The German Corona tracing app – a quick & dirty UX review
Yesterday, the German Corona tracing app was released. Before the app’s release, there has been a lot of discussion about privacy and data security but one aspect that I did not see mentioned anywhere was the aspect of ease of use and usability. Today, I am going to quickly review the app’s usability and perhaps provide some ideas for improvement.
On the 16th of June 2020, the governmentally sponsored app “Corona warn app” was released to the German public through the Google play store and the Apple app store. The app was built by the Deutsche Telekom and SAP. Its intent and purpose are to provide German citizens with information about their individual COVID-19 risk status by tracing contact with other people who also have the app installed on their smartphones. This review will also include some feedback from colleagues, friends and family, who have also installed the app on their phones in the past 24 hours.
Step 1: Installation from the Google play / Apple app store
On the first day of availability, the biggest hurdle for many potential users appeared to have been the fact that the app was simply very hard to find. In both app stores, searching for “Corona”, “COVID”, or even “Corona warn app” (the full name of the app) did not provide a link to the app. This left users only with the choice of googling the app and hoping that they could find the link to the app through other sites.
Many of my contacts told me that they had googled the app and then found a link to the app’s store page on the page of an online newspaper or magazine. As of this morning, this issue seems to have been addressed (likely the Google and Apple stores have updated their search relevance tables last night) and today the app shows up as first match for relevant search terms in Germany in both stores.
Several of my friends told me that they had directly sent the recommendation links to their relatives, who they thought might not be able to quickly locate the correct app by using a search engine and clicking through online news. As a positive, the app provides a visible link to share the apps app store location with others.
Several people I discussed the installation process with pointed out that they had older relatives, who were still using older generation iPhones (6 and older) and who were therefore excluded from installing the app. As I understand this, the app does require a specific type of Bluetooth feature that is not available on these phones. As, in my experience, many older citizens tend to not update their smartphones as frequently as it is common place in younger generations or use the phones handed down from their younger relatives, the app might not reach a critical amount of citizens – many of whom are in the risk group for a more severe course of the COVID-19 infection.
Unfortunately, the Apple app store does only show the message that iOS13.5 or newer is required to install the app but does not provide information on what the user can do in that moment, if they don't have IOS13.5 installed (“try updating the software“ “iOS 13.5 is only available on iPhone 7 or newer”).
Step 2: Installation
The installation process of the app is quite simple – it can be completed by repeatedly pressing a well recognizable button at the bottom of the screen.
However, the information conveyed in the single steps of the installation process is neither structured for quick reading, nor is it written in easy language. Users, who are not native speakers, have learning disabilities or Dyslexia might have trouble understanding the relevant information on how the app works. Texts like this "Die verschlüsselten Zufallscodes geben nur Auskunft über das Datum, die Dauer und die anhand der Signalstärke berechnete Entfernung zu Ihren Mitmenschen. Persönliche Daten wie Name, Adresse und Aufenthaltsort werden zu keiner Zeit erfasst."could be structured in bullet points and key aspects could be emphasized by using matching icons. This would already make it easier to quickly scan and understand the information that is provided.
Also, as the app will work best if it is used by most people, we would recommend implementing an on-screen switch that allows a user to switch the language on the screen to “easy language” (Einfache Sprache).
In Germany, we also need to consider that there is a relevant part of the populace, who is currently still learning the German language or do not speak German at all (e.g. refugees, long term business travelers, or tourists, who currently can’t return to their home country due to a lockdown). The app is currently available in German and English. This already goes a long way to help these users with using the app – and thereby ultimately helps reduce the risk of infection for all of us. However, we should not forget translating the app into more languages could help even those not fluent in either of these two languages.
Step 3: App use
After installation, issues with language (as described in the installation step review above) persist, though some efforts have been made to break down lengthy texts. For example, in the information on the individual current risk state. Here information on recommended behavior is structured in a list of short texts and illustrated with matching icons, which makes perceiving and understanding this advice much less cumbersome.
Another positive aspect: The app provides a great deal of information on its function and how its design attempts to protect the privacy of its user. My friends and family were mostly satisfied with the information that was provided. However, on the other hand, there is one aspect that many of my friends and colleagues have criticized: They are unsure if the app would continue running in the background if they closed it. Unfortunately, neither the app itself, nor the linked FAQ page provides any information on this aspect.
We would recommend constantly providing this information on the app’s main screen or at least as a last step in the installation process and in the FAQs.
For the average German user, the app appears (as of today) to be easy enough to install and use. The question of keeping the app open should however be addressed. There also needs to be some thought be paid to the fact that a not insignificant part of the population won’t be able to install the app due to missing hardware – at least they need to be informed what options they have or what steps they would need to take to be able to run the app.
For non-native speakers, learners of the German language, visitors, people with limited cognitive functions, or for those with Dyslexia, the app is likely to be easy to install (if they don’t care what they are agreeing to when clicking the Continue button in the installation process). However, the app would likely be more attractive to these users (and usage rates would likely benefit) if the information in the app were better structured, and if they could switch to easy language.
We hope that these issues will be addressed in future updates to allow even more people to install the app and help us protect ourselves and our community from COVID-19.
Update - 17.06.2020
Some of our readers have contacted us and pointed out that there is an English version of the app that is installed when the system language is set to English. We have changed our text to reflect this information. Thank you to all who pointed this out to us!