Apple’s Top Apps of 2013: Design, Language, and Interaction

‘Tis the season for sharing the best of the year, and the Apple Store have just released their best apps of the year roundup.  While some of their picks are based purely on number of downloads, others are based on aesthetics, interactivity, and levels of user engagement.  These lists are always interesting to peruse in terms of seeing what was trending over the past year, as well as look forward to what we might expect in the New Year.

App of the Year: Duolingo

Languages used to be somewhat expensive to learn; you either had to sign up for a complete course at your local community college or purchase an extremely expensive software package that usually ended up collecting dust under your desk. With the advent of new educational paradigms that aim to make learning accessible to everyone, this is becoming a thing of the past. Duolingo, the Apple Store’s pick for App of the Year, makes language learning available to everyone at just a click of the button:

 “Sure, there was Rosetta Stone, but it's an expensive program (it starts at $274), and the folks who really need to learn to speak other languages "don't have the money," says von Ahn.”They need it to get a better job."

So they put their heads together and came up with Duolingo, which was released at the end of 2012. Twelve months later, Duolingo has seen 10 million downloads. And now Apple has deemed it the free iPhone App of the Year. (The app is also available for Android.)” –

Here’s a video demo of Duolingo and the concept that fueled the creation of this app:

Luis von Ahn, the creator of Duolingo (and, just as an aside, also the creator of CAPTCHA), decided to create Duolingo to not only equip users to learn languages, but also to enable millions of Duolingo users from all over the world to work together to solve large-scale problems; like, for example, translating the Internet. You can watch the talk he gives at TED below about this very issue:

Game of the Year: Ridiculous Fishing

I’ll be the first to admit that I am not a game person; however, I’m sort of drawn in to the Apple Store’s pick for Game of the Year, Ridiculous Fishing. Retro graphics and a compelling story are what keep me and millions of other people around for hours of gameplay.

This somewhat-off-the-beaten-path game was put together by a small independent team of developers out of the Netherlands called Vlambeer, who based this game on their original “Radical Fishing” app: “Follow Billy as he tries to find redemption from his uncertain past. Chase your destiny on the high seas and embark on a heroic quest for glory and gills.” Watch a quick demo of this endearing game below:

The game was recently ported to Android, with the development team writing up a quick summary of their thoughts on the process and how it went, something of interest to other developers who have or who are thinking of doing the same thing with their apps:

“Android (and porting in general) is a particularly tough challenge for a game as precise and meaningful to us as Ridiculous Fishing is, but we’re happy to say we finally reached the point where we felt comfortable releasing the game recently & decided to try something we felt would harken back to our original launch plans. ….This is our first foray into Android, and we’re quite nervous to see how this launch will go.” – A little update regarding Ridiculous Fishing for Android


People aren’t going straight to the social networking apps and games for their app downloads; although obviously these two categories are far and away the leaders for any app store out there, other apps are definitely making their voices heard (as seen in the App of the Year pick). The Apple Store highlighted trends in 2013 that run from easy photo editing to indie games to innovative kids’ apps, as well as a plethora of apps that spotlight the ability to communicate via split-second video (like Vine or Snapchat).

Top Lists

Minecraft topped the list of Top Paid games for 2013; this indie studio game has made its mark in the world of “crafting” games (games where you create your own reality within the game).  Creator Markus Persson and his game were profiled in the New Yorker:

“Since the game’s release, in 2009, Minecraft has sold in excess of twenty million copies, earned armfuls of prestigious awards, and secured merchandising deals with LEGO and other toymakers. … Persson and his game continue to confound the wisdom of video-game critics, consultants, and publishing mavens. For one, Minecraft looks nothing like the multi-million-dollar blockbusters that usually line GameStop’s shelves; its graphics and sound effects are rudimentary. It is also willfully oblique, with no instruction manual and few explicit goals. At first, you are deposited in a unique, procedurally generated world built from a palette of colored one-by-one square building blocks that comprise its mountains, valleys, lakes and clouds. Faced with this canvas, at first your task is mere exploration, charting the terrain around you.”

Topping the list for Top Free and the Top Grossing Games was the phenomenally successful Candy Crush Saga, the game everyone loves to berate but then secretly plays for hours on their phone (speaking hypothetically, of course). Candy Crush Saga became so successful in part because of its social interactivity; user engagement is one of the primary factors in this game:

“Candy Crush tells players "you need to share this because it benefits your friends."

Players can only play five levels at a time until they run out of 'hearts', meaning they must wait before playing again unless they buy more - but during this time they can give hearts to their friends.

"After a while of helping everyone else," Lovell says: "You think 'I don't mind asking them for help now because I've shared the love, it's my turn [to ask for help and be rewarded]'." - “Freemium app purchases and Candy Crush”,

It’s almost altruistic in nature, but it also taps into the ubiquitous desire we all have to communicate and engage with those around us – while having fun. And since in-app purchases are in such small amounts, players don’t register that they are giving up anything of value; on the contrary, it’s almost like they are investing in their own game play.

What will we see in 2014?

It’s always difficult to predict trends, but judging from these top apps in the Apple Store as well as what’s going on in the current technology landscape, apps are uniquely posed to continue to lead the way in how users interact with mobile technology – and vice versa. What do you think will be the trends for 2014 in apps? Leave your thoughts in the comments.




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