The Essential Guide to getting your first 10k users for a mobile app – Part 2


Getting traction with your mobile app can be hard. The team here at UserPath has worked on mobile apps that ranged from having hundred’s of users to hundred’s of thousands of users. We wanted to share our tips and tricks for getting those first 10k users. We thought that would be valuable, but we wanted to offer more, so we analyzed the top 50 free iOS apps listed here and the top 50 paid iOS apps here (as of August 7th, 2016), then we decided to break down the attributes & tactics they’re using to grow for you as well to figure out what works and what doesn’t when getting initial app downloads!

You’re reading Part 2 which covers tactics used by iOS developers to grow using the app store and their mobile app. If you want to see Part 1, which covers the desktop and mobile web, you can go here or if you want to see Part 3, which is essentially the TL;DR of parts 1 & 2, sign up to our newsletter.

Our Research

App Store:

The App Store, this is where all the magic happens. Your application gets it’s chance to shine and convince users for the first (or last) time that this is the app they need in their life. We looked at several metrics, but the ones that stood out the most were:

  1. Exactly 58% of apps use captions in their previews
  2. Most paid apps (37%) in the top 100 cost only $0.99
  3. Even though 50% of apps were “free” 55% had in-app purchases enabled
  4. Just under 30% of all apps in the top 100 have been featured by Apple
  5. Games account for 42% of the apps in the top 100

Captions in previews:

We think that SnapChat’s app store previews are the best in class.

We reviewed the screenshots of all 100 apps in the App Store and this was an interesting finding at first, but after some thought, it really makes sense. Users want to understand the value of your application and a screenshot alone does not provide that. Consequently, we found that 58% of the top 100 apps provide captions on their screenshots to help users understand their app before making the decision to download it.


By adding a caption to your app store previews / screenshots – you’re giving your potential user context as to why or how your app can provide value to them. If you’d like to generate some captioned app store screenshots for free, you can use The App Launchpad.

Takeaway: Adding captions to App Store images gives users context as to what they’re looking at & it’s value to them.

App pricing & in-app purchases:

The data points to common sense when it comes to pricing, but then common senses fails you. You’d think that a lower price would lead to higher rankings, which is why you find the paid apps concentrated in the $0.99 price bracket:


But when it comes down to it, we could not find a definitive correlation between price and ranking in the top 50 paid apps. The lesson here is price your app under $10, not under $1 if you want to charge for it.

Next, we qualified in-app purchases a little bit different from Apple. We determined an app to have in-app purchases if the app collects credit card information to charge you or if the app uses Apple’s traditional definition of in-app purchases which draws on your iTunes account.

In-app purchases are a great tool for boosting your revenue if you want to offer a free app, out of the apps we reviewed, 55% allow for in-app purchases. This was particularly interesting to us because 50% of our data set are free apps. We then dug a bit deeper and it turns out that in-app purchases are the most common among free apps (49% of apps with in app purchases & 27% of all apps in the top 100). This was an interesting finding for us, but after a bit of research, it’s how more than 20,000 iOS devs make significant revenues each year!


Our key takeaway here is that if you’re looking to balance downloads / user acquisition with revenue, go free but include a path to revenue via in-app purchases.

Takeaway: The price of an app does not appear to matter when it’s in the top 100 as long as it’s under $5.

App Store features:

We took a look at our apps to see whether or not Apple had featured them in one of their editorial collections, the numbers say 29% of the apps we researched were featured in the app store. Now the problem is, we don’t know if they were featured before or after they broke into the top 100. So just to be safe, here are 3 guides to getting featured in the app store.

Takeaway: Approx 30% of all apps in top 100 we analyzed have been featured in the App Store.


We had no idea that games dominated the top 100 by a very large margin (42% of all apps in our top 100 data set). This is an interesting finding for anyone considering doing an app, but not so illuminating if you’re trying to grow your existing app. Here is the chart that really shows the stronghold games have on the app store:


Takeaway:Games & photo apps are 54% of the top 100 apps in the App Store.

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In App tactics:

Once you manage to convince someone to download your app, you’re in the clear, right? Not so fast buster. After painstakingly diving into 100 apps, we think these are the most relevant findings:

  1. Only 16% of all apps provide a wholesome UX for push notification permissions
  2. Almost a third (28%) of apps require an account to use their app
  3. Although 28% require an account, only 12% offer OAuth sign up flows
  4. A very large portion (73%) of the top 100 provide guided onboarding via walkthroughs
  5. Only 30% of all apps provide a wholesome UX for location permissions

Push notifications:

We found that while 50% of the apps we looked at did ask for push notification permissions, only 32% of those apps (effectively, 16 out 50) provided the user with a heads up as to why these notifications are useful.


This is a major common pitfall, you only get 1 shot to ask your user for push notification enabling, you should not waste it. You don’t want to end up losing the ability to reach as much as 60% of your users. Another common mistake that a lot of apps make is to ask for push permission on app launch, this is not a good idea and Apple even warns against it in their “Human Interface Guidelines”: “Request permission at launch only when necessary for your app to function. Users won’t be bothered by this request if it’s obvious that your app depends on their personal information to operate.” If you want to learn more about this phenomenon then you can check out the research from Andrew Chen’s blog below:

Again, we cannot stress enough how important it is to have a screen that explains to your app users how, why & when you are going to be using push notifications to make their experience with your application better.

Takeaway: Only 32% of top Apps are properly asking for push notification permission

Requiring an account:

So in the apps we reviewed, 2 out of every 3 apps let us use the app without having to sign up or log in. On the flip side, it’s still 1 out of every 3 apps that required us to put in credentials to use their apps – seriously early registration must die! We applaud the apps that let you get value out of the app without having to fork over info, to the other 28% of apps that require login, you should note that it is well known that:

“Demanding that users register or log in before they can use an app or see website information has high interaction cost and defies the reciprocity principle.”

Neilson Norman Group Team

Takeaway: 1 out of every 3 apps force users to have an account. Don’t force users to signup if you want more users!

OAuth sign up:

Out of the people who do require sign up or login, only about 1 in 10 (12%) is letting users get in with minimal pain. That. Is. Horrible. Did you know that 77% of users believe social login (OAuth sign up) is a good registration solution? Not to mention, OAuth allows apps to collect A LOT more info about their users than a normal sign up does. This graph demonstrates a huge opportunity for many apps to both retain and learn a boatload more about their users!


Takeaway: 12% of apps allow social login, meanwhile 77% of users surveyed prefer social login!


If your user has made it past every single hurdle we have gone over so far, they’re probably invested and wondering how to use your app. This is one of the very last hurdles you need to overcome with your user, so they can start getting value and fun out of the app you’ve labored so much on! A simple walkthrough / onboarding experience is best and we found that 73% of the apps we looked at provided some form of guided onboarding in their app. It shouldn’t be overkill, just a few slides or arrows and you’re good to go!

Boomerang from Instagram has a great on-boarding experience.

Takeaway: Walkthroughs improve user activation rates, 73% of all apps in the top 100 provide guided walkthroughs

Location permissions:

Just like with push notifications, we found that while 24% of the apps we looked at did ask for location permissions, only 29% of those apps (effectively, 7 out 24) provided the user with a UX that explains the purpose of asking for location permissions. The solution to us is clear, provide a simple UX that allows you to repeatedly ask for permissions at the right moment in time. Take periscope for example:


They don’t stuff an iOS modal in your face (which you can dismiss forever, btw), they let you know what options are available if you’d like to start a broadcast & you choose what’s right you for as a user. This is great UX and obviously, periscope has benefitted from this.

Takeaway: Giving users context on why, how and when you’ll use their location is key in iOS apps.

Looking for Part 3?

That’s it for this segment of the series! We’ll be publishing Part 3 very soon, make sure you sign up to our mailing list to find out when that’s published!

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Co-founder at UserPath. Often blogging about the stuff we're doing to make your apps better and users satisfied. Sometimes writing about experiments or research. Learner. Thinker. Programmer.