The Ultimate Guide to iOS 8 App Video Previews


This article was originally published on the WordData blog.


If you have been paying attention to the news lately, you will know that a lot has changed in the Appleverse. There are new iPhones with bigger screens, a new wearable, new iOS, and a neat update to the App Store focused on discovery and conversion.

One of the most interesting new features for app developers and marketers is the app video previews. These have been available for Android for some time now (and they've been given a nice spot in the latest Google Play user interface).

They are now available on the iOS 8 App Store, officially named App Previews. Of course, there’s a wave of developers making their app video previews like crazy and uploading them to iTunes Connect. Frankly, if you’re a developer, you should be doing the same.

To help you on this app video preview quest, I've produced a guide to show you all possible approaches to the App Preview production. It doesn't matter if you’re on a low or high budget, you can make an incredible preview video for your app.

App Previews: The Guidelines

As with screenshots, Apple has set a series of rules and recommendations for App Previews. And, as with screenshots again, each video will be evaluated by an Apple reviewer. This means that if you break any of these rules, you could get your app rejected. So, pay attention to them.

Technical Guidelines

For now, each developer can upload two app preview videos for each app; one for iPhone, the other one for iPad.

Basically, this is how your videos should be for iTunes Connect to accept them:

  • 15 to 30 seconds of length
  • Compressed with H.264 MPEG or ProRess 422 (HQ) codecs
  • 30 frames per second (30p)
  • Final file under 100 MB
  • .mov, .mp4 or .m4v extensions

And the resolutions (pixels):

Oh, and to upload the video, you have to be on this software:

  • iMac or MacBook with OS X Yosemite
  • Safari

Design Guidelines

These rules are a little bit harder to interpret. Some of them are more of a recommendation than an actual rule. Keep in mind though that Apple’s reviewers will be using them as a basis for their evaluation. Keep within the guidelines to avoid unnecessary rejections.

This will take some time to read, so here’s a “too long; didn't read” summary:

  • Focus on your app’s three best features
  • Capture footage from the app
  • Don’t overlay the image with hands or fingers
  • Don’t lie by editing the app’s experience
  • Content must be appropriate for ages 4+
  • Don’t use copyrighted materials you don’t have the license to display
  • Don’t rely on copy text
  • Design the video for your target niche or language
  • Don’t talk about pricing, but disclose any IAPs shown
  • Make a timeless video
  • Capture sound effects from your app’s user interface
  • Use high-quality music and voice overs
  • Choose a great poster frame

Focus on your app’s three best features

You don’t have to follow this literally, but don’t try to explain every little thing your app does in 30 seconds. The user won’t even understand all the stuff happening in front of him.

The other way around doesn't work either. Although Apple lets you record 30 seconds straight of app footage, don’t do it. It’ll probably look boring, and miss some other great feature you couldn't fit in 30 seconds.

Most of your app’s downloads usually come from 1–3 killer features. Is it the design? A new technology? A twist on a common interface? Pick the most attractive features and show them through a simple montage. You don’t need to be a video editing genius to do it.

It’s not necessary to show the logo, icon, or any “Download on the App Store” badge. If you want to do it, though, why not do it with style? Animate the logo or icon as this kind of detail leaves a nice impression with users, reinforcing your brand. There are even companies specializing in animating logos.

Capture footage from the app

Apple really doesn't want App Previews that look like ads. They want an “honest” preview from the app’s usability (or gameplay, if that’s the case). Don’t show people using the app holding a device, or your way from the iOS home screen to the app’s menu. Most of the video should be captured footage, but it’s OK to use interstitials or short, simple transitions.

Games have a curious case where you can be inside the app and show nothing: cutscenes. Apple is aware of that as well, recommending that most of the video shows actual gameplay.

Don’t overlay the image with hands or fingers

That’d be too easy, huh? Well, nothing is too easy with Apple (for developers, at least). Don’t overlay the video with animated fingers swiping or touching the screen. If you really need to use some form input interaction to demonstrate your app’s functionality, use graphic elements, like fading circles, as touch hotspots.

Don’t lie by editing the app’s experience

This is serious. Don’t try to fool people into thinking your app is better than it is. Besides unethical, of course, you will make your ratings display commit seppuku, shamed with its one-star rating average.

Also, show content in its true resolution — no zooming in. And don’t make transitions or cuts between clips that might suggest functionality your app does not have.

Content must be appropriate for ages 4+

The App Store is free for everyone to look at. Considering I’ve seen 3-year-olds swiping and doing complex gestures on an iPad as if they’ve been using it from inside their mother’s belly, I can see why Apple is worried about this.

Using the words from the Cupertino company, you should avoid “objectionable content, violence, adult themes, and profanity.” Unicorns are OK, disembodiment is not.

Don’t use copyrighted materials you don’t have the license to display

This is a no brainer, I guess. As with almost everything in the App Store (and outside it), respect copyright and trademarks. Don’t use music, video, brands, symbols, characters, or anything you don’t have the legal right to display. This is a very stupid way to get your app rejected.

Apple even gives a nice example: “if your app accesses the iTunes Library, use only songs that you’ve created or that you’ve specifically licensed for use in the preview.”

Don’t rely on copy text

App Previews, at least for now, do not support localization. The same video will be displayed worldwide. If you need to read the copy to understand what’s going on the video, you’ll be marginalizing every non-English-speaker in the world.

That said, there are a LOT of folks who speak English. 850 million of them, to be correct. So, unless you are targeting a specific country or language, go for English. Keep the text short and easily understandable — think like Wikipedia Simple English. And, of course, make sure the text is legible and keep it on screen long enough to be read.

App designer Dan Counsell gives his input on copy text inside app previews:

Apple generally recommends overlaying text on top of the app UI instead of doing text interstitials. Overlaying text is better suited to games in my opinion. @dancounsell

Design the video for your target niche or language

Maybe your game has launched worldwide but its biggest user base is in China, the majority being females. If that’s the public you’re targeting, then research what kind of advertising they are used to and what features they like the most. Make the most appealing video preview ever made for Chinese women.

Don’t talk about pricing, but disclose any IAPs shown

Apple wants you to convince the user to download your app by looking at your features, not the price. And, let’s be honest: being free doesn’t mean much in today’s App Store, when more than 90% of downloaded apps are free. Besides, they can see the pricing just below your app’s name.

The only time where you should talk about pricing is to disclose the features you’re showing on the video that are In-App Purchases. You can show this disclaimer within the footage or at the end of the video. Apple also recommends you to do the same for subscription or login-required features.

What if you don’t do that? Besides the chance of not getting your app approved, you will eventually receive lots of one-star reviews from fooled customers if it does get approved. And you really, really don’t want that.

But, what if you’re having a huge Christmas sale inside the app? Well, users won’t download your app because your gems are 50% off. Leave pricing off the table. Speaking about that…

Make a timeless video

Making a good video can be time (or money) consuming. So, why make one with an expiration date? Everybody loves Christmas…on December. If a user finds your app in February and watch a Christmas-themed video, that wouldn’t make a lot of sense, would it? It even gives the impression that you’ve abandoned the app for months.

Unless you’re certain that you’ll update the app just after the holidays or date you’re aiming, don’t bother making a time-themed video. Of course, if you’re making a Christmas-themed app, you don’t have a choice.

Capture sound effects from your app’s user interface

You can’t use fingers and hands to show interaction, relying only on small graphic symbols. Audio, therefore, is very important to reinforce the user interface feedback.

Use high-quality music and voiceovers

Although not required, it’s not difficult to find narrators that can make a quick, cheap voiceover for your video. Think like copy text: don’t rely on audio to explain your app but, if well made, the voiceover can give a great first impression.

You can also record your own audio, but beware: record in a noiseless environment, with high-quality equipment (your $5 microphone won’t do, look for at least a decent voice-focused headphone). Unless you know your way around voice recording, it’s just simpler to write the voiceover script and outsource. Just take care to not make the voiceover turn the video into an (obvious) ad.

Now, with narration or not, it’s always good to use a musical background. If your app has an original or licensed soundtrack, use it on the App Preview. It’s a great way to set the tone of the in-app experience before the user downloads it. Remember to test the voiceover and music background overlay — the voice must be crystal clear.

If your app doesn’t have an original soundtrack, choose a musical score that fits the message your video is trying to pass. After all, even if you had the legal right to use it, you wouldn’t use System of a Down’s “B.Y.O.B.” in a cute shopping list app, right? You get the idea.

I’d totally download it though

Choose a great poster frame

After focusing so much on the video, you might forget one small detail: it doesn’t auto-play. The user must click the frame to play the video. Before that, he or she must be convinced to do so.

The image that covers your video on the App Store Product Page is called poster frame. It’s a still from the video, a single frame, pretty much like a screenshot with a play button in the center.

iTunes Connect will pick a frame as default, but you can choose any frame from your video. Don’t forget to do this; it could make a difference in download conversion. In case you forget and your app gets approved, prepare to send another binary just to change the poster frame.

Making the App Preview

So, after you get all that (you probably won’t, so I’d pick the checklist at the beginning of the article if I were you), it’s time to actually make your own App Preview!

There’s the way Apple recommends, and there’s a plethora of other ways. I’ll show you all possible ways I’ve discovered to do an App Preview. It doesn’t matter if you’re programming from your basement or if you’re a hundred people publisher, you should be doing these videos. Keep reading this guide and choose the method that best fits your time and budget.

I have a low budget

Indie developers and small studios shouldn’t be left out of the App Preview party. Although you will need a little bit of time to learn your way around the software, you can do a great App Preview yourself.

Recording your app’s footage through Apple’s software

This is probably the easiest way to record your app’s footage. The new “iOS 7 like” Mac OS X, Yosemite, comes with a brand new device recording feature, built specially for facilitating the creation of App Previews. You will also need an iOS device with Lightning connector, Retina display, and iOS 8 — i.e., the iPhone 5 and above.

Here’s Apple’s official step-by-step tutorial:

  1. Connect your iOS device to your Mac using a Lightning cable.
  2. Open QuickTime Player.
  3. Choose File > New Movie Recording.
  4. In the window that appears, select your iOS device as the Camera and Microphone input source.

Then, just start recording.

Recording your app’s footage through third-party software

Another easier option might be the TechSmith AppShow, a software designed with App Previews in mind. AppShow also needs the iOS 8 device plus an Yosemite-powered Mac (and, of course, the Lightning cable), but it has a easy to use editor bundled with the recording software. You’ll record just as with Quicktime, but you won’t need any editing software later. It’s on beta right now, so you can test it for free.

You can also record your app’s footage using software that’s been on the market for some time. They were used to record devices for promotional videos, to be used on TV and the web, such as ads or landing pages.

Why would you do that? Well, Apptamin consulted Reflector’s team (a iOS device recording software) and they pointed out that recording through AirPlay results in a better quality video, because “recording via USB seemed to have very low frame rates and is buggy.” This is contested by TechSmith and Apptamin itself, mentioning captures with Yosemite are giving great results, both with iPhone 6 and 6 Plus. Still, it’s good to have several options to choose from when you want to make an App Preview.

So, how do these other softwares work? They use the built-in iOS AirPlay mirroring technology to display the device’s screen on a PC, Mac, or Android. Since these software are AirPlay receivers, it makes devices work pretty much like an Apple TV.

Just go to your iPhone’s or iPad’s Access Control Center (the menu that appears after swiping up on the home screen) and activate AirPlay mirroring while in the same network as the receiving device.

For whatever reason you may have to prefer recording through AirPlay, here’s a list of iOS device recorders for you to try:

Recording your Mac’s screen while running an iOS Device simulator

If you can’t use the latest software or Quicktime recording on Yosemite, there’s a last resort: recording your Mac’s screen. Although quality won’t be the best — say goodbye to a steady framerate — and you will need a little bit more of video editing, it does work.

There’s no secret—run your XCode simulator and hit record with any of the following software:

Editing your footage

After capturing the device’s screen, you need to edit the fat out, keeping everything important in a nice 30-second package. Remember to export the video following the technical guidelines right at the beginning of this article.

You will need a decent video editing software to get the settings right.

If you’re going with Final Cut Pro, take a look at this tutorial made by Apple to produce App Previews. If you need more software options, you can take a look at this Mashable list.

Some of the recording software, such as Camtasia, offer editing tools bundled with the software. Pay attention if the editing part of the tool enables you to export the video according to the Technical Guidelines.

I have a high budget

If money is not the problem, but rather time and quality, the best way to handle App Previews is by outsourcing. The following companies will record, edit the video, add voiceovers, and do everything you want them to do with regards to making App Previews. You don’t have to worry about any details and you’ll have a professional looking video.

Conclusion

App Previews are a lot harder to make than screenshots, but that’s where opportunity lies. Having a well produced video will be another strong indicator of a great app, and users will notice who has an App Preview and who doesn’t.

Besides, App Previews are great for apps that struggle to convince or explain their main functionality, like productivity or utility apps. Games can feature eye-candy screenshots easily, but you have to use lots of tricks to make really compelling productivity screenshots. Games with great animations and nice in-game graphics, be it 2D or 3D, will also make users’ eyes glow with the videos.

With time, more and more app developers will use App Previews for their advantage. Don’t lag behind. You will lose downloads thanks to a weakened conversion rate. Besides App Previews, however, you can also do Conversion Rate Optimization through App Icons and Screenshots to increase your download conversion.

What about you? How are you planning to do your App Previews?


Learn more about App Store Optimization (ASO) on the WordData blog.

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