Apple just published its year-end list of the best apps for 2014. Among the winners are storytelling platform Storehouse (neat!), ride-calling app Uber (perhaps you’ve heard of it?), and Facebook Paper (???). Instagram’s sped-up video tool, Hyperlapse, took home second place in the non-games category. And Facebook Messenger—which Facebook aggressively pushed on its users—took home honors as the top free app.
Which brings us to the recipient of the iPhone App of the Year, a distinction previously awarded to Instagram and Flipboard. This year’s big winner is Elevate – Brain Training.
If you haven’t heard of Elevate before, it’s very nicely designed brain-training platform that says it can help users “improve critical skills that are proven to boost productivity, earning power, and self-confidence.” It’s free to download, but costs $45 a year.
Elevate is certainly fun. But it is an odd choice by Apple considering the growing canon of evidence that suggests the benefits promised by brain-training apps like Lumosity and CogniFit are mostly bogus.
The most recent study, published in November by Australian researchers in PLOS Medicine, found that gains in thinking speed, working memory, and visual/spatial skills were marginal at best, with no evidence of long-term impact. Previous studies have shown that mental benefits don’t seem to extend beyond the task at hand: Brain-training games make you good at whatever game you are playing, and that’s it.
So, relatively speaking, 2014 has been a lackluster year for apps overall. Consider this the app world’s version of the year when Crash won an Academy Award for Best Picture.