Why all developers should think about obeying Marissa Mayer's 'two-tap' rule for apps

Shane Schick

I'm sure you could learn a lot from all the rich and famous minds who assembled for the recent World Economic Forum in Davos, but for app developers, the biggest takeaway probably came from Yahoo CEO Marissa Mayer.

As reported by Nicholas Carlson in a recent LinkedIn post, Mayer was part of a panel discussion in which she touched upon one of the mandates she has given development teams at Yahoo as they create new products for mobile devices. It's called the "two-tap rule." Carlson, who wrote the biography Marissa Mayer and the Fight to Save Yahoo, explains: 

The test for the rule is simple, says Mayer: "Once you're in the app, is it two taps to do anything you want to do?" If yes — the app is a go. If no, it's back to the drawing board.

Maybe that would strike some app developers as too draconian, but as a consumer, I love it. Much like trying to call a company's customer service line and being forced to wade through a maze of possible options, there's nothing worse than having to take multiple steps to play what should be a simple mobile game, browse through a newsreader or update a productivity tool. Two taps is also realistic, because in many cases you would need at least one tap to bring up various menus or feature options. It's a constraint, to be sure, but one that probably brings out the creativity in Yahoo's best developers. 

As the app industry gets more sophisticated about user experience design, I'd love someone--a market research firm, perhaps, or one of the big app store analytics companies--to produce a report that puts the two-tap rule to the test. For example, of the apps and mobile games that tend to top the app store charts, how many would receive a passing grade from Marissa Mayer? What about those at the bottom of the charts? Does this rule work across all apps and game genres, or are there nuances here to consider? 

Then, of course, we should consider devices. Is two taps enough for tablet apps, or does the larger screen mean more should be accomplished in one? As apps move beyond traditional hardware and onto wearables like smart watches, will consumers be tapping at all, or will it be using sensor technology to respond to glances (should there be a "two-glance" rule, for example)? Or might consumers need more taps given the limited screen real estate in some cases? 

Rules, of course, are meant to be broken, but in Mayer's case, the two-tap rule serves a worthy goal: Her stated objective is that her company makes apps that are "fast, responsive and beautiful." You don't have to work at Yahoo to realize this is an approach worth following.--Shane