolute

  Apple definitely would know about and

  this rule seems to go fairly unenforced

  in the App Store violates it sometimes

  this is not a small thing that happens

  sometimes like happen all the time so

  and there's also there's a line to walk

  between like hey buy more gems they're

  on sale right now which i think is

  annoying but also something that

  actually provides value to people like

  your 90 percent to your step goal but

  you seem to have slowed down in the last

  couple hours why don't you go take a

  walk you know I mean obviously they

  there are ways word this they're a

  little bit less get off your butt and

  get yeah like you should definitely have

  somebody who's less direct than me word

  these things for you but like that

  actually is a feature you know if for an

  app like yours that actually improves

  the app for people who want that and for

  people who don't want that it's really

  easy to provide a simple checkbox in the

  settings turn it off so or the end of

  people probably would have declined

  notification access in the first place

  and when it when it prompted them so

  that kind of feature I think if you want

  pedometer plus plus to be more of like a

  like an everyday thing for more people

  if you want to be a thing they check

  multiple times throughout the day I

  think not only should you do that

  feature I think you need to do that

  feature may be I mean you get the

  counterpoint out and they definitely

  appreciate where your

  it's lovely to hear that you have a very

  different view on this than I do in some

  ways as a user who wants the feature and

  me as the developers like hmm maybe not

  oh and by the way that so I don't know

  how big your beta is but because you

  revealed the secret about that nice

  shimmery effect on the badge section on

  the toolbar yeah I noticed that

  immediately and I'm like ooh what's that

  and I tapped it I've never tapped that

  button before ever like I didn't even

  know the badges were in your app how

  long have they been there you know they

  appeared in that beta okay you could

  have you could have seen them it used to

  be a button to like share your steps

  with like making a low share image now

  it's this new area for badges okay well

  but like I saw that button on the cool

  what's that and I tapped it yeah and

  then I noticed later on the day I went

  back to it and it was still shimmering

  and I thought oh there is something in

  here I haven't seen yet or I haven't

  cleared it or I haven't marked as red or

  something so I tapped it again and at

  neither point but I was like oh god

  that's so garish you know I know I wish

  that app wasn't they know that it's

  something that's small and subtle but

  it's you know kind of get your attention

  in a tasteful way it's not like the

  blink tag or the marquee tag in HTML you

  know it's not blinking bright pink and

  and you know covering up the part of the

  app that I want that I want to see

  anything like that it's you know it's a

  nice little animation shimmer effect on

  a bar button item and that's totally

  tasteful and within the bounds of

  reasonable and it at least in this small

  testing group of one it had exactly the

  intended effect which is I noticed this

  thing and it happen hard to see what I

  was missing

  yeah and I think that was my intention

  with that and I'm glad it worked in that

  in that regard and I think it reminds

  the this discussion is interesting

  because it reminds me of the very first

  time I went to WB DC and I went to a one

  of the user interface design labs which

  are those really hard to schedule things

  that WTC where you have to give that

  back then you couldn't do it in the app

  even you had to like get up early in the

  morning line up outside of Moscone West

  as soon as they opened the door you'd

  like run into the place where you could

  sign up and you know they had you know

  40 for the day and the first 40 people

  got design reviews and I remember I went

  to one of those and you know in general

  the the guy was very helpful and gave me

  a lot of feedback on my app but one of

  the things he said that stuck with me

  and still stuck with me

  is this feet he said one of the things

  that's important to find in your app is

  having an area or a purpose that gives

  somebody new value every time they open

  the app so making sure that there's a

  reason for them to come back to it on a

  regular basis and in sit with an app

  like pedometer in some ways it's like

  the just the fact that the step counts

  are changing is sort of that and you

  know I be the impression I get from a

  lot of my users is that there is this

  natural I guess you'd call it

  habituation if that's a word of use of

  the app where you know if you are

  somebody who starts to care about your

  steps you will just naturally start

  opening the app on a regular basis to

  check your your step counts and in many

  ways my goal with this other version is

  to rather than pulling you into the app

  with a notification to try and be like

  hey you earned a badge good job is to in

  some ways create this curiosity about

  you know hey did I get there and

  especially because it's intonation with

  a lot of badges kind of stuff is once

  you've had you in most users will

  probably download this update have an

  initial wave of badges that they earn in

  terms of you know it's because it takes

  into account your past history so you

  know if you've had a day with 40,000

  steps like great job you are in that

  badge or you've had a long streak or

  your lifetime steps have crossed over

  any of the boundaries like you'll have

  this big swath of badges and hopefully

  that's exciting and cool and is useful

  when the app comes out and can make

  people excited and want to show people

  but then from that point on like there's

  actually not going to be that many

  badges that you will earn on a regular

  basis from that point on just because

  the nature of the like having it be an

  achievement that you work towards you

  know like right now I'm working towards

  my 10 million step badge which is

  currently the highest lifetime step

  badge which you know fair enough I've

  been using the app for a very long time

  but I think I'm something like 300

  thousand steps away from that it's going

  to take me a while to get that three

  hundred thousand steps but and so it's

  not something that's necessarily

  something gonna check on a regular basis


  I'm you know in the weird way in the

  back of my mind I kind of now that I am

  you now this feature is there I'm always

  kind of hoping that there'll be this

  shimmer in the top right corner the next

  time I open the app it creates that set

  of the sense of somewhat excitement or

  curiosity which is different than if I

  just know whenever I hit it I'm gonna

  get a notification like that

  I have this feeling of I'm going to go

  back and check on a regular basis but

  yeah it's this is a funny tension though

  because I don't you know III appreciate

  the where you're coming from for like

  you can get into such it can be so

  useful to do this kind of notification

  stuff and to do this kind of more

  coaching based behaviors um but at the

  same time I also kind of just want

  people to keep opening the app on a

  regular basis because that's not their

  if you care about it if you're like I'm

  if you are in a highly engaged user of

  the app you're just gonna be doing it

  anyway and maybe I'm losing some of the

  attention of the less engaged users but

  in a weird way like I'm okay with that

  I don't know it's it I'm probably not

  making a good choice necessarily but

  it's it's just the thing that feels more

  right to me I'm curious do you do things

  like measure monthly active users in any

  way I use fabrics to--and so it measures

  it for me because the reason I asked is

  like you know the this you know I I've

  always found that whenever I start

  measuring anything you know and this is

  not a this is nothing I invented this is

  a very common thing whenever I start

  measuring anything I do start caring

  about that thing and I start trying to

  optimize for it you know and this you

  know again this happens with lots of

  things that get measured as part of jobs

  or work or even just hobbies you know

  that's one of the reasons why like it's

  so hard to evaluate programmer

  productivity with things like lines of

  code written or things like that and you

  know as I started evaluating over cash

  in this way I sort of you know when I

  built my own analytics to replace fabric

  a few months back and I started doing I

  started measuring monthly active users

  really the first time and you know

  anybody who does this just sees two

  things a

  way more people install the app than use

  the app be lots of people use the app

  first and then stop using it and you

  could kind of lose them they just kind

  of you know they don't really stick and

  so it's very very tempting for anybody

  measuring any kind of engagement type

  activity in their app like this to make

  changes like adding notifications or

  sending out email reminders or things

  like that to make these changes to

  remind people to get back into the app

  and that feels so spammy to me like I

  really don't like that however I do

  think you know in areas like this I

  think it is possible and reasonable that

  not every app will have a way to do this

  but that many apps have an opportunity

  here to remind people to come back to

  the app in a way that doesn't just feel

  like outright spam it's a very very hard

  line to lock and again not every app is

  going to have something like this that

  they can do whether it would make sense

  to do I always think of like James

  Thomson's pea calc app which is a

  wonderful calculator and James is he is

  so devoted to this app on these

  platforms he adds every feature he

  possibly can like whenever iOS enables

  something new like now you can change

  your calculators icon to like all sorts

  of wonderful little icon and you just

  iOS finally added that option he has

  like a version of it for Apple TV stuff

  like that and I always think of like an

  app like that calculator utility app

  what would that do with some of these

  you know tricky behaviors or engagements

  or in-app purchase options and it's hard

  and it reminds me like so many apps it's

  hard to come up with useful ways you can

  either you know have in-app purchases to

  help you achieve a more successful

  business model or sustainable business

  model or you know things like how do you

  use notifications to increase engagement

  sometimes it's just really hard for the

  app sometimes there is an option like

  you know what speak how it gonna do like

  bother you you know every every like you

  know a few days saying hey need any math

  to do you haven't done any map in the

  last few days I can help you out there

  like it's just so many apps are not

  gonna have a reasonable way to do this

  that doesn't just seem like pointless

  spam to the user so when you have

  something like that like you do with

  these fitness apps or you

  have like as usually the coaching

  behavior goal-setting you can notify

  people about their progress towards a

  goal and help them reach it if they are

  about to not reach it or congratulate

  them when they do reach it that is

  actually valuable for this type of app

  in a way that is way more way more

  clearly valuable and not spamming that

  in most apps have the opportunity to do

  so it almost be a waste for you not to

  do features like this the only reason I

  think you wouldn't want to do a feature

  like this is either if Apple bans it

  which they haven't and likely won't or

  if you just don't want to justify

  putting this much time into this app

  like if the app for you was otherwise

  pretty much done and you wanted to

  invest a time in a different app but as

  long as you're investing time into

  building features for this app that

  feature seems like low-hanging fruit and

  it seemed like a win all around anyway

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  this show and all of relay fm

  so you're doing a very good job

  turning me a little bit on this I'll say

  the things that come to mind though that

  are kind of interesting as I try and

  think through if I were to go down this

  road of like being a bit more chatty or

  emitting but more engaged

  I think first is the thing that I'm

  realizing as you're describing the

  situation is in many ways I am reticent

  to do this because of the experience

  I've had in other applications that were

  not respectful in their use of something

  like this and in some ways as I'm as

  emitting here thinking about it in some

  ways it's nice to think of this as a

  potential opportunity as a result it's

  like the doing it in a respectful

  thoughtful way that is clearly not

  spammy or problematic in those kinds of

  ways is potentially an advantage is

  potentially something that would be

  distinctive and attractive to users and

  I should not have in my mind that just

  like doing something like this is always

  sketchy because just because other

  developers have done something like this

  in a sketchy way you know it doesn't

  preclude me from finding a you know

  finding the right way to do this and in

  many ways I think that's something that

  in the back of my mind is I'm developing

  that's like my goal in most things is to

  try and find that respectful thoughtful

  approach to something that is

  potentially different then you know a

  may more out of like a mainstream

  competitor like a big larger company so

  that's I think a is good to keep in mind

  and then to something that is

  interesting that's probably worth

  unpacking slightly just from a technical

  perspective is the interesting thing

  with notifications on iOS is that they

  are always opt-in unless unless your

  Apple in which case you don't have to

  have user opt into notifications which

  is a side note but in our applications

  we have to have users opt into them and

  so as it the interesting thing is I

  think about this is like earlier you

  need to I think the the very valid point

  that having some like this not on by


  Dramastic drastically diminishes its

  impact because very few people

  proportionally will turn it on and it's

  tricky though with notifications because

  you in order to enable it they have to

  pop up you know a modal blocker that

  says would you like to allow this

  application to send you notifications

  you know if I don't do that I can't show

  you a notification so either after - you

  know so I have to at some point I have

  to show this to you now if it's not

  enabled by default then I would just

  have this be you know in the Settings

  app would be like an area that was just

  like coaching and we'll have a little

  description of what coaching would be

  and then a you know like a a switch that

  you would turn on and when you let me

  know at that moment when you first

  turned it on it would pop up into

  blocker at that point and say hey you

  know in order for me to get send you

  these coaching prompts I just need to

  and you need to give me permission to do

  this which feels very natural but if I

  wanted it to be enabled by default but I

  would have to do is presumably the first

  time you install the app probably or

  very shortly thereafter just sort of

  blindly pop up this notification that

  says hey I you know this app can send

  you coaching stuff do you want to say

  yes you know would you like me to do

  that or not and like that's I think in

  many ways if anything the thing that I

  get more stuck on especially because the

  app already unfortunately has one of

  those right now because when you first

  install the app it pops up a

  notification that says would you give me

  permission to access your motion and

  Fitness data because the app is

  completely useless without turning that

  on and so it's interesting because I

  don't think I would ever feel good about

  and having it always on by default

  because I would have to show that

  notification as part of the like

  onboarding process unless then it goes

  like okay well then that's when you

  start doing the like the big walkthrough

  thing where it you know the first time

  you launch the app it kind of has this

  little walkthrough thing where it's like

  hey this app needs your motion data it's

  about to ask you to ask you for it okay

  and then it asks you for it and then the

  next page is like hey this has coaching

  would you like coaching and you kind of

  have the user fill out a questionnaire

  on their first run experience which

  I don't love either but anyway these are

  just some funny things as you as you

  convinced me to explore this more and

  not just discount it offhand these are

  the kind of things that I start to then

  think about because there's some

  interesting technical challenges to

  going down this road as well what about

  if you if you instead of like naming it

  coaching necessarily and and just asking

  do you want coaching that's kind of

  vague people might not get like what

  that is or why I would want that how

  about you you make it a two-step process

  you know you have step one it please

  Mabel your emotion prompt done okay and

  then and then second screen is what

  would you like your goal to be your

  daily goal and then you on that same

  screen you can sit you could have you

  know an option that says would you like

  to be reminded about the progress you're

  making or know it would like to be

  notified about the progress you're

  making towards your daily goal and then

  that prompts them for notifications yeah

  it's like it's doing it in that kind of

  having an onboarding process and then

  for existing users you on the first on

  the first one of the new verbs and you

  put up a box saying would you like to

  review your daily goal and then on that

  screen have you know because you know

  right now this is you know this is

  something that again like in a way that

  would make sense as a feature for a user

  you might want to you know similar to

  what the Apple watch does you might want

  to have periodic prompts to the user of

  like you know you've been hitting your

  daily goal every day and exceeding it by

  like thirty percent for a while you want

  to maybe increase it or if they never

  hit their daily goal you can problem to

  say do you want to modify your goal you

  know maybe it may be low you know you

  got it carefully obviously to not show

  like hey you're kind of lazy you know

  but like that like there's a way to do

  that where it is part of a feature is

  actually helpful you know and and the

  Apple watch shows such a great example

  of this and there's a lot of people out

  there who don't have Apple watches but

  do have iPhones so this could really be

  a big help for them and and this could

  bring a lot of the value of the Apple

  watch with its like daily fitness rings

  it can bring a lot of that value to

  iPhone users who don't have the watch

  and so I feel like if you roll this in

  as just like a couple of minor prompts

  like periodic goal change prompts

  depending on their on performance and

  then also like do you want to be

  notified of your progress

  with this goal that you're setting or

  modifying on in this screen simple is

  that then you have then you cover

  adjusting and new users I mean this is

  I'm just spitballing here I have done

  you know thought about this at all

  besides what's happened on the on the

  air right now but like this could be

  like kind of one thing because you know

  this you do have to think so hard when

  you're designing apps about in wording

  of things when you ask for permission to

  do things and like notifications you

  know how you ask when you ask how it's

  pretend to the user what what kind of

  selling proposition is being shown of

  them like if you just if you just ask

  for notifications kind of like the dumb

  way like in your after you finish

  launching method and so that way like

  the very first time they launch the app

  just asks they don't know yet why you

  want notifications like you haven't

  actually shown them why and so you will

  probably have a lower accept rate or

  lower opt-in rate unless you have shown

  them a good reason why but if you have

  this you know you already have that

  problem with the motion setting so you

  already have a system in place to kind

  of let the first-run experience to

  manage that it would not be that much

  work to add a second screen to that did

  that just says alright how about your

  goal what kind of goal do you want and

  then you know roll it in with that yeah

  maybe and it's yeah it's interesting I

  mean that's how I'm glad we talked about

  on the show cuz it's it's it's these

  these types of things where I make a

  choice and then I'm I don't feel

  confident in the finality of that and

  it's certainly helpful I think to talk

  it through because there's a lot of

  these you know there's so many different

  options and I think too

  maybe it's a closing thought like the

  thing that comes to mind is how in many

  ways we have to make choices about the

  the sort of the scope of our application

  and they had the type of customers we

  want in the sense that do I am one of

  the things that in the back of my mind I

  then have to decide is do I want to have

  an app with lots and lots of slightly

  interested users or do I want to have

  optimized for fewer fanatical users for

  example like and these are the kinds of

  things that go on in the back of my mind

  when I try and think through features

  like this because in some ways I think

  my general my knee-jerk reaction is

  always I would rather have fewer very

  very passionate engaged users then

  lots and lots of users who don't really

  care it's not with the paid upfront

  price you don't yeah well there's a

  three so that's right it is free and

  it's just the tip jar right yeah it's

  just has a tip jar so but it you know

  and so it's it's interesting to just try

  and think through what kind of users I

  want and then how do I want to treat

  those users and I think as long as I do

  that respectfully then you know I'll

  probably be in good shape but it's just

  it is a good reminder of all the

  different things that we have to balance

  you know to make our apps be the things

  we want them to be I think you're pretty

  respectful all right I hope so we're out

  of time this week thanks for listening

  and we'll talk to you next week bye