Launch Screens Are More Impactful Than You Think

Launch screens are never a priority for developers and designers. They’re often just a fun side project, or may even be at the top of your management board. However, we often forget about the impact they have on user perception of app quality.

Cold Start

The purpose of a launch screen is to improve upon the default “cold start” behaviour — the unappealing white screen displayed while the app is being loaded from the device’s memory.

I won’t dive into the details of what cold start behaviour is or how to implement a launch screen. There are plenty of great articles covering the topic in more depth, like this post from Ian Lake.

What are Launch Screens?

A launch screen is not the same as a splash screen. It’s a different kind of “placeholder” displayed to the user during the cold start of an Android application.

After the release of Android 5 (Lollipop) and the introduction of Material Design, launch screens are now part of the Google design guidelines.

You’ve probably noticed this already — Google not only recommend their usage, but implement them into most of their apps (Play Store, Play Music, YouTube, Maps, Android Pay and even their new Allo app).

Twitter recently added a launch screen on their Android App to be consistent with their iOS app.

Benefits

Frankly, I was skeptical the first time I read about launch screens, seeing these as a foolish replica of the common splash screen practice on iOS.

Now, my opinion is the opposite —an app without a launch screen looks unpolished, even if its UX is great further down the user journey.

So… why implement launch screens?

Impress new users

Ask yourself:

What is the first element my new users are going to see while launching the app?

The answer is simple, they will either see that ugly “white window” or your beautiful and branded launch screen.

As an example, here’s what I came up with for the Car Throttle app, compared to the default behaviour on another app:

Without launch screen (left) / With launch screen (right)

My objectives were clear:

  1. Keep the design simple
  2. Display the product logo
  3. Make the brand readable

Look professional

A well-designed launch screen automatically gives your users the impression of a high quality app, that you’ve made every detail count and spent time and effort polishing it.

Brand identity

I could go on forever about why I think it’s a great way to display your brand identity.

In general, users likes to be reassured. It might sound strange, but yes — new users want to be sure they’ve opened the right app.

You need to show them that they are entering into your immersive world.

Rules for an Outstanding Launch Screen

From left to right: Eventbrite, Google Maps, Twitter and Songkick

Keep it lightweight

As you can see from the examples above, the simpler the better — these screens are not overstuffed, the background reflects the main brand colour, the product logo is in the middle. Stay simple.

Google is the exception here — they also display the brand, which is understandable as they use a launch screen in many apps (Maps, Photos, Music, Translate, and in the soon-to-be-released Allo and Duo).

Catchphrase

Adding the app slogan can improve your launch screen. However, be mindful — it has to be clear, short, use a readable typeface and your user eyes should be able to instantly distinguish it from the background.

Here’s a great example from the Foodspotting app:

Find and share great dishes

Clear and understandable — at a glance, your user instantly knows what the app does.

Status bar

As much as I like the examples above, I still think there is room for improvement. For instance, matching the status bar colour to the background colour, so the screen is more immersive and doesn’t resemble a traditional window filled with an image.

With merged status bar (left) / without merged status bar (right)

Say no to extra work!

The launch screen is displayed during the cold start, don’t extend the time it appears on-screen by doing extra work on the app instantiation.

Avoid doing too much on your Application and Activities onCreate() methods.

Conclusion

It’s up to you to decide if you want to spend a couple of hours designing and implementing a launch screen, to improve your app and make it more immersive.

For me, it’s always a pleasure to open an app and see something beautiful and inviting, rather than a blank white screen.