With more than 1.2 million iOS apps now available in the App Store, many developers struggle to stand out from the crowd. They have long used videos to build awareness for their app outside the App Store, but to woo potential users inside the store, their medium has been simple text and static screenshots.

Apple is changing all that with the launch of iOS 8. App developers can now upload a 30-second video to iTunes Connect, along with their other marketing materials and app updates. On September 17, App Store visitors will start seeing thumbnails of these videos (Apple calls them poster frames) alongside the screenshots for each app. Clicking the play button will launch a full screen video showing the app in action.

Apple Store Guidelines for Video Trailers

App videos are already a standard feature of the Google Play store and are popular with both developers and consumers. For paid apps, in particular, seeing a realistic demo of the app builds confidence that the spend will be worth it. It’s the next best thing to a free trial. Unlike Google, however, Apple has rather stringent guidelines on the contents and format of the videos that can be uploaded to their App Store.

Apple shared some details of what would be allowed when they introduced these “app preview” videos as an important initiative at their Worldwide Developers Conference in June and released the official guidelines this week. Videos should start going live in the App Store once iOS 8 launches September 17.

Top Tip for App Store Videos: Plan Your Content Strategy

App previews are meant to give viewers a realistic experience of the app. Think of them more as a demo than as a slick marketing piece. So instead of wide shots of people happily using the app…or close-ups of hands holding the device and interacting with the app…the visual content should be screencast-style video of the app in action.

That said, you’re not doomed to produce a dry, lifeless demo. Apple will accept videos with narration, a music bed, and a moderate amount of animated text and graphics.

The music, in particular, is going to really set the mood and atmosphere for these videos. Depending on the type of app, you can also stage or pre-fill the content of the app to tell a story. Apple prohibits you from using real names and personal data in the video, but you can still make the app feel “lived in” by a character viewers can relate to.

A few important details for content planning:

  • Focus on just 2-3 of the app’s most delightful features
  • Use the video to show interactions that static screenshots can’t convey
  • App descriptions can be localized into other languages, but video voiceover and text cannot
  • Don’t include mention of seasonal offers or discounted pricing
  • Content must be rated 4+ (appropriate for all audiences)
  • Don’t include any camera video or animated fingers

Video Production Tips for App Store Video Trailers

To enable the creation of app preview videos, Apple has updated QuickTime Player to do mobile device capture. Use a lightning cable to connect a mobile device running iOS 8 to a Mac running Yosemite, then fire up QuickTime, select New Movie Recording, select your mobile device, and record the screen of that device. Worth noting: Yosemite and iOS 8 are required for this to work!

To edit the videos, Apple suggests using iMovie. If you’re showing an app in portrait mode, however, youCapturing a mobile device will need to use something like Final Cut Pro, Adobe Premiere, or Camtasia since iMovie does not support arbitrary canvas dimensions.

Another option is TechSmith AppShow (currently in beta), which is purpose-built for mobile device recording and intended to help developers and novice video creators produce a quality app demo.

A few important details for production:

  • For a universal app, you can upload one video for iPhone and one for iPad
  • Video must show the app either in portrait or landscape mode, not both
  • iPad app video dimensions: 900 x 1200 (or 1200 x 900)
  • iPhone app video dimensions: your choice of 1136 x 640 (or 640 x 1136) OR 1920 x 1080 (or 1080 x 1920).
  • Video encoding: H.264 MPEG4 or ProRes 422 (HQ), 30 fps
  • Videos are uploaded to the App Store via iTunes Connect

If you want to embed the video on an app’s webpage or share it on social channels, you’ll also need to host it somewhere outside of the App Store. Landscape videos will work fine on YouTube but for portrait videos, you’ll want to consider something like Vimeo or Screencast.com, which don’t impose a widescreen aspect ratio on uploaded videos (read: no black bars).

Rules and Guidelines for App Video Previews

With all the rules and guidelines for app previews, it’s easy to get off track. I put together an infographic to help keep video creators on the straight and narrow:

Infographic: Guide to making app preview videos

The main points to keep in mind are that app preview videos are limited to 30 seconds, should mostly consist of captured footage, and should give viewers a realistic experience of using the app. It will be exciting to see what kinds of creative approaches emerge as content creators work within the constraints. I’ll be gathering and sharing out app preview examples so as you see good ones, please share them¬†on this Quora thread!