Every year, Apple picks the must-have apps and games that you may have missed during the past 12 months — after all, there are about 2 million apps in the store. Usually, the list is announced by press release. This year, the company threw a big party for developers and invited them to share their apps in person.
Apple declared the app trend of the year to be storytelling, and the big winners this year are apps designed to unleash your inner creative. The iPhone app of the year, Spectre Camera, enables long exposure photos that create artistic effects. You can shoot up to nine seconds of a scene without using a tripod and capture scenes such as a Bay Bridge devoid of cars (which would never be possible without a long exposure) and trippy light trails.
The iPad app of the year, Flow by Moleskine, evokes the iconic notebook brand’s status as an essential tool for writers and artists with remarkably realistic pens and pencils, unique animations and overall stunning interface to make drawing fun.
You don’t have to be an actual artist, or even all that creative, to explore your potential with this year’s winning apps. All you need is an iPhone. Or an iPad. Or a Mac. Or an Apple TV. Or, in Apple’s ideal world, all of the above.
But are developers concerned that Apple will adopt their apps’ best features in an Apple-built app? Ben Sandofsky, co-founder and engineer behind Spectre Camera, said Apple has to “make strong choices about what to include and what not to include” in the Camera app to appeal to as many people as possible. Spectre Camera is focused on one specific photographic technique, the long exposure, and the team plans to build more features into the app from there.
How the winners are chosen
Apple’s App Store editorial team selects the winners based on a variety of factors, including popularity, how the app makes use of Apple’s hardware and software, and whether the app launched or added major features this year. Editorial teams in countries around the world select their favorite apps, then debate them.
The one thing that doesn’t seem to factor into the choice is how much money the apps rake in. (Apple takes a 30% cut of paid apps or in-app subscriptions.)
“A cynical person could be like, ‘Well, Apple only cares about making money,” Sandofsky said. “They could’ve chosen other apps that make more money, but we use machine learning and a custom typeface. It looks like Apple really cares about going the extra mile.”
The win means a lot to developers, many of whom fly under the radar until Apple features them in the App Store’s editorial write-ups or in the best of the year list.
See below for the full list of winners and where to download them.
Apple’s best apps of 2019: The full winners list
iPhone Game of the Year
Sky: Children of the Light
iPhone App of the Year
iPad Game of the Year
Hyper Light Drifter
iPad App of the Year
Flow by Moleskine
Mac Game of the Year
Mac App of the Year
Apple Arcade Game of the Year
Sayonara Wild Hearts
Apple TV Game of the Year
Wonder Boy: The Dragon’s Trap
Apple TV App of the Year
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Caitlin is a Senior editor for Gizmodo. She has also worked on Tom's Guide, Macworld, PCWorld and the Las Vegas Review-Journal. When she's not testing out the latest devices, you can find her running around the streets of Los Angeles, putting in morning miles or searching for the best tacos.