Every year, at the company’s annual Worldwide Developer Conference, Apple distributes its annual Design Awards to recognize the best and most innovative Macintosh and iOS software and hardware produced by independent developers, with “independent” being a term of some debate: Evernote, Blizzard, NASA, and IBM have all won Design Awards over the years.
This year, Apple’s Design Awards seem to have been awarded mostly to apps that tick-off boxes in their marketing department’s PR priority list. Apps are given awards for “using Metal on iOS” (Apple’s graphics programming API that it’s currently trying to pimp as part of OS X El Capitan), for offering barebones Apple Watch app support, for supporting their new Force Touch trackpads, and for making innovative uses of in-app purchases. Really!
Still, there’s a few gems in here, especially if you’re a gamer. After giving the list a once-over, here’s the apps we think are worth a look:
• Metamorphabet by Vectorpark, Inc. Metamorphabet is a modern, interactive alphabet that is as trippy as it is adorable. It sort of feels like a Sesame Street segment animated by the same guys who did Yellow Submarine. Unlike most alphabet primers, Metamorphabet also features better vocabulary words than normal: for example, ‘A’ stands for arch, amble, and antlers, not ant or apple. There’s actually a Flash version online you can play with yourself, but you can also download it from the App Store here.
• Does Not Commute by Mediocre AB. In racing games, a common gameplay mechanism is the idea of a time trial. If you’ve ever played Mario Kart, you know what I’m talking about: as you race, you see a little ghost of your best time racing along the track with you. Does Not Commute turns this mechanism into a brilliant little narrative device. In the game, you’re actually a time traveler, racing against yourself in the 1970’s, and your actions have a ripple effect in the time stream, changing the game’s levels a little bit every time you race yourself. You can download it for iOS here.
• Workflow by DeskConnect, Inc. There’s actually a bunch of apps that piece together other apps and services to create a dashboard of shortcuts for you, from IFTTT to Launcher. Workflow’s does the same thing, but with some nice little tweaks, like the ability to pin your shortcuts as icons on the iOS homescreen. But Apple gave this app an award for paying attention to accessibility, and that’s the real reason I want to give it a shoutout here: it’s easy to design apps for people like you, but another thing entirely to design a good app while having empathy for the color blind, the blind, and the handicapped, all of which Workflow does in various ways. You can grab it here.
• Shadowmatic by Triada Style. With a visual aesthetic that looks like a Pixar film brought to life, Triada uses Apple’s advanced Metal API to create a game that is built around the concept of a shadowbox. To win, you need to solve puzzles by exercising your sense of spatial awareness, twisting three-dimensional shapes until their shadows are the proper shape.
• Fantastical 2 by Flexibits. Fantastical isn’t exactly a new app–I’ve been using it for years–but the update last year re-skinned it for OS X Yosemite. If you have a lot of meetings and appointments to handle, I don’t know anything better. Fantastical’s killer feature is the ability for it to process your natural language to create calendar entries: type in “Doctor’s appointment every Thursday at 9am every three weeks starting June 1st” and Fantastical will do the rest. If you haven’t tried Fantastical before, it’s worth it: I swear by it. You can download it here.
As for the rest of the winners, you can check them out here.