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January 12, 2011

How to Showcase Your iPhone App

With the ever increasing competition in the Apple App Store, creating a superb iPhone app is no longer sufficient. Effective marketing has become just as important. In this article, I won't discuss PR, advertising, or driving traffic to your app presentation; many books, articles, and services already cover that. Rather, I'd like to share some of what I've learned about three essential tools for showcasing your iPhone app once you've attracted a potential buyer: a web presentation, an app slideshow, and a video leader.

A Web Presentation

The presentation of your app on the App Store, with its 4,000 characters of plain text and 5 static screenshots, just doesn't cut it. You can do much better by creating an app presentation page on your own website.

Your app's description on the App Store provides two links to your website: a required "support URL" to a page where you provide customer support, and an optional "application URL," which you can use to point to the app's presentation page on your website. Also, in your marketing materials, it might be a good strategy to direct potential customers to your web presentation page rather than directly to the App Store, so that you can do a better job converting them into buyers.

I won't go into the general topics of web design and sales conversion, other than to say that your web presentation should effectively showcase your app, and of course include a link (or better yet, several) to your app on the App Store.

If you use the long link to your app on the App Store, for example http://itunes.apple.com/us/app/gamequartet/id385941174?mt=8 (obtained by right clicking the icon in your app description), visitors will first go to a somewhat confusing webpage that looks like the App Store but isn't, and then have to find the link to the actual App Store. But if you use the short link, for example http://itunes.com/apps/GameQuartet, they will go directly to the App Store.

In addition to the presentation page, your website should include good customer support—for example, a thorough FAQ and a web form for submitting questions. Happy customers will write good reviews, another necessity for selling your app.

I'll now discuss two powerful tools for showcasing your app on your web presentation page: an app slideshow and a video leader.

An App Slideshow

iPhone app

As a dynamic alternative to your app screenshots on the App Store (which viewers might never even scroll through), you can include a slideshow of the app on your web presentation page. An app slideshow displays an image of the iPhone with your app running within it, automatically switching from app screen to app screen.

Apple generously supplies images of iPhones and other iOS devices on their Marketing Resources page (registration required). To create each slide, you can use a program like Photoshop or (my favorite) GIMP to scale the device image and paste a screenshot of your app in the app area on the image.

An easy way to display a timed sequence of slides is to include all the slide images within a single animated GIF file (GIMP has excellent tools for doing this). The GIF format, however, supports a limited set of colors, so some of the subtle shades in your app might end up looking a little moth eaten.

For more faithful color rendition, you can place each slide in a separate graphics file with a format that supports a large color set, such as PNG, and then use JavaScript to switch from one slide image to the next at regular intervals (for example, every 4 seconds). An added advantage of this approach is that with a little extra code you can display a variety of interesting transition effects as the slides change, at least when the page is viewed in Internet Explorer.

For an example of a slideshow created using the JavaScript method, you can take a look at an app slideshow that I created. Feel free to copy the code for generating the slideshow from this page's source.

A Video Leader

The granddaddy of all app showcasing devices is the video leader. And you can do much better than the shaky video of a guy with dirty fingernails stabbing through an iPhone game.

The better alternative is to record a screencast of your app running in the iPhone Simulator program that's included in Apple's iPhone SDK. When shopping for your screencast-creation software, look for the abilities to:

As a cheapskate, I first tried several inexpensive Mac shareware screencast programs. The main problem with all of them was that they were unable to capture sounds from the Simulator (even the ones that included a sound driver, such as Soundflower). Finally I found a program that had it all: ScreenFlow. (I have no affiliation with this company—it was simply the only program I found that worked for creating video leaders.)

If you upload your finished screencast to YouTube, not only can it be viewed on the YouTube website, but also you can easily embed the video in your app's web presentation page and in other websites (for instance, a reviewer can embed it in a review article). For an example, you can take a look at an embedded video leader that I created using ScreenFlow.

Creating a good screencast with smooth "finger" movements and aesthetic video editing is an art, and will require some trial and error. But your persistence will be rewarded with a persuasive app showcasing tool.

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