This blog is part of a series published on Localize Direct's blog and is the fifth post in a series of articles about improving your app's meta data.

If a picture is worth a thousand words, what's a video worth?

Apple announced App Previews as part of the iOS 8 update in the summer of 2014, offering developers the chance to create a 15 to 30 second video for their app or game. Unsurprisingly, they've proven to be very popular. Anyone who lands on your App Store product page will see your video front and center, and it's a wonderful opportunity to sell your app or game.

In this article, we're going to discuss why you should make a video and how to get creative, before covering the technical details and limitations. We'll also provide a step-by-step guide to the creation process. It's time to make a movie!

Why make a video?

One of the most powerful sales tools you have at your disposal to persuade people to download your app is the preview video. A strong name, great screenshots, and a high quality description are all important, but nothing gives a prospective customer a clearer picture of what your app will be like than a short video showing actual footage of it in use.

People love watching videos on mobile devices, and a good video can be enough to clinch a download or sale. You can pack an enormous amount of information into a short video and answer a lot of questions people might have. A preview video makes it clear what your app or game is actually like, and it reduces the risk of someone mistakenly downloading your app and expecting something else, which can lead to bad reviews.

It's a valuable chance to differentiate your app from the App Store crowd and really showcase its most exciting and innovative features. A slick production will project the professionalism you want, and reassure prospective buyers that it's worth the download. The bottom line, with your competitors producing preview videos, is that you really can't afford not to make one of your own.

1. Coming up with a concept and plan

Before you sit back in the director's chair and shout - Action! - you really have to stop and think about what your video should contain. It's important to plan out what you want to cover and then create a storyboard and script to work from.

What defines your app? - Discuss what makes your app unique, and what you'd really like to highlight. Draw up a list of the most important features and functions of your app.

Rank your features - Assign a ranking score to each feature you came up with. This will help you to identify the top priorities for your video. You shouldn't try to cover too much, so focus on the top five, or fewer, features and cover them well.

Storyboard the video - Working on paper, create a page for each individual scene you want to include in your video and think about the elements that will be required to show it off. Some features will speak for themselves, others may want a voiceover or text explanation.

How will it flow? - Take your individual scenes and organize them into a coherent order. Think about how you'll transition between scenes, and the order that will tell your app's story the most effectively.

Practice your timing - Try running through your final storyboard and check that it comes in at between 15 and 30 seconds.

2. Getting creative

Your App Preview should be about showing footage of your app or game in action, but that doesn't mean you can't enhance it with additional audio, in the form of voiceover and backing music, additional text, and maybe even touch visualizations.

Voiceover

A voiceover script can be a good way to explain the onscreen action, but you'll want a good quality audio recording and, ideally, a great voice. If you can afford to hire a voiceover artist that could really boost the quality. Just make sure that the script is nailed down before you outsource. You can also record your own voiceover quite easily in iMovie via Window > Record Voiceover. If you do record it yourself then use the best microphone you can afford and make sure that you have a quiet environment to record in. A microphone will often pick up background noise that you might not hear at the time.

Music

You may already have music in your app or game that you can use as a backing for the video. Alternatively, check out a site like PremiumBeat, Jamendo, or Melody Loops for royalty-free music to use. Make sure that it fits the onscreen action, and avoid anything jarring.

Text

Just as you sometimes use text on screenshots, to explain features and highlight important aspects of your app, text can be used to boost your video's effectiveness. It won't be appropriate for every app, and we'd recommend that you keep it to a minimum, but it certainly has a place sometimes. Using interstitial text cards, with text on a contrasting background, can actually be a great way to transition between different clips of your app. Be wary of placing text directly on top of footage, and always make sure it's clear when the text is not part of the app or game.

Touch visualizations

For some apps, it may be helpful to create a visualization of touch interactions. You can do this using animated concentric circles overlaid on the footage. A very short animation with a few frames of a colored circle can work well just to indicate a touch hotspot. Only do this when you feel it's necessary to show an aspect of the navigation.

3. Stick to the rules

There are a few things you should know about the guidelines that Apple has in place for App Previews:

  • Your App Preview must be between 15 and 30 seconds in length.
  • App Previews are device specific, so you'll want to create a different one for your iPhone and iPad apps.
  • The video must be composed primarily of device-captured footage of your app in action.
  • You should avoid making it look or sound like an advertisement.
  • Your App Preview will be used for all localizations.
  • If you show something in the video that requires an in-app purchase, you must make that clear to the viewer (this can be overlaid text at the relevant time or a disclaimer at the end).
  • Do not include platform, logos, or pricing. These are displayed on your App Store product page already.
  • Don't mention seasons or anything that might date the video.
  • If you do create touch visualizations, don't use animated hands to simulate Multi-Touch gestures or your App Preview will probably be rejected.

4. Technical details

There are also various technical details to keep in mind when you're making your App Preview video. Here's a quick look at the main ones:

  • Maximum size 500MB
  • Supported formats .mov, .m4v, .mp4
  • Frame rate - 30fps
  • Audio - Stereo, PCM or 256kbps AAC

You can find the full list of details at the iOS Developer Library.

Decide whether to choose Landscape or Portrait orientation. Obviously, if your app is intended to be used in one or other, then that will dictate your choice. It's worth bearing in mind that Portrait App Previews will mean that your second screenshot is also visible on the App Store product page, whereas with Landscape videos, people will have to scroll to see your screenshots.

Resolutions

  • For the 5 series and the iPhone 6 Plus you can submit at 1920 x 1080 for landscape or 1080 x 1920 for portrait.
  • For the iPad you should submit at 1200 x 900 for landscape and 900 x 1200 for portrait.
  • For the iPhone 6 you should submit at 1334 x 750 for landscape and 750 x 1334 for portrait.

###Poster frame

You'll also need to choose a screenshot to represent the video. The Poster frame is the static screenshot that your video starts on, so it's what will show on the App Store product page with the play symbol on top. You need to choose this frame carefully and make sure that it's enticing. It must be a frame from the actual video, so you can't create a separate title card. You can review how it will look in the App Store, alongside your description and screenshots, using the free StoreFront tool.

5. How to create your video

You'll need an iPhone or an iPad, a Mac with OS X Yosemite or above, and a Lightning cable in order to record your App Preview.

  1. Connect your iOS device to the Mac using the Lightning cable.
  2. Open QuickTime Player.
  3. Choose File > New Movie Recording.
  4. Select your iOS device as the Camera and Microphone input source.
  5. Record your footage.

Record everything that you want to capture. You could do your video as one continuous take, but in the vast majority of cases it will be better to capture separate features and then cut things together. If there are any mistakes, then shoot again. You want the final video to include perfectly smooth action. When you have all the footage you think you'll need to show off all the features you want to show, then it's time to hit the editing room.

6. Editing your video

There are lots of great video editing software packages out there that will allow you to stitch your action together and add audio, transitions, and text overlays. Apple has a document about Creating App Previews with iMovie, but you might prefer to use Final Cut Pro, or something else. There's even software out there, like TechSmith AppShow that's specifically designed to help you make App Previews.

You can layer up your footage with the audio, text, music, and any effects you want to use. Make sure that it's tightly edited, so as not to waste any time. If you don't need the full 30 seconds, don't be tempted to pad. A short, focused video is going to have a better impact than a padded, longer one.

Remember that your video will cover all localizations. You can't create a separate video for different languages. That's something that may also feed into your plans for using additional voiceover and text.

You should also stick to simple fade and dissolve transitions. You don't want to create any confusion by adding in an animation that could imply functionality your app doesn't have.

It's easy to edit together a couple of different versions of your video, so experiment a little during the editing process. Once you have a couple of final versions that you like, try showing them to people in order to gauge reactions and see which has the greater impact. Show them to people who are unfamiliar with your app or game to gain an insight into anything you might have overlooked or taken for granted.

7. Submitting your App Preview to iTunes Connect

When you're happy with your App Preview it's time to log in to iTunes Connect and upload it. You'll find the option under My Apps where the screenshots are stored and you can choose the device size and relevant files for upload. Your video will be reviewed and accepted or rejected by Apple. If it does get rejected you can expect feedback that should help you understand why, and tweak it as necessary.

Creating an App Preview can be a lot of fun. Think of it as a chance to show off the highlights of your app and blend them together into a seductive package. Crafted with care, and enhanced with a quality voiceover and backing music, the App Preview video may prove to be the most effective sales tool you have.

For more handy tips on improving your app's App Store presentation page check out the earlier articles in the series:

  1. What’s in a name? Choosing a name for your iOS app
  2. A picture paints a thousand words: Choosing screenshots for your iOS app
  3. How to write a great app description
  4. Choosing the perfect keywords for your iOS app

And to help you make a better App Store listing we've made a free tool - StoreFront that lets you:

  • Preview and edit your App Store listing in real-time
  • Share your page to get feedback before it goes live
  • Request expert translations in multiple language