User Research on Phone Unlock Behavior & Motivations



Executive Summary

As the leader of the UX Research team at Digital Turbine (formerly Mobile Posse, acquired in March 2020) I co-designed and guided a research engagement with Kantar Qualitative. The company’s product success relies on a very sensitive understanding of a phone user’s openness to new content recommendation, particularly upon phone unlock. It has a track record of success particularly in interactions that involved a phone unlock, and an engagement window between 2 to 20 seconds long.


This means there is a great deal of risk riding on getting the content that fits those moments right for our users. Because of the relatively unique nature of our product (the primary interaction ourrs immediately after a phone unlock), there isn’t a lot of existing ethnographic data that gives context around what phone users’ emotions are when they unlock their phones throughout the day.


Research design

Quick data points:

  • 2 months

  • Prompted emotional journaling

  • 30 participants total

  • 8 selected for follow-on video interviews

  • Follow-up data visualization to help to analyze the over 1000 data points generated from the research effort, and help to cross-reference the semi-quantitative data with the qualitative feedback from participants themselves


Going in, I knew I wanted to conduct research that spoke with actual users to help to demystify the existing marketing research we already had on the frequency of phone unlocks throughout the day (70x/day per our starting product quantitative data).


The main goal of this study was to unpack as best as possible the emotional state and needs behind those unlocks, with the hope of finding some kind of patterns that would help us improve everything from our marketing, to the product roadmap and features prioritized for release.

Right: self-recorded video journal (images blurred to respect privacy) -- these were 6 of the 8 participants who were chosen for a follow-up video interview, after 30 or so participants went through the written-prompt part of the journaling.


I asked that we select for a diverse group of users, both demographically and behaviorally, as well as users who seemed more likely to give more than one-word answers (understanding the risks of potential bias introduced here, but finding it acceptable given that we had full access to the written insights from all 30 participants, including the less-verbose ones).


Product & Business Results

One of the earliest business results from this research effort came in how we marketed the app itself.

Whereas earlier marketing was feature-focused, the new descriptive direction spoke to the emotional values we gleaned from the research and the priorities that the participants described when talking about the value they sought from their phone when they unlocked it.


More to come (portfolio under construction).