How long do you wait on an app to load before throwing a fit?

Taylor Martin
 from Concord, NC
Published: March 1, 2012

Thanks to the invention of the World Wide Web and, of course, more recent leaps in wireless technology and mobile software, we have nearly all the information and entertainment we could ever want at our fingertips. And it's accessible from nearly anywhere in the world. That goes great with our generation's constant ADD-like attitude towards everything. We're as impatient as we have ever been – more than some of us would like to admit.

Earlier today, Steve Lohr of The New York Times wrote a piece titled For Impatient Web Users, an Eye Blink Is Just Too Long to Wait. Lohr explains how Google and other tech companies are in a race to "make fast go faster" and that our attention span is dwindling, now less than the blink of an eye at 250 ms. He explains:

"These days, even 400 milliseconds — literally the blink of an eye — is too long, as Google engineers have discovered. That barely perceptible delay causes people to search less."

"According to Harry Shum, a Microsoft computer scientist, computer users will visit a Web site less if its loading time is slower than its competitors by 250 milliseconds, or one-quarter of a second. That is less time than a single eye blink."

On a mobile phone, Google says the average Web page takes roughly nine seconds to load. In the grand scheme of things, nine seconds isn't very long. But based on the network speeds and more efficient mobile devices we're begun to carry, nine seconds feels like an eternity.

And this impatience doesn't stop at the Web. Many people use smartphones and tablets as their main source of information, communication and as their primary computing device. Mobile apps sometimes fall short of our expectations.

When you first open an application, depending on the mobile platform you are using, the application will take longer to launch. If the application is never closed, it will usually load significantly faster the second time around. Sometimes this doesn't happen. Sometimes apps hang, they won't load or you might have a slow data connection. A handful of different things can cause apps to go haywire and take just a few more seconds (forever) to load.

That's when the smoke starts billowing out of my ears.

Generally, when mobile devices aren't the subject, I'm as patient as anyone. But bring a phone or computer into the picture and I'm instantly the most impatient, ADD person you will ever meet. Every little noise distracts me and my attention span is about half that of a hamster's.

If I try to launch an application and it doesn't load or I press the back button on my Nexus and I don't see a visual response from the system, I instantly freak out and start tap-tap-tapping at icons or the other soft buttons. If I go to load a web page on my phone and I see it isn't going to load immediately – whether that is due to slow data, lag on the phone or the website response time itself – I will back out of the browser app and let the page load in the background while I refresh my Twitter feeds every few seconds.

What's worse is that if one phone seems a little slow or I'm having troubles with it, I immediately pull out my other phone and try to finish whatever I was doing from my other device. The same applies to my tablets ... and computers.

I have to admit that iOS is usually a little more consistent than Android is in app load times and such. But it doesn't come without hitches of its own. Sometimes the camera app simply will not launch, or the browser (since I'm stuck on 3G) takes forever to load a page. At that point, I usually have to fire up the Nexus and hope I'm on HSPA+ and that Chrome for Android can save me.

The worst, though, is Facebook. All the time. On both Android and iOS, the Facebook application is painstakingly slow. I used to never use Facebook from a desktop. But with some of the most recent updates, new features have come at the sacrifice of speed. I can barely force myself to use the mobile apps.

When I launch the app, despite whether I'm on Wi-Fi or wireless data, the Facebook News Feed takes no less than 10 seconds to load. And if you're trying to load notifications, it takes another three to four seconds. It doesn't sound like a lot, but it's enough for me to completely lose interest, forget about the notifications and switch to some other app. (Oh! By the way, I had no trouble taking the picture of the Facebook loading screen above. I had a good 12 seconds or so to snap the picture, even with a strong HSPA+ connection.)

I, admittedly, am probably a worst case scenario. But what I'm interested in is how long you will stick it out for an application to load before giving up or throwing a raging fit. Do you simply wait until it finishes loading? Or do you, like me, freak out and lose interest in the blink of an eye?