Just when you thought apps had gotten boring and derivative, developers have leveraged new technologies to breathe new life into mobile experiences. From games we couldn’t put down to powerful camera apps to augmented reality finally taking off, those little squares with the rounded corners on our home screens continued to surprise and delight us.
Whether it was record-breaking downloads or those hidden gems that just made our lives easier, these are the apps we loved most in 2017.
1. Animal Crossing: Pocket Camp
Nintendo delighted fans this year with another heavy dose of nostalgia in the form of Animal Crossing: Pocket Camp. The long-awaited mobile installment in the Animal Crossing series, the game proved once again Nintendo can still capture our imaginations with old favorites.
An email app with a chabot built-in. Astro takes a new approach to helping you stay on top of your inbox. The app has all the organizational features you’d expect from an email client: multiple inboxes, gesture-based controls, message scheduling, and the ability to “snooze” emails for later. What makes Astro stand out, though, is the built-in assistant that learns your habits and can help remind you to stay on top of your messages. Send it a few commands and it can unsubscribe you from annoying newsletters, remind you to get back to people, and manage your VIP list.
One of those frustratingly addicting games that you just can’t quite seem to put down, Ballz went viral even beyond Ketchapp’s usually reliable hit-making abilities. The game is simple — use your balls to hit the bricks — and yet it requires just enough strategy that it’s near impossible to put down. No wonder it spent weeks and weeks at the top of the App Store and Google Play, earning a near-perfect 4.5-star rating.
Something of a mix between iMovie and Snapchat, Clips is a new kind of video app for Apple. The app, which lets you create movies out of short clips, has a bit of everything: augmented reality effects, stylized filters, AI-powered automated captions, and, yes, lots of emoji.
Worrying about how much mobile date you’re using seems like one of those problems we should be able to easily avoid by now, but too often that’s just not the case. And, depending on where you live, cellular data can quickly add up to a costly investment. That’s why Google’s data-saving app Datally is so dang useful. The app not only breaks down exactly how you’re using your data; it helps you prevent apps from accessing it when you don’t want them to. Meaning: No more surprise overages.
6. Google Assistant
Yes, it was still a bit rough around the edges when it first launched, but the standalone Google Assistant app is damn useful, especially if you don’t already have a Pixel phone. Not only can the app help with standard queries you’d typically turn to Google searches for, it can tell you about what’s on your calendar, send messages, and control your music.
Most camera apps aren’t worth using simply because it’s just so much easier to stick with iOS’s default camera. Halide is an exception worth making, though. The app gives you full manual control over exposure, focus, ISO, white balance, and shutter speed with easy gesture-based controls that are meant to emulate old-school film cameras.
Leave it to the founders of Vine (RIP) to come up with a trivia app that’s so much more than just another quiz game. Combining live video, cash prizes, and a charismatic host, HQ has taken the App Store by storm — inspiring hundreds of thousands of players to tune in and answer trivia questions at the same time each day. Yes, it still has some fail whale-like technical issues, and yes, some onlookers insist it’s all just a fad. But it’s also just incredibly fun — and remains one of the breakout games of the year.
9. Ikea Place
Augmented reality had a moment in 2017. Apple, Google, Facebook, and Snapchat all launched new platforms showcasing the tech. But even still, so much of AR is just plain gimmicky (looking at you, dancing hotdog). So it was even more surprising that one of the breakout AR apps of the year came not from a tech giant but from Ikea. The furniture company’s AR app, which lets you preview how certain pieces of furniture will look in your home, isn’t just clever — it’s actually useful.
10. Super Mario Run
Okay, technically it launched at the end of 2016. But, considering the app helped propel Apple to its single biggest day of App Store sales at the start of the year, and later went on to be one of the most popular apps of the year, it’s safe to say 2017 was the year of Super Mario Run. Not only that, but coming on the heels of Pokémon Go, it further cemented Nintendo’s status as a (finally!) serious player in the mobile space.
No matter how many people try and ultimately fail, it seems there will always be an appetite for services that gives us an unfiltered window into what our friends really think about us. So it shouldn’t be a surprise that tbh, an anonymous quiz app for teens, was almost instantly successful. But thanks to an innovative approach that focused on positivity, its developers proved that anonymity can be used as a force for good. It was so successful, in fact, Facebook snapped it up as part of its ongoing bid to win over younger teens.
Part of a new breed of reading apps that are reinventing how young people read, Yarn quickly became one of the most popular apps in an emerging category known as “chat fiction.” The apps, which present stories as if they were SMS exchanges, have proved not only to be incredibly sticky, but extremely profitable. Yarn stands out because it mixes photos and videos into its interactive stories, making them all the more compelling.