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4
Dec
2016

Do you need splash screens in mobile and desktop apps?

Kirill Borissov
by
Kirill Borissov

4th December 2016

In short: using a splash screen depends on a context, but in most cases – do not use one.

During my career I’ve done lots of splash screens for different apps, both mobile and desktop. This is not my proudest achievement as a designer – splash screens are evil and there is nothing good about them, so when I had the chance I got rid of them in my apps.

MS Word splash screen
Microsoft Word splash screen from early 90-ties

A splash screen is an image that appears for a moment before the app is loaded. It’s more common in mobile apps and it usually takes up the whole screen. If it appears on a desktop it is generally a smaller image in the centre of the screen. Usually a splash screen has some branding, a logo or an icon which are displayed before the app loads (or, more frequently, until the 3 second delay in code ends).

It’s hard to tell which app introduced the splash screen first, but there was a good reason for that – a splash screen was a placeholder for an app while it loads. Some more advanced splash screens on desktops showed a progress bar, or even the files being loaded at that very moment. This practice was picked up by mobile apps, firstly on iOS with poorly done ports, and then on Android too, but without the progress bar, because the majority of apps load up fast enough and the progress bar (and to be honest – the splash screen itself) is not really needed.

Just for fun – check the desktop splash screen archive on Guidebookgallery

What big guys are doing?

Apple is definitely against splash screens: “As much as possible, avoid displaying a splash screen or other startup experience. It’s best when users can begin using your app immediately.” (iOS Human Interface Guidelines). Instead Apple UX designers encourage developers to use launch files (or images), which makes sense as they are not obstructive and mimic the app UI.

Interesting fact – most of the splash screens on mobile devices originate from early iOS apps when iPhones could not handle the fast loading of an app. It’s good that nowadays most of the apps are done right and load up in milliseconds.

Google has some mixed feelings about splash screens. Before Android Lollipop the line was pretty strict: “Don’t use splash screens”. However, recently Google designers changed their opinion and added simple splash screens with an app icon to some of their most resource demanding apps (Youtube, Docs, Maps and, recently, Photos) and even created a Design Guide page for making splash screens, calling these (surprise!) a “launch screen”. It caused a lot of interesting discussions, but the fact is – Google is not against splash screens anymore and even uses it in some of its own apps in a strange way. The current sequence is – branded screen, then UI placeholder and, only after that, the app itself.

Google splashscreens
Splash screens feature in Google Maps, Youtube, Docs and Photos, which take more time to load, and takes the user straight to the UI in others

Facebook and Twitter are constantly adding and removing splash screens, while LinkedIn currently uses (and probably always will use) a splash screen.

LinkedIn mobile app splash screens
LinkedIn mobile app splash screens

Microsoft and Adobe show a splash screen for their desktop apps.

Adobe splashscreen
Adobe does a pretty good job with its splash screens – showing a different picture and a loading progress.

So should your app use splash screens?

Probably yes if you can’t load the app fast enough and need some time after starting it. You should consider optimising the startup time first though, or using launch files instead.

Definitely yes if you have a heavy desktop app with a complicated UI. Desktop apps might run on very outdated hardware, so the waiting time might be more than a couple of seconds. It’s better to have a loading indicator or at least some imagery.

Definitely no if your app loads up fast and you care about user experience. Wasting 3 seconds of time for showing a user the icon they just clicked on or a logo (about which they don’t care) is a bad practice. Take the user straight to content instead and leave the brand for your corporate web site.

In my opinion, the splash screen is something that no one will miss, and I think it’s pretty much the same for 99% of users.

PS. Here is Oatmeal take on Flash intros, which also stands for the splash screens – “Websites with Flash intros”

Filed under Design

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Kirill Borissov

Kirill is a designer from Helsinki making mobile, desktop and web apps, passionate about creating simple and beautiful software.

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