Apple just announced the best apps and games of 2019. Unlike past years, it announced this year's winners in a small event in New York City where it gathered the developers of the apps, Apple executives and the press, and handed out small notecards with the winners' names inside.
In previous years, Apple's "best of" lists have included everything from apps to music, books and podcasts. It'll reveal some of those top items this year, too, but said it wanted to hold an event that focused specifically on the achievements by developers -- the people who actually build these apps.
I learned a bit about how the process for selecting these winners is conducted.
It starts with the team behind the editorials in the App Store, who highlight and review apps throughout the year. The group begins by selecting new apps and games, or those with big improvements, that launched between October 2018 and October 2019. They look at specific criteria like the app or game's user experience, design, storytelling and creativity. Popularity is considered, but these are not just the most downloaded apps, nor the apps that make Apple the most money.
This year, 130 editors from the App Store team participated and picked apps from around the world. They get together, vote, and argue a bit on which apps are the best. Then, they brought the list to Apple's senior vice president of worldwide marketing, Phil Schiller, and he gave the final nod of approval.
Here are the winners.
What it is: Spectre was built by the same team that built another popular camera app, called Halide. It's awesome and gives you the ability to shoot long exposures without fancy camera equipment. This means you can take those neat pictures of traffic moving where the lights are just a blur, or a waterfall where the water looks caught in motion. Co-founder and designer Sebastiaan de With told me he was happy to "to see Apple encourage quality software instead of something that would make them more money," by choosing his firm, which he considers a boutique development shop.
Why Apple loves it: "This AI-powered photo app magically captures the beauty of motion."
Price: Free, with in-app purchases up to $14.99 for a season pass.
What it is: Sky: Children of the Light is by the same team that built Journey, which won game of the year in 2013. You fly through 7 "dreamlike realms" to uncover a mystery and can socialize with other players from around the world on your adventures. I was most impressed by its graphics; it looked like something you'd normally find on a more powerful console. Plus, it's free, so you can check it out to get the gist without spending money.
Why Apple loves it: "Few games convey the thrill of discovery, flight, and collaboration like this groundbreaking title."
Price: Part of an Apple Arcade subscription, which costs $4.99 per month.
What it is: You set out to "find the harmony of the universe" amid catchy pop music and while riding a variety of vehicles including motorcycles and skateboards, all while fighting with swords. Plus, it works with controllers you'd normally use for an Xbox or Playstation. I spoke with the publisher who said they decided to submit to Apple Arcade to appeal to the widest possible audience across iPad, Mac, Apple TV and iPhone -- all Apple Arcade games must be available for all these platforms.
Why Apple loves it: "A mesmerizing high-speed rush through dazzling scenery that crackles with thrilling electro pop energy."
What it is: A pixel-art style game that was already considered a masterpiece after launching on other game platforms. It's a slash-em' game with award winning audio and graphic design. In it, you'll "explore a beautiful, vast and ruined world riddled with dangers and lost technologies."
CEO of Abylight Studios Eva Gaspar told me the game plays best on an iPad Pro. The hardest part of porting it was taking a beloved game and turning it into one that works well on touchscreens (and with controllers), that fans would still appreciate. "Our standards are the highest, that's how we got to be the game of the year," Gaspar told me.
Why Apple loves it: "Dazzling and action packed, Hyper Light Drifter reimagines classic 16-bit adventure games."
What it is: I'm a fan of this one myself and have used it on an iPad mini. Think of an infinite notepad canvas that continues to scroll as you draw or write more. That's the tip of the iceberg here. Flow also has tons of different writing tools, from an airbrush to a marker and a fountain pen. And, like the popular notebooks, you can choose from lined pages, empty, grids and more. I just wish there was one-time payment option.
Why Apple loves it: "The elegance of the iconic Moleskine notebook, now in digital form."
What it is: It's a platform game you move a character throughout a unique and colorful world and solve puzzles. As you move forward, Gris, the main character, gains new abilities that help you traverse further. One trend I noticed here: It also has a good soundtrack, like the other games that won awards in 2019.
Why Apple loves it: "This spectacularly satisfying puzzle-platformer explores the triumph of piercing a life back together after tragic loss."
What it is: Affinity Publisher is a design tool that helps you create books, brochures, magazines, posters and more, all with helpful layout guides, text decorations, photos and more. You can do all of this without much skill in design work or know-how. That means professional-looking publications without much work.
Why Apple loves it: "This powerful and affordable app obliterates graphic design's bar to entry."
What it is: A platform game for the Apple TV, the sort you might have grown up on and that you can now share with your kids. Here's the gist: "In search for a cure, our mutated anti-hero will explore the many traps of Monster Land...and defeat many stuff-throwing, curse-wielding dragons."
Why Apple loves it: "The beloved game from the '80s gets a reboot with hand-drawn animation and a reorchestrated soundtrack."
Price: Free with in-app purchases.
What it is: A collection of pictures and video from around the world from a community of explorers, professional photographers, scientists, artists and more. You can dive in and explore the content on your Apple TV (or iPhone and iPad), or chat with explorers and other members right from the app. A $2.99 payment gives you access to exclusive 4K and 8K HDR content -- some of the sharpest and clearest available -- every month.
Why Apple loves it: "Tour the planet in stunning 4K video and photography with this gorgeous "visual inventory" of the natural world."