When you launch your app into any ecosystem, it’s important to remember that you’re basically publishing a press release. Choosing the right images to support your product will be a huge factor in whether or not your app is properly represented and, accordingly, if it is commercially successful. You might not have realized it, but screenshots are actually a huge part of any app’s marketing push.
Choosing the right screenshots to go along with your app’s description in the App Store (or Marketplace) is a critically important step towards presenting the right impression of your work.
In the days before time (let’s say pre-2008), the vast majority of software was physically sold in packaging which presented a brief summary of its function, as well as a few example images of the product in execution. While not much has changed in principle, the pragmatic differences in marketing your app are actually fairly severe.
An app’s description needs to be immediately captivating in order to have the best chance of converting a browser into a user. Beyond the usual wall of text, you have a much more visually appealing and relatable tool at your command, something that conveys large amounts of information in just a few seconds. That something is screenshots.
Why Do Screenshots Even Matter?
We live in a world where most people can’t read. Ok, I exaggerate, but most people aren’t interested in reading long passages of text, particularly when they’re looking for new apps to download. They want the process to be quick. You can see this in every facet of our modern lifestyle; the way we consume pop-culture news (often conveyed in numbered lists which contain short paragraphs and lots of images), choosing to watch videos on YouTube rather than read articles, and even in the way we talk to each other (the rise of texting, for example).
The action-RPG game, Zenonia, makes great use of edited images in the app store.
Most people aren’t going to read your pages-long description in the app store. They’re not going to scour the feature list, or the positive endorsements from websites that many of them have never heard of before. While copy is still extremely important to those who will actually read it, many users will opt to judge your product based on the images you share alone.
The one part of an app listing that is the most commonly viewed is the screenshots. By browsing through 4 or 5 quick images, users can immediately glean an impression of whether or not they want to have that app in their lives. The screenshots offer an immediate (if rough) impression of what the app is, what it does, how well it’s been developed, and whether or not it’s worth their time trying it out to find out if they like it.
What Are Users Looking For From Screenshots?
When people are browsing your app listing, there’s no point in uploading 5 arbitrary screenshots if they convey nothing about how the app is actually used. The best way to identify the areas worth sharing in your screenshots is to first think about your app’s core functionality.
The Dropbox screenshots concisely summarize the benefits of the app.
I have a bad habit of constantly citing Dropbox (Android, iPhone) for design ideas, so excuse me while I do just that once again. I particularly love the screenshots they used in the iOS App Store because they’ve managed to blend in the Dropbox aesthetic that they use on their website and in their promotional materials with real screenshots taken directly from their app.
The images themselves, though, are nothing elaborate. A simple iPhone illustration houses the image of the working app, and a basic blue font sits at the top of each image with captions neatly explaining the app’s purpose.
The important thing is that the core functionality of the app is easily visible. For instance, you can see the main file area of the app in the primary screenshot. Beyond this, the other screenshots demonstrate the app being used to easily share files, access files remotely, and view all photos within your cloud storage.
This is the same approach you want to use in your own app’s listing; don’t be thrifty with your time and effort when it comes to choosing these images. Highlight the parts of your app that will truly benefit those who download it. Find a way to convey the ease of use and practicality of your app in a handful of images, and users will be much more likely to take the plunge and download your product.
Other approaches (multi images, adding text, etc)
Text annotations explain images and present new features in Plants vs Zombies 2
Another rather modern feature is the prominence of edited images in app promotion. Dropbox, again, is a good example of this. Each screenshot has been carefully chosen, but the developers did not just present them as captured; instead, they edited each image so that it was more presentable, by adding a picture frame (the iPhone illustration), and some attractive text on top of that. The text also served to explain what was actually happening in each capture.
In the same vein, the Plants vs Zombies 2 (Android, iPhone) screenshots not only demonstrate the dynamic and fast-paced nature of the app, but textual annotations neatly explain what each image demonstrates; this allows for a concise impression of the game in seconds, rather than minutes.
Likewise, other developers have taken approaches which include adding some visual flare, or merging multiple screen captures into one image. The latter is a particularly popular trick with game developers, such as Gamevil (see a screenshot from their Zenonia [Android, iPhone] listing in the first half of this article), who want to convey as much action and excitement as possible in a single image.
A Picture Tells A Thousand Words
No truer is that phrase anywhere else than it is in software marketing. Releasing your app into any ecosystem should be considered an important move and treated with the appropriate level of care. Remember, this is promotional material which nearly all of your prospective users are going to judge your product by.
Done wrong, it can severely hamper download figures. Done right, it can open up your app to many new worlds (and new users!).