Designing great App Store screenshots

App Store screenshots are incredibly important to help apps gain more downloads, but unfortunately so many great apps get overlooked by potential customers because bland or poorly designed screenshots are being used on their App Store page. A huge percentage of app discovery happens through search, and if you take a look at how the search results are displayed, it's easy to see why great screenshots are so important.

As an example, let's dive right in and do a search for "scanner pro" on the app store; we get 2,200 results - yikes! Probably only a handful of apps that show up near the top of the search results have a chance of being downloaded. Here's the first two from the results:

AppStore Screenshot compare

I'm sure they are both great apps, but without a doubt Scanner Pro wins hands down because it has a much better screenshot. The screenshot immediately shows that it can do exactly what I want it to do. Not only does Scanner Pro’s screenshot show a document being scanned, but it also states "Turn your iPhone into a portable scanner.” The Genius Scan+ on the other hand is not clear at all – to find out if it can do what I want, I'd have to spend time viewing the other screenshots and possibly even read the description.

As you can see, the search results on the App Store under iOS 7 show the app name, developer, icon, rating and a single screenshot. This information is the first thing potential customers are going to see, and this is why it's so important to make sure that the first screenshot is well presented and shows off the main feature and purpose of the app. Most developers pay little attention to the iTunes Connect developer guide, but if they did, they'd see even Apple urges you to pay special attention to that first screenshot.

The first screenshot you upload in iTunes Connect is used as the main screenshot. It is visible on your app product page on both the desktop App Store and the device App Store — iTunes Connect Developer Guide

The simple fact is that a customer’s decision on whether they will download an app is mainly based on the icon, rating and screenshots. The name of the app and description is secondary, and most of the time not even taken into account. Potential customers look at these elements to try and work out if the app is worth their time and money, and this all happens in a matter of seconds.

Hopefully you can now appreciate why App Store screenshots are so important, so let's take a closer look at how to go about making them really shine.

Create great looking screenshots

Apple's guidelines suggest using non-edited screenshots of your app, but by doing only this you're really giving competing apps a big advantage. As we've seen already, App Store images don’t have to be plain old screenshots. Instead, you should think of them as a spot to advertise your app and its features.

I personally like to do one of two things; either include the device within the screenshot or actually photograph the app in use, similar to a lifestyle photo. Both of these options give extra space to describe and sell the features of an app.

For the first option, floating the device on a subtle background works perfectly for overlaying text and calling out features. I'd only recommend going the lifestyle route if you need to show the app being used in a certain setting - a camera app would be the perfect example. A lifestyle shot can also work well to hint at gestures within the app, although it's not essential as gestures can be illustrated in other ways.

Let’s take a look at two examples: Clear uses the floating device style of screenshot, while Analog Camera uses the lifestyle look. Both convey more information than a standard screenshot could.

AppStore Screenshots Lifestyle

It's worth noting that the App Store Marketing Guidelines explicitly say not to use a device in any screenshots. It is however common practice on the App Store, and I've never heard of anyone getting rejected for doing this.

Screenshots should display only the actual screen content from your app that a user will see when the app is running. Do not incorporate Apple product images into your screenshots on the App Store — App Store Marketing Guidelines

Also from the same marketing guidelines…

A straight-on product shot is preferred. Do not use extreme angles.

As far as I know this is something Apple actually does try to enforce. I'd highly recommend reading up on the App Store marketing guidelines so you're familiar with the main do's and don'ts. It can waste valuable time if you have to go back and redo images or video, or in the worst case scenario, it could hold up the release of your app.

You get five screenshots, use them

Make sure you use all five of the available screenshots. By putting less than five you are missing out on free space to tempt potential customers to download your app, and you may miss the opportunity to show off all of your app’s features. Pay careful attention to the order of the screenshots too, they should tell a story or give an idea to the flow of the app. Most importantly, make sure the first screenshot clearly shows the main feature or use case for your app. Show off the other less notable features in the remaining four screenshots. Arrange them so that they get progressively less important.

Up to four additional screenshots can be displayed, along with the first screenshot on the app product page. While additional screenshots are optional, Apple recommends that you provide them to showcase additional features in your app — iTunes Connect Developer Guide

When possible, go with portrait screenshots as they are easier to view on the iPhone, it's annoying to have to rotate the phone just to see a screenshot. However, if your app only works in landscape then just go with it, don't try and force it into a portrait format. Because the iPad has a larger screen you can probably go portrait or landscape, I'm not convinced either orientation makes a difference here.

How do your screenshots look?

Hopefully I've managed to convince you that having great screenshots on the App Store really can help increase downloads for your app.

Dan Counsell

I'm the Founder of Realmac Software. I've been designing, building, and shipping products for over fifteen years. I write new articles every month on how to run a profitable online business.

Brighton, well Hove actually.