Best apps of 2017 revealed by Apple

Apple’s App Store editors have identified four breakout trends in app culture this year: augmented reality, real-time competitive gaming, mental health and mindfulness, and apps that transform storytelling.

Let’s take a look at each of these four trends and the leading apps in those categories.

Augmented Reality (AR) got a big boost in September when Apple released the iPhone 8, and then again in November when the iPhone X came out. Both of these new phones enable high quality AR. Thanks to Apple’s accompanying development platform, ARKit, there are now dozens of AR apps to choose from in the App Store.

The problem is, most of them are games. We’re still a long way from AR having real utility in our daily lives, apart from entertaining us.

Regardless, here are a few AR apps that stood out.

My Very Hungry Caterpillar AR is based on the Eric Carle book, which I remember reading and enjoying as a child. The AR app of the same name takes this classic book into the 21st century. It allows kids to overlay the ravenous cartoon caterpillar into their own back yard or living room table.

Kiwi firm 8i had one of Apple’s most popular AR apps of the year, with Holo. This clever app enables you to place a realistic looking, life-sized 3D avatar into your surroundings. The initial crop of avatars, including astronaut Buzz Aldrin and Mad Men actor Jon Hamm, seemed to strike a chord with App Store reviewers – the current version has an average rating of 4 out of 5 stars.

As mentioned, so far there are only a few AR apps with real-world utility. One of them is IKEA Place, a promising app for overlaying furniture into your house. However early reviewers have complained about lags and glitches, so it’s not quite there yet. A more accomplished AR app with utility is Human Anatomy Atlas 2018, which has earned a 5-star rating from hundreds of people.

Real-time competitive gaming is Apple’s second big app trend for the year. With names like Art of War: Red Tides and Asphalt Xtreme, these seem to be games aimed predominantly at teenage boys.

However a more interesting variation of this trend is a new app by two co-founders of Vine, the short-form video app that was acquired by Twitter in 2012. HQ is a live trivia game that streams every day at 9pm ET (3pm NZ) and 3pm ET (9am NZ) on weekdays. If you tune in at those times, you could win cash by answering a series of trivia questions.

So instead of watching Family Feud on your television every day, you could actually be participating in a live game show. It sounds addictive, if you’re into trivia games.

The third app trend, mental health and mindfulness, was probably inspired by the ongoing backlash against the noise and distraction of social media this year. This set of apps have names like TaoMix 2, Aura, and Headspace: Meditation.

One of these apps, Calm, was selected as Apple’s “iPhone App of the Year” and has an average 5-star rating by over 60,000 people. When you install and first open Calm, you’re asked to choose among several goals – such as “Better Sleep” or “Learn to Meditate”. After that, you’re presented with a series of programs to help you achieve those goals. Many of them are free, but some you have to buy a paid subscription to “unlock.”

To test the app, I chose a “7 Days of Calm” program. The first session was a free 3-minute video of what appeared to be a South Island lake with a snow-peaked mountain in the background, accompanied by the voice of a mellow American woman instructing me on how to meditate.

Calm is a slick app and it’s undoubtedly better for you than spending your time on Snapchat or Instagram. Of course the cynic in me thinks you should just ditch your phone, pick up a paper book and head down to your local beach.

If reading a book is too much work for your technology-addled brain, then Apple’s fourth trend caters to you. These apps are supposedly re-inventing reading. They offer features like “bite-sized anecdotes, synopses, and choose-your-ending elements.”

A good example is Blinkist, an app that “distills the key insights of 2000+ bestselling nonfiction books into powerful 15-minute reads or listens.” So it’s like CliffsNotes for the smartphone era.

Like Calm, Blinkist charges a subscription fee for its premium content. It costs $10 per month if you pay the annual rate. But unlike Calm, nearly all of Blinkist’s content is locked behind that paywall.

So there you have it, Apple’s top app trends of the year. While you’re digesting Christmas leftovers and enjoying the sun, check out some of these apps and let us know what you think in the comments.

As for me, I’ll be back in the new year with a set of technology trends to watch out for in 2018.