In 2009 alone, we saw over 100,000 new applications added to the App Store. This is great news for the iPhone and iPod touch user, but it can also make finding the best apps a real chore. It's hard to wade through 100,000 apps, and if you focus on apps in the various "Best Selling" lists, you can end up with an iPhone full of idiot tests, bikini models, and body sound players.
To make life easier for iPhone users, we at 148Apps started our "Best App Ever" awards last year to celebrate the efforts of app developers and to raise user awareness about the best apps available (not just the top selling ones). The awards are nominated and voted on by the users of the apps themselves.
For our 2009 awards, we have expanded the app categories to 56, covering both applications and games. New this year are categories specifically targeted to the burgeoning iPhone education market and more categories for the already huge games segment.
Nominations were opened in early December for both the public and our handpicked group of iPhone industry experts. From nearly 27,000 initial nominations, we've selected our 560 final nominees. At the time this article was written, final voting had been started. Winners will be announced at the Macworld Expo in San Francisco. If you are attending the Macworld Expo, you can pick up a full list of the winning apps at the iPhone Life booth (#567). For a full list of nominees and the winners of the 2009 and 2008 awards, please visit the Best App Ever site (bestappever.com).
We asked our nomination committee to tell us about some of their favorites apps from the list of nominees. What follows are their thoughts about some of the "Best Apps Ever."
OmniFocus is a robust personal productivity manager that allows you to sync data to the program's desktop counterpart. The mobile version of the program lets you quickly capture new information and reference previously recorded information while you're on the go. In addition, it has some very useful location-based features. For example, when you tap on the "Nearby Contexts" button, OmniFocus displays a list of tasks that need to be accomplished close to your current location. This is a very full-featured, time management app, one that I use to keep track of everything in my personal and business life.
Real Racing is a console-quality racing game with amazingly detailed, fluid graphics and precise gameplay. Created by a small mobile games development company in Australia, Real Racing is the most advanced game I've seen yet—it really shows off the iPhone's potential as a gaming device. Real Racing has it all: great gameplay and visuals, fantastic audio, customizable reactive controls, a wonderful multiplayer capability, and varied tracks and cars. It would be a fantastic game on any platform, but on the iPhone, it could be the "Best App Ever."
Aim your iPhone's speakers at a wall, and Sonar Ruler gives the distance between you and the wall. It sends a short audio pulse from the speaker and uses an algorithm that determines the distance sounds travel. Over the past year we've seen some amazing apps, but this one really pushes the limits of what an iPhone can do. It does have its limitations—you need a silent room to accurately determine distance— but as a sheer tech showcase this one blows me away.
Homerun Battle 3D is a fast paced, arcade style, homerun derby with an unparalleled, online head-to-head mode. Single player games are fairly typical in the App Store, but an online action game with a long-lasting, thriving community may be unique to Homerun Battle 3D. With its delicate blend of short instant gameplay, fast paced action, simple controls, and item-buying RPG elements, this one was a killer app from day one! The developer, Com2uS, has also done a great job making sure that this app stays current, with constant updates that change everything from in-game graphics to in-app purchasing. They even changed the name of the app at one point just to make it more appealing. Homerun Battle 3D is a shining example of iPhone app perfection.
Homerun Battle 3D
GeoDefense Swarm is open field tower defense perfection. After playing a number of killer tower defense games in 2008 highlighted by the marvelous Fieldrunners, I thought it would be tough for a new tower defense game to enter the App Store and just blow me away. Not only did geoDefense Swarm wow me, but it quickly became my favorite app of all time. It doesn't have stunning graphics or fancy control schemes, but the perfectly balanced gameplay and the fantastic difficulty curve made geoDefense Swarm a game that I just couldn't put down until every level had been conquered. This app is a tough blend of tower defense and strategy gaming—without perfect planning, some of the levels are close to impossible.
Little Red Hen is a storybook application based on the classic moralistic tale expounding the values of the work ethic. It's a charming app that has captured my heart and is first at my fingertips when I want to read something to my son. The fanciful illustrations and clean design are well scaled to the iPhone screen and are complemented by the easy-to-read and well-proportioned onscreen text. The animated features—like the chicken strutting across the screen and the whirling windmill—strike a perfect balance with the illustrations and don't distract the reader too much from the story. The application allows for multilingual learning opportunities (English, Spanish, and Cantonese) and the user has the option of having a narrator read the story to them or to read it themselves. Perhaps the most endearing feature of Little Red Hen is the sweet and melodic voice of the child narrator; it is the cherry-on-top for this near perfect eBook experience.
Little Red Hen
With each tap on the Peekaboo Barn door, a child is greeted by a different farm animal image, the sound it makes, and its name. The app has language settings for both English and Spanish. The most striking feature of this artfully-designed application is how aesthetically pleasing it is. With bright, colorful graphics and delightful sound effects, I continue to enjoy this application—a crucial element for a toddler app that I am subjected to repeatedly. Furthermore, it successfully weds learning and fun through visual and auditory learning experiences with a focus on early literacy, language skills, and animal identification. It is geared toward toddlers, but this application can be adapted for different ages. It can be used to teach object permanence in babies, and older children can use the bilingual feature to explore a second language. Peekaboo Barn truly sets the gold standard for toddler applications.
- $1.99, free "Lite" version also available
- Night & Day Studios
- ■ Nominated in Best App for Toddlers
- ■ Reviewer: Kristen Young, GiggleApps (GiggleApps.com; Kristen@GiggleApps.com)
The premise of Pickin' Time is straightforward— choose the assigned vegetable out of the garden patch without accidentally picking the wrong piece of produce. This application falls into the "simple-yet-brilliant" category and just about everything about this game is pleasing. It is beautifully crafted and executed with illustrations that are colorful and vivid. The interface is easy to use, the instructions are clear, the prompts are easy to navigate, and the twang of the bluegrass music is upbeat and cheerful. Have I yet mentioned how addictively fun it is to play? Beyond entertaining, Pickin' Time also helps to hone memory and dexterity as well as color and shape identification. This application is a visual masterpiece and a quality buy—well worth every penny.
You have to use this mobile Twitter client to understand what makes it so great and why it causes its users to praise it with a religious fervor. Tweetie 2 is the most intuitive Twitter app I've seen, combining a look and feel similar to the built-in apps, but with smooth and innovative control features that are well integrated with the overall iPhone OS experience. This is in contrast to most other Twitter apps, which feel artificial due to their own implementations of the iPhone interface. The app even improves on the function of the default iPhone interface— you can pull down on windows to refresh your tweets or to see what you're replying to. This is all accomplished without sacrificing any of the functionality that other Twitter apps have, making Tweetie 2 an app worth preaching about.
GeoSpark challenges you to destroy tiny glowing objects for points while keeping them from colliding into each other. The game combines the strengths of its developers— the casual gameplay experience that Imangi is known for, with the intensity and challenge that Critical Thought applies to their games. Once you discover geoSpark's nuances, you'll find yourself being fully engrossed in the game—palms sweaty, heart racing, constantly living on the precipitous edge of success and failure. I play dozens of new games each month and have deleted many quality games to conserve space. I continue to play geoSpark on a regular basis—that's the highest compliment I can pay a game.
NOVA, or Near Orbit Vanguard Alliance, is Gameloft's answer to the Halo series on the Xbox 360. NOVA shares a lot in common with Halo, including a space marine sporting an assault rifle, a regenerating personal shield, and enemy aliens which range from pipsqueaks to hulks. The top selling point about NOVA's single-player story mode is variety. With different weapons, locations, enemies, or objectives, you won't be doing the same thing for very long. NOVA also includes an online multiplayer deathmatch mode, which can be accessed via Wi-Fi. You and three other players can duel to the death using all of the game's weapons in specially designed arenas. Gameloft is clearly emulating the console formula by combining multiplayer and single-player modes in the same product. We hope to see more of these high-value pairings in upcoming iPhone games.
Ngmoco sent shockwaves through the iPhone community when they announced Eliminate's radical pricing scheme. It's free to download and free to play for about ten minutes every few hours. If you want to play longer than that, you can purchase rechargeable "energy" that lets you play straight through. Eliminate is an online shooter where your level and credits allow you to buy better armor and weapons, and the optional payment plan can make a big difference. But even if you don't spend a dime on Eliminate, you'll still be matched with players at your same level. Eliminate is fast-paced, addictive, and contains easily accessible online multiplayer capability. All that's needed is for Ngmoco to add a 3G connection to allow play against other human opponents around the world. It's one of the best examples of what online mobile gaming can achieve.
MotionX-GPS Drive is the most economical GPS navigation solution designed and optimized exclusively for the iPhone. It's normally priced at $2.99 but was recently discounted to $0.99. At either price, it's a much better buy than TomTom, Navigon, and other solutions. The app is loaded with useful features, including a search function that lets you find businesses, gas stations, restaurants, emergency services, and other points of interest close to your current location. It also includes a full address book, integrated iPod library, simulation mode, and more. The app even includes live voice guidance technology for free for the first 30 days. This app helps you instantly find what you are looking for—just follow the blue line on the route map. That expensive Garmin or TomTom GPS unit that you received last Christmas will instantly be left in the dust!
Photogene is the ultimate digital photo enhancement application for the iPhone or iPod touch. The app is easy to use and comes with a wide variety of photo editing tools, including crop, sharpen, levels histogram, gamma correction, exposure, contrast, RGB balance, saturation, color temperature, rotate/mirror, and more. Also included are a plethora of special effects and text options. Photogene also includes sharing options for Twitter and Facebook, allowing you to upload your modified photos directly to your online accounts. You can also e-mail or send your work via MMS right from the app. Finally, the app includes gesture controls for zooming and moving your artwork in either landscape or portrait modes. At $2.99, Photogene is hard to pass up.
Space Invaders Infinity Gene takes the classic shoot 'em-up game play of the 1978 original and gives it a contemporary spin. Not only are the classic aliens back in their 8-bit glory, they also mutate and display new movement patterns with new attacks and are backed up by frequent boss encounters. Unlike the usual wave-based gameplay found in other shoot 'em-ups, your progress in the game evolves organically through a branching tree of game levels that is affected by your score, length of chained kills, difficulty, and weapons used. No play-through is the same, and it's this, combined with rich sound retro-inspired graphics and intuitive touch controls, that makes Space Invaders Infinity Gene the king of the App Store arcade.
Space Invaders: Infinity Gene
The object of this physics-based puzzle game is to get the cute looking Mokis to each level's exit. The Mokis, however, are incredibly lazy and require a lot of brute force to get them moving. You are given a set of tools to accomplish this, including bombs, wood beams, balloons, and rope. You must strategically place them throughout the level in a bid to guide the Mokis to the goal. The game not only offers many challenging levels, it also includes an editor that allows you to create more levels, share them online, and play and rate levels created by others. All this, plus the great physics and intuitive controls that utilize the iPhone and iPod touch screens to perfection, combine to create a puzzle experience that is currently unmatched on the App Store.
This social networking app allows you to swap contact information quickly between iPhones and/or iPod touches. With the app installed on both devices, all you have to do is gently bump the devices together and then confirm the information you want to swap. It's exchanged between the devices over a Wi-Fi, 3G, or EDGE connection. Contact information is sent directly to your address books and photos to your camera roll. This may put an end to collecting business cards and manually entering the information.
With I Am T-Pain, anyone can be a music superstar. This music app lets you select your favorite music track and record your voice over it using T-Pain's auto-tuning technology to correct your voice and pitch. Simply select a song in your library or one of the free songs bundled with the app, and then start singing. You can choose the style and can edit how it sounds. You can also select "freestyle" to sing without a companion track playing. This feature also lets you auto-tune any talking or singing from any source. I Am T-Pain is fun for all ages!
I Am T-Pain
Harbor Master has you guide your ships into harbor, dock and unload them, and guide them back out safely. Each port has a challenge, but the game gets really exciting when you network up with a friend. You have to clear your ships from the harbor while your friend does the same—and you're both competing for the same docks. The game has different types of harbors, and some of them have extra challenges (pirates, sea monsters, etc.). Fortunately, you have a cannon to blow them out of the water! Try to master this one!
As soon as you launch SmackTalk, everything you say is mimicked by your choice of four animated animals: a guinea pig, kitten, puppy, or Chihuahua. It's a simple but well executed concept. The app not only mimics your words, it also imitates your every sound and laugh—and believe me, there will be plenty of laughs. If I had to pick one hilarious and charming app to show off the iPhone, especially to kids and parents, this is the one I'd choose.
Every podcast-related feature that's missing from the built-in iPod app is found in RSS Player. It's a great looking app with the ability to download any size episode, even those over 10MB. Better yet, it can download podcasts over Edge and 3G connections. It includes several easy methods for quickly adding favorite shows and includes push notifications to let you know when new episodes of your favorite podcasts are available.
Brushes is THE painting app for the iPhone and iPod touch. This is the leading graphics tool used by the dozens of great artists who are making "iPhone Art" a fascinating new genre. Works created with Brushes have even graced the cover of The New Yorker magazine this year. Do a Flickr search for Brushes groups to see the stunning and spectacular art being produced with this superb app.
Ever take a crumpled up piece of paper and try to float it into a nearby trash can while pretending you're Kobe Bryant sinking a game-winning 3-pointer? If so, you'll love Paper Toss. It challenges you to toss your paper into waste paper bins from varying distances, working against constantly changing wind conditions. It's got a gorgeous UI and simple and funny sound effects. Game play is 100 percent intuitive and the game is instantly addictive.