How Apps Lure in Users and Become Addictive

For smartphone users, using their phones during their free time can be addictive and is a regular behaviour. You might want to connect with friends, play a game or organise a date. However, this doesn’t necessarily mean that you are addicted to your smartphone. Repeated use of apps is usually just a form of time wasting. Before smartphones, people would have still displaced their time, but through different methods like watching television. What makes smartphones so appealing is that users can actively choose what content they want to view.

Creators Make Apps Addictive

App makers know that users will choose their own content, so it is important to draw them in. As a result, app developers will purposefully make their product attractive and addictive. This is because they need consumers to find the apps themselves and access the content. The tactics used by smartphone apps have been identified. Some serve no other purpose than to manipulate the behaviour of consumers, whereas others do have genuine purposes that makes the product useful.


The popular, picture-based application is arguably the most addictive. Users often form habitual behaviours, where a good photo or video must be posted as soon as it’s been taken. The immediate pay off through views and likes makes consumers want to post more. Gradually, an intimate social network is developed as interest grows and more people with common interests are discovered.

One of the most addictive features of Instagram is Stories. Users are encouraged to share events in their daily lives with their following. The format of Instagram Stories is extremely clever. When opening the app, Stories are the first thing that the consumer sees. If they choose to ignore the Stories feature, it will appear again whilst scrolling through photos. Once Instagram Stories have been accessed, people are automatically taken through multiple Stories until they manually leave the interface.

Additionally, Instagram also uses push notifications.  Users receive alerts about the people they follow and what they are doing. Although this seems like an obvious tactic, it is effective because people need to know what is happening and why they are being alerted. It is direct contact from the app urging consumers to use it again.


Several apps operate in a similar way to slot machines. Known as the “variable ratio schedule”, users are rewarded at various times by the information they are seeking out. With slot machines, you stand the chance of winning a small amount, the jackpot prize or nothing at all.

The same occurs with Twitter as users don’t know what they will see when they refresh the app, but they ultimately want information that is new and interesting. Even the act of refreshing creates anticipation as a spinning wheel appears to indicate that more content is loading. Sometimes this content will be abundant and brand new, whereas other times it will be old information that is no longer interesting.


As the most used app in the world, Facebook relies on its already established popularity. Facebook has expanded to other apps, allowing consumers to log in through their social media accounts, rather than experiencing the hassle of creating a brand new one.

The company has also capitalised on the longstanding membership of their users. In recent years, Facebook has become a log book of people’s lives. The “Memories” feature allows consumers to view their activity on the app from previous years. Posts, friendships and photos are catalogued and alerts users when they have new Memories to view. This consistently entices people to check their phone because they are ultimately fascinated on how their circumstances might have changed.


“Snapstreaks” have become an intrinsic part of the app. A streak indicates how many consecutive days a user has communicated with a friend. The streak ends if there is no contact within 24 hours. Maintaining the streak doesn’t come with a reward, it mainly allows the person to have bragging rights. Furthermore, the inclusion of a streak urges users to stay in contact with their friends. Either way, this keeps the app in continuous use.


Dating apps have made finding a companion into a game. Tinder’s format involves users swiping left for people they don’t like, whilst swiping right indicates interest. What keeps people addicted is the potential reward of a match, where the person they are interested in reciprocates and conversation can start. The urge to continue swiping comes from the excitement of potentially finding a romantic partner.

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