5 reasons why mobile app tooltips are coming

The dreaded new feature carousel (that we discussed the downsides of in our last post) is disappearing. Newer apps have caught on and user onboarding is being done via simple tooltips that aim to educate users on a new feature or next step. By hitting them while they’re already engaged in the App, onboarding happens more organically.


This is a trend that just makes sense when you look at mobile design – web Apps have shown us “this stuff called education just works.” A progressive approach to educating users leaves nothing to chance – it’s not rocket science.
Let’s get real – we know users (like most smartphone owners) have the attention of a goldfish!

Spurring a user to take specific actions in your App before they lose interest makes complete sense. Facebook gets this.

Facebook makes use of simple tips as a best practice to help users discover feature improvements and new actions. If you are a Facebook user, you’ve no doubt seen this dozens of times and experienced how Facebook naturally integrates the changes for a seamless user experience.

Many super-popular Apps are now making tips part of the everyday experience. But it’s not easy to implement a simple mobile app tooltip. Why? Tips usually compete with an aggressive release schedule and we know developers don’t want to code uninteresting stuff above cool new features. At Contextual, we’ve been working to build a platform that makes it super easy for Product Managers to create a mobile tip and bypass all the internal obstacles to user education.

The 5 reasons why mobile app tooltips are coming to Mobile

  1. It no longer takes a team to create a simple tip
    A developer wants to design a tip or onboarding flow but it requires multiple skills and multiple stakeholders to have their fingerprints on the wrench 
    1. Product managers who are focused on App Engagement goals.
    2. Developers who have to code and implement tips.
    3. Data Team who measures and segments your customer base.
    4. Marketers who want to make sure messages are consistent.
    5. Project Managers to glue it all together and manage sprints, releases and announcements.
  2. Aaaarrggghhh – for a small tooltip test you would need an army to wrestle 5 people for consensus on the:
    So how do we take the noise out of creating a tooltip?
    Product managers can now use tools like Contextual to run internal iterations on tips, tours and modals without distracting developers, and then take it to the Marketing team and show them the tip right there on their own phone. Marketing wants a few words changed, so the Product Manager updates it on the spot. Performance measurement no longer has to be done by the Data Team generating custom reports. Rather, the Product Manager can see which onboarding experiments beat the current design.
  3. The delusion that “we only design self-explanatory software” is fading

    1. Nearly all Apps launch with little or no onboarding, and in some cases there is a real belief that  “we are superhuman and only design and release Apps that users intuitively get.” We’ve all met the design purists – these superhumans are rare and usually come in two varieties:The super developer – the mobile equivalent of full-stack, these guys are awesome and do awesome things. They believe all Apps can be engineered to be self-explanatory. We hope this is true and it may be true for some single purpose applications. But the problem is:
      It takes a lot of development iterations to find the best result.
      • You need lots of measurement skills to confirm that users get it.
      • There are Apps like Uber which started as a “single-purpose” App, but now with Uber Eats has multiple use cases. So you really need feature onboarding as you can’t code for cross-functional tests.

Product Managers at $$$Billion Unicorns – Sometimes these guys are trapped inside a “not invented here” culture and at minimum they need to have a team of developers and analytics folks to work day and night for a simple tooltip.
We are breaking down the delusion.

Let’s get real – even a single-use App like Instagram uses simple mobile app tooltips to help users understand “how to save privately to your profile.” This type of tooltip is about building user trust and personalization.

  1. Purists exist at less than 1% of Apps on the market. The rest of us need help creating an awesome first-time experience, and breaking through any friction users might be having in understanding App or feature enhancements.
    It’s a total fantasy to assume that a user loves your App so much they will pursue self-discovery of features and new actions! It just doesn’t happen – remember the goldfish analogy!!
    Contextual is a platform that allows Product Managers to experiment with tooltip education and iterate fast to promote feature adoption and greater user personalization.
  2. Onboarding no longer needs to get killed in a budget crunch
    Onboarding is often an after-thought. When we’ve spoken to mobile developers and agencies developing apps for customers, they often say:
    “The customer wants it but does not think deeply about it. They’ve seen it in other Apps and think it’s a “must-have” but they don’t invest much on the quality”
    When the budget is running over in an outsourced development approach, this is usually one of the first items to get killed from the project. The result is either a poor or non-existent onboarding experience.
    Boring, Boring, Boring. Developers hate doing this type of code. It’s not interesting to code and its not part of the core utility (which they are under pressure to get right).
    Even if it’s done poorly, the cost impact on the project may be anywhere from $2K-$10K. Then it’s stuck in stone with no measurement attached to it and requires App releases to even change a word.
    OK, so how do we make it less expensive and more efficient?
    By adding a platform like Contextual to manage onboarding tip, tours and experiments, the cost is removed from the developers’ engagement (giving them more quality code time). This also results in giving the App Owner (the customer’s Product Manager) a platform to be agile over time.
  3. It’s no longer too hard to segment the audience and display persona-based education

    Often Apps have nice segmentation in their backend or analytics platform, but engineering hasn’t instrumented the App to behave differently for these Audience Personas. With no segmentation, tooltips are typically blasted at everyone. That sucks.
    Ok, how does Contextual help?
    Segmentation with Contextual can be based on usage or even data from your backend. It’s an easy way to push feature usage to segments because nothing has to be coded. With Contextual you can:

The design and delivery of tooltips is in the hands of the Product Manager
A key barrier to implementing and testing user education is getting access to developer resources and then convincing the team to put it on the product roadmap. With more education appearing in the Apps we use every day, users will begin to understand their value and appreciate the education “nudge” to deepen and improve their experience.
Contextual makes it so easy for Product Managers
With Contextual, the developer’s work is a one-off integration, and they are released from tooltip design. This workload moves to Product Managers or Marketers.
Developers are then left to focus on features and Product Managers can focus on feature engagement to improve the return from all the development effort that goes into building better products!

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    Contextual & StreetHawk Inc 2023.