How to ask users for app permissions?

Whether you are developing iOS or Android apps you need to think about the best way to get your users to give you the permissions you need.

Why app permissions are important?

Your iOS app needs access to a users’ location? 
The camera roll is crucial for your core feature? 
You need to send notifications about new messages users receive?

No matter what access you need and whether you really need it (although I hope you do) you will need users’ permission to access it. 
Sounds easy, right?

The thing is, you basically have one shot to do it right. If a user says no, they can still change it in their settings, after seeing the reason to do it, but this is pretty complicated for someone who doesn’t really care that much to do it. 
If you don’t do it right the first time, chances are, you may be losing your chance to show the value of your app.

App permissions — do it right

It’s really important to take a minute (a lot more actually) to establish what the app really needs to run and give users the best possible experience. 
If you’re asking for a permission that you can manage fine without, ask yourself the question “do I really need this level of access at all?”. 
Whilst it would be nice to have free access to whole users’ device, just in case, if you ask users for permissions they don’t understand, you will lose their trust and trust is a huge issue with mobile apps.

Our phones are extremely private and we don’t really like giving permissions to access our information, it’s obvious.

We are willing to give up some of our privacy only if there’s a good reason behind it but we have to understand this reason.

Your job is to show users the benefits of giving you their permission and how it’s gonna be used.

You may think that users care only about the benefits and this is most common narrative when it comes to talking about app users but you also need to remember that users are getting more aware and yes, they do care how their private information is gonna be used.

Those are actually very common questions:

  • Why does this app want to know my location?
  • Is it gonna share it somehow?
  • Are they gonna use it to sell me something?
  • IS THIS SAFE?

So what should you do? It’s simple. Be honest. 
No need to explain technical details but it really will be appreciated by your users if you tell them not only WHY the app needs location but also HOW it’s gonna use it.

How to ask users for app permissions?

Google Maps Location Permission

How to ask users for app permissions?

Uber Location Permission

How to ask users for app permissions?

Heyday Photos and Location permissions

When and how to ask for app permission?

Just like with many mistakes from app developers, the most common mistake with asking for app permissions is bad timing. 
When you should ask for it? It’s easy. When you need it.

Two popular approaches

If you read some articles on this subject you will find two popular approaches to asking users for permissions.

  • The first approach says it’s best to ask for all you need once user opens the app for the first time, when the user is still in “installation mode”.

Well…what if they don’t open it for few days after downloading? This approach also assumes that users are used to getting permission requests and once they open a new app, they know they might have to click few okays. 
That’s right, users are used to it but it’s also extremely annoying. Personally, even though I expect it, I still find it annoying and sometimes click no without even reading requests, just to get to the app as fast as possible.

  • A simple way to avoid overwhelming users with requests and make sure they read what you’re asking them for is to ask for it when it makes sense to them. This is the second approach.

You need an access to the camera roll? Why would you need it any sooner than when user wants to add an image from his camera roll? 
Microphone? You don’t need permission to use it before your user wants to do anything that requires it. 
Remember that asking for some permissions may seem bit suspicious if you ask for something without referring to an action user is trying to take. It may seem like it’s going to interfere with user’s experience if they try to take an action and see a popup but in this case it’s actually a plus. 
Since they already wanted to take this action and something gets in their way, they are more willing and motivated to read what is it all about and as a result, understand what the app needs.

  • Another good practice you shouldn’t overlook is the double request.

The double request involves showing an explanation of what you are about to request within your app flow, in your familiar app styling before the native control actually does the asking for the permission. Some experts will tell you to always show a double request to have a chance to explain the purpose of the permission but I can’t fully agree with this. In some cases it’s great to communicate with users by showing them nice explanation window implemented in your app. 
This will also give you a chance to ask for app permission again if user says no the first time, an option you don’t have if you show native request but in my opinion not every request requires explanation. Sometimes it just means forcing user to click twice and annoy them even more without a good reason.

There’s no rule of thumb for that, you just have to adjust it to your application, keeping in mind that what really matters here is to make the app simple and enjoyable for end users.

How to ask users for app permissions?

Cluster App Push Notification Permission

Summary

I will repeat it again and again — try not to be annoying. 
Don’t force users to do anything and respect them. People really appreciate it when you’re honest and respectful towards them, even in the application. Let the experience be as smooth as possible and try to not get in a way. Go through your app, find what features need users’ permissions and figure out what is the best way of asking for it. You can be sure that if you put users first, they will love your app and share it with others.

 

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Sara Maj

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A product owner with an approach to build successful business and not just a product. Enthusiast of service design, coffee, dogs and constant learning. The only one who can cleverly combine sarcasm and empathy at the same time.