Mobile Tooltips – a guide to effective design & implementation to improve UX

Sakshi Gupta
March 19, 2024
14 mins


When you download or sign up for a new app, it is common to feel overwhelmed by the features and possibilities of using them. Some features, buttons, form fields, or options may not seem quite straightforward to use. Now in such situations, it is common for users to leave the app – and as a product manager, you wouldn’t want that.

Simply placing an informative text that guides the user through the screen or functionality can help avoid such frustrations. This is where mobile tooltips help – they serve as friendly companions on the user's journey. It provides timely assistance and valuable insights precisely when they're needed most. 

In this guide, we help you understand how to use mobile tooltips as a helping hand to guide your users in the product.

What are mobile app tooltips?

Mobile app tooltips are concise and contextual messages (or prompts) that appear within the app’s user interface to guide users in navigating it. They are a kind of in-app nudge and are visual cues or textual overlays that highlight specific app elements or prompt action such that it helps the user better understand the app’s interface or design.

For example, Amazon is showcasing a small tooltip for a new user who hasn’t signed in or created an account on Amazon. It prompts the new user to first sign in or sign up if they are a new customer rather than jump into browsing the store. With this, Amazon is ensuring it gets the new website visitor’s contact information so that it can continue its relationship with them and hopefully bring them back on its site via retargeting or email campaigns.

amazon's tooltips

Importance of tooltips in mobile apps

Tooltips help in improving user experience – for both new users who are interacting with your app for the first time or existing users who are experiencing any changes in the flows.

Here are five ways in which mobile tooltips help provide a better user experience:

1. Mobile app tooltips guide user navigation

When users are not able to understand the next step expected out of them within the app, tooltips help guide them through the same. They assist users in understanding complex features or functionalities so that they can move forward in the designed user flow. Doing so reduces any confusion and frustration that may occur and thus, potential drop-offs.

2. Makes user onboarding easy

User onboarding is a critical user flow where drop-offs can cost too much for the app’s success. It is better to adopt tooltips, which serve as invaluable companions to guide new users through the app interface. They help accelerate the learning curve, ensuring that users can quickly grasp the app's functionalities.

3. Reduces errors and unnecessary actions by users

Sometimes, users may accidentally or unknowingly click on buttons or perform actions that are not intended for their use case. Tooltips help prevent user errors by offering clear instructions or warnings when users perform certain actions. By guiding users away from potential pitfalls, tooltips minimize frustration and enhance overall usability.

4. Helps reinforce call to actions

The benefit of mobile tooltips is how they can draw attention to CTAs by highlighting their importance or relevance to the user's current task or objective.

For example, a tooltip appearing near a CTA button may say, "Tap to complete the purchase and unlock exclusive discounts,". Now, you are reinforcing the importance of clicking the button to proceed with the desired action of purchasing and how you’re also giving discounts.

5. Increases trust and comfort in using the app

In some cases, users may hesitate to click on buttons or anywhere around the app due to uncertainty or apprehension about the outcome. Tooltips can address user concerns by providing reassurance, additional information, or incentives that motivate them to take action.

Overall, mobile app tooltips are a great way to improve the user experience that helps users make the best use of the app. Rightly placed tooltips eventually build trust, and reduce drop-offs, and any support tickets caused by the app’s confusing design.

At Nudge, we can help you implement these mobile tooltips without any code or development bandwidth – explore our walkthroughs feature today.

8 different types of mobile tooltips and their functions

To further understand mobile tooltips, it is useful to know their different types. These categorizations are based on their use case as follows:

1. User onboarding tooltips

During user onboarding, you have to create a good first impression. For new users, navigating through an unfamiliar app interface can be daunting. Onboarding tooltips are a type of in-app nudge that help minimize friction by offering clear guidance on proceeding with the onboarding process. Also, they help users quickly grasp essential functionalities and become proficient in using the app.

For example, if you have a Flipkart account and download the mobile app, it will direct your attention to the notifications section. Its copy mentions ‘Explore More’ – thus, segmenting its users and avoiding any onboarding tour which the user might be familiar with. It only shows the features that the user may not know of and will help them further explore the shopping app.

flipkart's tooltips for user onboarding

At Nudge, we help you design a series of tooltip-based onboarding tours and product walkthroughs – explore our user onboarding and activation features.

2. Feature discovery tooltips

Feature discovery tooltips highlight hidden or lesser-known features within the app. You can drive the attention of the user in the same user flow to help them know something that might be useful to them. This encourages users to explore and engage with additional functionalities beyond the basics.

For example, here Duolingo is sharing a tooltip to make users aware of how they can tap on the word and know its meaning. This helps a language learner further improve their understanding of the words and eventually improves their chances of completing the course.

duolingo's tooltips for feature discovery

3. Instructional tooltips

Instructional tooltips provide users with specific instructions, meaning, or guidance on how to perform certain actions within the app. The idea of providing these tooltips is to help users follow the designed flow of your app and not deviate into ambiguity. They also help users understand complex processes or workflows and reduce any confusion about what doing a specific action could ‘mean’.

For example, here Google Drive is sharing a tooltip to help the user properly use the ‘Camera’ feature for uploading documents. It instructs the user to align the position of the camera. There is also a ‘feature discovery tooltip’ with the ‘color’ tooltip which highlights the color effect features.

google drive's instructional tooltips

4. Confirmation tooltips

Confirmation tooltips confirm user actions or decisions. This helps ensure that users are aware of the consequences of their performed action before proceeding to the next. They help prevent accidental or unintended actions.

For example, here Stackexchange is showing two tooltips. One is restricting the user from commenting on a post and informing them of the reason for this restriction. It is also linking to what ‘50 reputation’ means if the user would like to learn more about the context. Another is an instructional tooltip that describes the link.

stack exchange's confirmation tooltips

5. Error tooltips

Error prevention tooltips alert users to potential errors or pitfalls before they occur. This tooltip is commonly seen while filling up forms or signing up. Error tooltips are essential, helping users avoid actions that could lead to mistakes or negative outcomes.

For example, it is quite common to receive error tooltips while filling up forms or entering details across apps. Some signup forms require you to enter ‘work email’ – and other common emails with Gmail or Yahoo show error in-app messages.

error prevention tooltips

6. Help tooltips

Help tooltips provide users with additional information or resources to assist them in using the app more effectively. They often offer tips, suggestions, or links to support resources.

For example, here Loom is helping its users discover various use cases of using Loom. It has placed its ‘Loom Community’ and a tooltip that explains what it is and how it helps users make the most of the same. They can click the link and proceed to explore more.

loom's help tooltips

7. Social sharing

Tooltips can be used to encourage social sharing and user engagement by prompting users to share their experiences or achievements within the app. You can further provide incentives or rewards for sharing. Further placing tooltips push for a sense of community and drive user-generated content.

For example, here Pinterest is using a tooltip to guide users to its social sharing features. It has placed a CTA with a casual one-liner copy, thus not being too pushy in its tooltip. It has also provided a ‘Not Now’ option for users to exit the tooltip. Here, Pinterest has managed to trigger social sharing without distracting or frustrating users.

pinterest's social sharing tooltips

8. New feature announcement

When introducing new features or updates, tooltips serve as effective vehicles for notifying users. You can place CTAs directed toward providing relevant information or instructions to access the features. By proactively informing users about new functionalities, tooltips encourage exploration and adoption of the latest enhancements.

For example, Gmail informs its users about updating the Google sign-in design experience. This is important because sign-in is a critical activity involving passwords, and sudden design changes may trigger discomfort and confusion among existing users. For this, Gmail tells users about these changes so that they continue singing in without hesitation.

How to design effective mobile tooltips?

Ideally, your user interface should be intuitive and self-explanatory. Mobile tooltips are useful to make sure any difficult aspects of user experience are taken care of.  Thus, they need to be truly useful, or else they become nothing more than a distraction.

Here are five best practices to keep in mind when implementing tooltips for your user interface design:

1. Write concise and clear tooltip copy

The content within the tooltip should be short and straightforward. It should directly tackle the action you want the user to pay attention to. Include only essential information, but enough to guide the user to move forward successfully in the designed user flow.

For example, instead of saying "Click here to proceed to the next step," use "Tap to continue" for clarity and conciseness.

2. Design visually appealing tooltips

The tooltip should align with the overall design guidelines followed by your product. It should merge with the design, but should also stand out enough for the user to take notice. For this, consider using visually appealing elements across color, typography, and iconography to make tooltips stand out. Usually, it is better to choose icon-based tooltips with ‘?’ or ‘i’ icons as it is more visually appealing and do not distract the user.

The best practice would be to use the app's primary color for tooltips. It helps them blend seamlessly with the rest of the interface while still grabbing the user's attention. Nudge helps you design and launch tooltips that look native to your app.

3. Place them strategically such that they don’t distract

No user would like unnecessary tooltips popping up when they are using your app. Your tooltips should help users – ideally being a choice to see. If you’re promoting a feature, make sure it’s easy to close the tooltip and it doesn’t obstruct their current flow of interaction with the app. You should consider the user's focus area and adjust the tooltip's placement accordingly to maximize visibility without being intrusive.

For example, you can position tooltips near the relevant UI element or action. This ensures they are in the user's line of sight without blocking critical information. Also, ensure that they have the option to manually exit the tooltip when required.

4. Tooltips should have contextual relevance

Placing random information that the user already knows fails the whole agenda of using a tooltip. Your tooltips need to have a context for placing them such that they align with the user's current actions or goals within the app. For this, you must pay close attention to the tooltip’s position and copy.

A best practice is to display tooltips that provide information specific to the task the user is currently performing or the feature they are exploring.

5. Pay attention to the timing in the tooltip presentation

The tooltip should appear only when the user is anticipating help navigating the app. To time it, you can trigger tooltips based on user actions or interactions. Also, it shouldn’t appear at a too fast or slow pace which may frustrate them. 

For example, when a user taps on a specific button or accesses a new feature for the first time, you can trigger the tooltip. 

“The one place that I think where the tooltips can appear instantly are the navigation items which are in the form of icons. As I mentioned earlier it's always best to show the labels associated with the icons. But in the case when you don't want to show the labels along with the icons, at least show the instant tooltips on hover without adding a delay to it. It doesn't hurt.

For the tooltips that are not displayed instantly, 0.5 seconds seems to be the reasonable delay we can add to the display and wait 0.5 seconds before hiding the tooltip after the mouse leaves.”

Samson Tennela, Staff UX Designer at ServiceNow

Conduct A/B testing for your designed tooltips to understand the difference in engagement and its impact. For this, consider using Nudge’s tooltips feature, which includes the creation of custom tooltips and analytics. Our dashboard will provide you with real-time feedback on how your tooltips are performing and if they require further optimization.

Where to utilize mobile app tooltips?

There are three main use cases where you place tooltips to guide users:

1. Provide contextual help

What might appear as an obvious step in your user flow, might not be so for the end user, especially the first-time ones. Step into the minds of your users and think about which options, features, buttons, etc. would be out of sight or not clear to them. Once noted, you must check the context in which you have set up the tooltip and make sure it's effective by A/B testing.

For example, here Airbnb is providing the context to its users about its reviews section. When you tap on it, it shows what the section means, its importance, and a link to check it if a user is further interested. Thus, the user is now more comfortable to explore further now that they know the context of what ‘reviews’ means in the Airbnb app.

airbnb's contextual tooltips

2. Highlight or introduce new features

You can highlight specific features or updates on your app to your users by timing it right. Doing so helps with product adoption. You can add action buttons to encourage interactive engagement by exploring the new feature directly from the tooltip. To get it right, timing is critical for placing the tooltip, else this may turn into a distraction for the user.

For example, if you’re sharing a product update, ensure tooltips announce new features promptly after the update is rolled out to users. Delayed deployment may lead to missed opportunities for engagement and exploration of the new functionalities.

Here, Spotify is alerting its users about the availability of Snap Lens for sharing music from Spotify directly to Snapchat. This way, if the user is an avid Snapchat user, they would be excited to try it out, thus further increasing engagement. On their tooltip design, they have included the Snap Lens logo and a single one-liner text which clearly mentions what the user can do with the new feature.

Note how the tooltip dismissal is not present, which can be frustrating or confusing for a user who isn’t interested or uses Snapchat.

spotify's feature adoption tooltip

3. Describe features or UX elements

These tooltips are used to describe certain features, form fields, buttons, etc. within an app. You can commonly see such tooltips when filling up forms, signing up for a new app, making payments, exploring paid features, etc.

For example, here Photoshop app is taking the new user on a product walkthrough of its editing features. It prompts for a tour with an in-app message, and when you enter the tour, it starts to describe various options available to edit the photo. There is an exit for the series of these tooltips (in this case, four tooltips) with the ‘Skip Tour’ option.

photoshop's descriptive tooltip

5 challenges in mobile app tooltip design – and how to overcome them

As mentioned previously, mobile app tooltips can turn into distractions if not designed properly. You may face below mentioned challenges while designing and implementing them for your product – and we have also shared how to overcome them:

1. Sharing too many tooltips

Tooltips should not be your go-to way of instructing users, but your designs should be self-explanatory. If you’re placing too many tooltips, you must redo the design. Too many tooltips appearing simultaneously or overlapping with other UI elements can overwhelm users. Eventually, it will detract from the overall user experience and obstruct them from completing their usual flow.

Solution: First, understand the context of each tooltip and gauge its necessity. Can you make any changes to the design in the first place to avoid any confusion? If yes, prioritize redesigning. You can also limit the number of tooltips displayed at once and ensure they do not obstruct essential content or functionality. Consider implementing a tooltip queue or hierarchy to manage multiple tooltips effectively.

2. Are your tooltips accessible to everyone?

The idea of tooltips is to make it easy for users to use your app. But many times one skips considering accessibility while placing the tooltips. Translating tooltips for different languages and ensuring accessibility for users with disabilities can also get complex.

Solution: From the start, follow the best practices of mobile app accessibility design. For example, you can provide alternative text for screen readers and ensure sufficient color contrast. You must plan for localization from the outset, allowing space for text expansion and considering other cultural nuances.

3. Designing mobile tooltips that are difficult to dismiss

Nothing is more frustrating than having an in-app nudge that wouldn’t go away. However, providing users with intuitive ways to interact with them without disrupting their existing flow is also a challenge.

Solution: Do not forget to provide clear dismissal options like close icons or swipe-to-close gestures. Your designed mobile tooltips should not have an intrusive or on-your-face design. Consider design options such as tapping or swiping which are good for avoiding disrupting the user's workflow and still displaying the tooltip.

4. Maintaining consistency across mobile app platforms

Both Android and iOS follow different design principles. Also, Android phones have varying screen sizes and additional UI layers depending on the brand. For this reason, it gets difficult to maintain brand and design consistency for designed tooltips across app platforms.

Solution: Familiarize yourself with platform-specific design guidelines and adapt the mobile tooltip design accordingly. Try to choose a design that is easy to place across platforms for a consistent and coherent experience. Also, perform user testing for app platforms before deploying the mobile tooltips.

For this reason, it is wise to choose a user experience platform for implementing tooltips rather than choosing to code them from scratch. Using Nudge, you can conduct multiple iterations of your designed tooltips and deploy them instantly in a single platform. Our insights, feedback, and reporting features help you measure, test, and further iterate on your mobile tooltip designs.

5. Showing the same tooltips to all users

User segmentation is important to make sure your mobile tooltips are truly useful to your various user personas. Users may have varying preferences regarding tooltips, with some finding them helpful while others prefer to explore the app independently.

Solution: You can consider providing options for users to customize tooltip settings where they can enable or disable tooltips based on their preferences. Respect user choices and provide clear instructions for adjusting tooltip settings within the app. Otherwise, consider user segmentation and designing dynamic user interfaces that adhere to various user personas your business has. Using Nudge, you can create different user flows for respective user types and cohorts and measure their effectiveness.

We can help you design and implement mobile tooltips without code

Nudge is a comprehensive user experience design platform that is focused on helping you improve user engagement and conversion. You can design custom user flows without code – thus, you have the flexibility to design multiple flows for your mobile tooltips and experiment with what works for your product.

Explore how Nudge helps you save costs on mobile app tooltip implementation for creating the most relevant user experience — book a demo today.

Sakshi Gupta
March 19, 2024