User Interface Sins of Popular Apps

Writing Samples

Repent, app royalty.

App development is more like a school cafeteria than ever before. The bar to get in has never been lower, but the slim chances of sitting with the popular kids can seem like a nightmare from Mean Girls.

But, like a metaphorical Regina George, popularity isn’t flawless. Some of the most popular apps, from social media to games, have features that impede users more than ever before.

If we want access to the communities, features, or content of the apps below, we have to tolerate their less-than-brilliant aspects. But they’re something the rest of us can avoid.

Pop-ups on startup
The culprits: Draw Something, Farmville (Zynga Games)

While hosting ads on free services is a current inevitability even in the most successful apps, pop-ups remain the Internet’s original sin. So much so that their inventor formally apologized for them. However, apps that load only to immediately shove a splash banner, an in-game store, or even an advertisement in the user’s face are difficult to justify. Even worse if the rest of the interface is usable for a split second before the new window appears, causing users to mis-navigate. Zynga games might get away with it, but your app shouldn’t attempt to. Instead, consider other alternatives to trick out your in-app store.

Opt-out Social Media integration
The culprit: Spotify

Spotify is a fantastic music streaming service: all the songs you could ever want for free, with only ads here and there. However, its bad social media connection habits can leave your Facebook posting everything you listen to. Because all of its connection options are enabled by default, users automatically publish their track history to public social media. Social media integration should be opt-in, not opt-out.

Autoplaying videos, even without sound
The culprits: Tumblr, Facebook, Youtube

Do you remember that period in the early 2000s where it was fashionable to have web pages autoplay a music file or flash when you opened them? The legacy lives on: in autoplaying video on Youtube channels, Facebook feeds, and the Tumblr dashboard. While autoplay may be trendy in web applications despite criticism, it’s now disabled in iOS applications. However, Android users still must look out for unsolicited mobile data downloads of buffering video content.

Slow loading times
The culprits: Candy Crush/King Games, App Store and Google Play Store

A better internet connection can fix most cloud download and sync problems, but some apps never load faster. We don’t really have a choice but to use the iOS App Store and the Play Store, and Candy Crush is too big to fail, but smaller applications with a significant loading time in between every function or section can really break a user’s immersion. Users expect web pages and apps to load in two seconds or less; if your app is slower than that, some people may not want to wait. This also goes for multi-platform approaches. If your images load in a web browser but not on mobile, guess which one of those clients is going in the recycle bin?

The culprits: Too many to count

The push for quick development and to get an app from concept to the store is harder than ever in 2015. But some caution might be wise: 95 percent of mobile apps are abandoned within one month. Previous studies have shown that users have a low tolerance for bugs and crashes, and rarely hesitate to delete a buggy app after two errors. Skype went so far as to characterize mobile users as “fickle” and unforgiving, as a reason to focus on getting their mobile approach right.