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Mobile App Heatmap – Not All Taps Are The Same

7 Min Read

2019 was a breakthrough year for mobile usage. With 52% web visits initiated from a mobile device[1], mobile has been overtaking desktop visits consistently in the latter half of the decade and by 2020, the number of smartphone users will stand at a staggering 3.5 billion.

Growth of mobile apps

A natural function of the boom in smartphone penetration is the exponential uptick in the number of mobile applications on offer.

“About 80% of smartphone time is in apps”[2]

a graph showcasing the number of minutes spent on mobile in browser or app
Time spent on mobile apps and websites

In fact, Android and iOS combined, offer close to 6 million mobile applications today. Given the unprecedented speed at which mobile apps are taking over the digital space, understanding the nuances of differing user behavior is the key to delivering converting mobile experiences. While mobile usage is underlined by taps, desktop visits are driven by clicks. Naturally, experiences need to differ.

For example, one of the derived inferences from the tap vs click difference is the fact that mobile app. screens would not have the luxury of combining multiple elements on a page as their desktop counterparts – the page would be prone to erroneous taps because of a high density of elements and that would be classified as a horrible experience.

This is just one of the many examples of how user experience designers might want to factor in innate differences between devices and incorporate these in the prototyping stage.

One of the most powerful mechanisms to identify if your mobile experiences are optimized for delight (and hence conversions!) is to study mobile heatmaps.

Mobile app vs. browser heatmaps: the what and how

Mobile app heatmaps capture users’ in-app interaction and engagement and visually present the data using an overlay of colors. Red (warm) areas indicate high user engagement whereas blue (cool) areas indicate low engagement.

an example of a mobile app heatmap
Red areas have higher engagement than blue areas.

This color-based projection of interaction and engagement data onto the app screen allows you to comprehend exactly where your app users are focusing simply by looking at the aggregated data being overlaid. This aggregation helps businesses in two ways:

  1. Abstract large amounts of engagement data and concentrate them in hot vs cold zones for quick interpretations
  2. Identify UX improvement opportunities by identifying areas of traction (or lack of)

Unlike website or browser heatmaps that gather data based on mouse interaction like clicks and scrolls, mobile app heatmap gathers users’ touch data. This makes mobile app heatmaps much more complex than website heatmaps as the data captured is gesture-based – the SDK of the heatmap tool you select captures every micro-interaction on the app and all gestures are saved on respective screens, which is then aggregated to generate heatmaps.

various types of touch gestures on a mobile app

Even though both the heatmap types serve the same purpose, i.e., increasing conversions, the way both of these heatmaps function and the nature of the collected data are highly contrasting as can be seen above.

Another major point of difference between the two is that while for website heatmaps, a website’s HTML code serves as the base and websites appear the same across all operating systems (like Android, iOS), in case of mobile app heatmap, it is much more complex. Mobile app heatmaps have to take into account their respective development platforms (like IONIC, Native, etc), and to add to the complexity, the same app could be different for different operating systems. In simpler terms, the number of variables impacting mobile app. render are multifold in comparison to desktop render making them prone to UI/UX inconsistencies.

a comparison between desktop and mobile app heatmap
Comparison between Desktop and Mobile App Heatmaps

Leveraging Mobile App Heatmaps to Improve Key Conversion KPIs

The benefits that app owners can reap out of using mobile app heatmaps are endless. Every industry can have its own unique set of use cases and pain points they solve using heatmaps. But one theme runs common across all industries when it comes to using heatmaps for and that is the unrelenting quest for increasing conversions. In mobile apps, the path to increase engagement, and thereby, conversions using heatmaps mainly involve optimization of 2 major optimizing User Interface and User Experience.

UI and UX are very closely knit – the UI of an app is optimized so it’s UX can be improved.

Everything that an app user sees on their screens comprises the app’s user interface, i.e, UI or mobile app interface. They can broadly be divided into content, images, layout, color schema, CTA buttons, and navigation. Mobile app heatmap’s gesture tracking captures each tap, swipe, and zoom on every single page of the app, thereby providing user behavior insights to optimize each element of the mobile app interface.

For instance, an eCommerce app’s analyst or interface designer can identify distractions and confusing content, or discover broken links that are preventing visitors from signing-up and becoming loyal users, simply by looking at the touch heatmap of the app’s log-in page.

an example of mobile app heatmap with the goal to discover broken links
Broken links show up as hotspots on heatmaps

Or, the marketing team of a travel app can apprehend if the icon they added to take users directly to the app’s home screen from anywhere on the app is discoverable enough or not. If users are tapping on other elements and areas on the screen before finding the right button, it can indicate a navigational flaw in the app that needs optimization.

an example of a  mobile app heatmap to highlight navigation flaw
Low clicks on navigation elements are indicative of a poor user experience

Analysts, interface designers, and marketers across industries can use mobile app heatmaps to iteratively optimize all the elements comprising an app’s UI, thereby improving it’s UX. User Experience is what your app users experience on your app – the better the experience, the higher the engagement. And the more intuitive and optimized the elements of the app interface, the better the experience, the higher the engagement.

As Invision puts it, “88% of online consumers are less likely to return to a site after a bad experience”[3], and if 88% of opportunities are lost, your app’s core conversion metrics will take a sizeable hit.

Mobile heatmaps shed influential insights on improving engagement KPIs. Two ways in which you can use heatmaps is to improve

Time on-page:

  • A mobile heatmap can throw light on the most significant elements getting traction so that you can rearrange content order. This directly increases your time-on-page.

The number of interaction events:

  • Most mobile heatmaps will point you towards areas that drive taps but are not meant to. These areas can be anything – text elements that are high on emotion (“Latest and greatest handset!”), visual elements that are meant to serve as cues but not via a click (a down arrow that does not do anything), etc. Through heatmaps, you can make a note of these and trigger an action corresponding to these events. For example, clicking on your down arrow can make the user jump down the page.
an example of a mobile app heatmap to highlight navigation flaw with scroll arrow not working
Dead clicks on a non-functional element


Mobile app heatmaps help to improve user experience

If there is one certainty in the dynamic (oxymoron?) landscape of devices, it is this-smartphone penetration is only going to increase. 

For UI/UX professionals looking to hone their skills towards producing mobile screens that drive engagement and profits (conversions!), mobile heatmaps offer a ton of actionable insights behind a visitor’s usage. Make mobile heatmaps a part of your workflows so that you can marvel at your user’s stroll (or crawl) around your masterpiece.

VWO offers an array of heatmaps at your disposal. We have a free trial too if you do not want an overcommitment, and a free AI-powered heatmap generator that allows you to predict how visitors interact with your web page.

FAQs on mobile app heatmap

How do mobile app heatmaps work?

Mobile app heatmaps work on the data gathered from the mobile app users’ touch. Some examples of the type of touch data collected are swiping, tapping or zooming. Based on the data collected, a mobile app heatmap shows the different areas of engagement of the user with the mobile app.

How can Mobile app heatmaps influence UX/UI of the app?

UI/UX for a Mobile app are very closely bound. Mobile App heatmaps help to track every gesture of the user on the mobile app interface, i.e. UI of the mobile app. The insights that are derived from tracking the elements, can be used to optimize those elements, and thereby improving the experience for the users, i.e., UX.

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Shanaz Khan from VWO

Hi, I am Shanaz from the VWO Research Desk.

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