Apple was the first to popularize the concept of mobile apps, launching the first App Store of its kind with less than 500 apps in 2008. Since then, millions of apps and developers have entered the scene, making the competition for the best apps more challenging than ever.
On Wednesday, Apple released its 2023 App Store Awards Winners, which were picked by the App Store’s editorial team based on the criteria of whether the apps provide users with meaningful experiences and inspire cultural change.
“This year’s winners represent the limitless potential of developers to bring their visions to life, creating apps and games with remarkable ingenuity, exceptional quality, and purpose-driven missions,” said Apple CEO Tim Cook.
The winning apps are all unique, tackling important topics such as meditating, reducing e-waste, helping non-verbal people communicate, connecting people with the outdoors, and more.
I had the opportunity to go hands-on with all of the winning apps at an Apple media event for the media in NYC, and whether it was the apps’ graphics, storylines, mission, or uniqueness, each app brought something different to the table that left me impressed — and will likely impress you, too.
Since there are so many apps on the market tasked with accomplishing very different purposes, Apple broke down the winners into different categories, organized by the device the app is meant for and making a distinction between regular apps and games. There is also a bonus category for apps that drive positive societal change and leave a cultural impact.
For the full rundown of the winners and the chance of discovering your next favorite app, read on.
iPhone App of the Year:
AllTrails from AllTrails, Inc.
- App Store rating: #36 in the Health and Fitness, 4.9-star rating, 842K ratings total
- Finalists for this category: Duolingo and Flighty.
If you have ever wanted to start an outdoor activity but didn’t know what trail to go on or where to even start, this free app is for you.
The AllTrails app helps connect people of all different athletic backgrounds and interests with outdoor trails that they can use to participate in activities such as running, hiking, biking, or walking.
“We just want to get people outside, and we’re just trying to tear down the barriers to entry as much as we can, and oftentimes, it starts with information and competence, and we can do both with the app,” said Ron Schneidermann, CEO of AllTrails in an interview with ZDNET.
When searching for a trail, the app considers all your needs, including whether it has to be kid, stroller, dog, or wheelchair friendly. It also provides other specifics about trails, including user-generated trail reviews, different map views, trail previews, weather conditions, and GPS directions to help you pick the perfect trail.
Then, once you select a route, it helps you stay on course with your planned course. The app also has fitness tracking and community-building elements to encourage meeting your fitness goals.
iPad App of the Year:
Prêt-à-Makeup from Prêt-à-Template
- App Store rating: #147 in the Graphics and Design category, 4.5-star rating, 26.4K ratings total
- Finalists for this category: Concepts and DaVinci Resolve.
Prêt-à-Makeup is a free app that provides users with digital face charts, like the ones that makeup artists use to plan their makeup looks. Using those face charts, users can use that template to create their own realistic makeup looks right from their devices.
The app includes over 700 beauty products, 40 face templates in different styles, and different cosmetic textures and finishes that users can choose from to provide a realistic sketching experience.
Once you apply the brush to the one-dimensional, blank face chart, the three-dimensional face automatically appears, making it easy for users of all artistic abilities to create a realistic face sketch.
Another standout feature is that the sketch’s lighting responds to the screen’s movement, mimicking the effect of a moving face in front of a ring light.
The app is free to download but requires a subscription fee of $8.99 per month or $63.99 per year for unlimited access.
Mac App of the Year:
Photomator from UAB Pixelmator Team
- App Store rating: 4.6-star rating, 429 ratings total.
- Finalists for this category: Linearity Curve and Portal.
Photomator is an all-encompassing photo editing app for Mac that includes every tool you would need a photo editing app to have, including color adjusting, batch editing features, clone and repair tools, support for over 650 RAW image formats, presets, transforming images into HDR with one click, and more.
The app also features generative AI editing features, which can help the user automate tasks such as removing camera noise, adjusting white balance, increasing color depth, cropping photos, and more.
The app is free to download but requires a subscription of $4.99 per month or $29.99 yearly to use. If you are interested in trying the app out before subscribing, as a new user, you get three edits for free that you can use to test it out.
Apple TV App of the Year:
MUBI from MUBI, Inc.
- App Store rating: 4.7-star rating, 7.3K ratings total.
- Finalists for this category: Bugsnax and FitOn
MUBI is a streaming app that helps users experience cinema from the comfort of their homes. The app showcases hand-picked, “visionary” films from international artists and creators that would typically be difficult to access for an average consumer.
The app is not just geared toward film fanatics (although a great fit for them, too) but also average consumers who enjoy watching a good quality film. The selection isn’t just limited to niche arthouse films and includes mainstream titles as long as they reach a certain caliber.
“Because we’re showcasing such a diversity of films, we have audiences who are interested in all sorts of things,” said Daniel Kasman, Vice President of Content at MUBI, to ZDNET.
Another standout feature from MUBI is that, unlike other popular streaming platforms, every movie on MUBI is handpicked by the team, ensuring that each movie presented to you on the app is a movie worth watching and elevating movies that the viewer may have otherwise missed.
“It’s just that these films often get lost in the shuffle of larger catalogs — the film from a different country, the film from a few years ago, a festival film, these are films that streaming services don’t pay attention to, but really are some of the best movies out there,” said Kasman.
The film selection is vast, ranging from rare indie films to classics. Although the app is free to download, a subscription fee starting at $12.99 a month is required to start streaming. If interested in trying the app, there is a seven-day free trial.
Apple Watch App of the Year:
SmartGym from Mateus Abras
- App Store rating: 4.6-star rating, 13K ratings total.
- Finalists for this category: Planny and Tide Guide
As the name suggests, the SmartGym app is meant to act as a workout companion that doubles as a “smart” trainer, leveraging AI to create personalized workouts, make suggestions, and track your progress. You can also share your workout results with your in-app community to build motivation.
To further maximize Apple Watch users’ workout experiences, the app for Apple Watch works completely standalone, with no need to bring the iPhone with you during your workouts. Furthermore, your session data counts towards your activity rings, further integrating the app into the Apple ecosystem.
The app is free to download, but the free version only gets you access to two routines and measures and 10 histories. A user subscription to unlock the premium features starts at $6.99/month but increases in price depending on tier and plan.
iPhone Game of the Year:
Honkai: Star Rail from COGNOSPHERE PTE. LTD.
- App Store rating: #27 in Adventure, 4.6-star rating, 22.3K ratings total.
- Finalists for this category: Afterplace and Vampire Survivors
Honkai: Star Rail is a free-to-download space fantasy role-play gaming app, in which users can explore different worlds and civilizations while riding the Astral Express across the galaxy.
One of the biggest standouts of this app is the immersive role-playing experience that combines high-quality cinematics with top-tier voice actors to help immerse users in the adventure.
Even if — like me — you are not big into gaming, the app is so intuitive to use that upon picking it up, I found myself quickly understanding what to do and was even able to win a battle with an opponent. The graphics on the game are so impressive that once immersed, you may not want to put it down.
iPad Game of the Year:
Lost in Play, from Snapbreak Games
- App Store rating: #110 in Adventure, 4.9-star rating, 2.3K ratings total.
- Finalists for this category: Eggy Party and Pocket City 2
Lost in Play is a free game following the storyline of a brother and sister on an adventure trying to find their way home and encountering different challenges along the way, such as an enchanted forest, a horned beast, a goblin village, and more.
While playing, users will help them get home by solving unique puzzles and mini-games. The hand-crafted cartoon style of the gameplay, similar to animated shows from childhood, makes it a game for people of all ages, invoking nostalgia for adults and entertainment for children.
Mac Game of the Year:
Lies of P, from NEOWIZ
Lies of P is a roleplaying game in which the user plays a puppet created by Gepetto. The puppet is caught in a web of lies and must battle his way out of the cruel and dark world he lives in. Within the gameplay, users can develop unique combat styles and weapon combinations to fight vicious enemies.
Apple originally spotlighted Lies of P for the game’s smooth gameplay and the storyline’s dark, alternative twist on the classic childhood tale The Adventures of Pinocchio. To play the game, you have to pay the full game cost upfront of $59.99.
Apple Arcade Game of the Year:
Hello Kitty Island Adventure, from Sunblink
- App Store rating: 4.7-star rating, 145 ratings total.
- Finalists for this category: stitch. and Cityscapes
Hello Kitty is a household character lots of people know and love, and with this game, users can embark on an adventure with Hello Kitty and her friends to restore an abandoned island to its former glory.
Throughout the gameplay, players will be able to explore a gorgeous world with adorable characters, a magical underwater world, delicious meals, cabins, puzzles, wardrobes, and more.
The game is free to download if you have an Apple Arcade subscription, which costs $6.99 monthly and grants unlimited access to over 200 games.
Cultural Impact Winners
Pok Pok from Pok Pok
The Pok Pok app provides children from the ages of two to seven with a digital playroom that mimics the experience they would have while exploring toys on a living room floor. The digital playroom has Montessori-inspired educational toys and creative activities meant to help children learn and experiment through playing games.
“I would say that they [children using the app] are going to experience the diversity of the real playroom they probably have in their home just digitally in a really calm, sensory-friendly way, so they’ll be very empowered to follow their nose to explore and experiment,” said Pok Pok co-founder and CEO Melissa Cash to ZDNET.
The idea for the app originated when Pok Pok co-founder and Chief Creative Officer Esther Hubregh couldn’t find an app for her child that didn’t require constant monitoring, was educational without being overly academic, wasn’t overly gamified, addictive, or stimulating. Since Hubregh and her husband both had a background in animation, they decided to start a little project, evolving into what the app is today.
To ease parents’ other concerns, the app doesn’t have any paywalls or advertisements, so no accidents can happen, and children can just enjoy a seamless playing experience like they would playing with their toys in their own homes.
It is free to download; however, it requires a subscription after the seven-day trial ends. The subscription cost is $6.99 per month or $45.99 a year.
Proloquo from AssistiveWare
The Proloquo app is an Augmentative and Alternative Communication (AAC) app, meant to help meet the needs of non-speaking people so that they can communicate. The app has an intuitive design that allows users, from children to adults, to start communicating right away once the app is downloaded.
The app is free to download but requires a subscription once the one-month free trial expires. The cost of the subscription is $9.99 a month or $99.99 a year and includes access to Proloquo Coach, which helps families and educators support the student’s learning with tools and in-app support.
Another perk of the subscription is that it only has to be paid once for the user and accessible to their network. Family members, educators, Speech Pathologists, and other active members of the users’ lives can sync to the app at no extra cost.
Too Good To Go from Too Good To Go
If you have ever worked in the food industry, you know that at the end of the night, the leftover food that didn’t get sold finds its way to the garbage pale despite being a perfectly fulfilling meal. The app Too Good to Go attempts to tackle that food waste issue by providing restaurants with an alternative.
Instead of throwing away the leftovers, with the app, restaurants, bakeries, and supermarkets can now sell them to customers at discounted prices, which they can pick up upon store closing.
Since businesses can’t exactly predict what will be left over, the goods are sold and packaged in surprise bags that guarantee a bunch of goodies for the person picking them up. The app is free, easy to use, and ultimately a great way to discover new establishments and treats near you.
Too Good to Go CEO Mette Lykke shared that there are other wins for consumers using this platform.
“So first is the aspect of doing good, feels good, when you know you save that food from going to waste, then there’s a great deal since typically they sell at a discount, and then last, it’s fun, because there’s this aspect of treasure hunt, you don’t know exactly what you’re going to get,” said Lykke to ZDNET.
Unpacking from Humble Bundle
The Unpacking app lets users participate in a virtual home in which all they are tasked with doing is unpacking boxes and placing the possessions into their proper place in the new home. As you unpack, you learn more and more about the character whose life you are unpacking.
The repetitive task of repeatedly taking out things from boxes is meant to be meditative in nature. To further lean into that relaxed, zen state, the app has no timers, scores, or meters.
“I think the thing that catches you off guard is it allows you to relax into the experience. You’re just going to get quickly into this moment where you’re just putting your stuff away and thinking about your choices, but you’re also reflecting on the stuff you’re pulling out of the box, and that’s where you just really zone out — that’s kind of the zen moment,” said Oliver Teckert, VP of Production at Humble Games to ZDNET.
While playing the game, I enjoyed that there was no real task to accomplish. Instead, I could just leisurely take items out of the box, place them wherever I wished, and just keep going through the motions.
You have to pay a one-time $9.99 charge to download the app, and once downloaded, you are set to start unpacking.
Finding Hannah from Fein Games GmbH
Finding Hannah is an app with a gameplay storyline that features three generations of women, a grandmother, mother, and daughter, who are navigating life while Hannah, the daughter, is on a journey of self-discovery.
While moving through the storyline, the player will have to deal with family drama, find hidden objects, get to know the diverse cast of characters, unlock new scenes, and more. The animation is visually engaging, with fun and vibrant colors that captivate the player.
“On the surface, it’s a hidden object game combined with a merge mechanic, and it’s just really juicy to play,” said Lea Schônfelder, co-founder and co-CEO of Fein Games to ZDNET. “If you dive into the story of it, it actually raises some deeper questions, like ‘What am I doing with my life?’, these sorts of things.”
When nominated as a finalist for the category, Apple gave special recognition to the app’s ability to connect women across generations through gameplay. The game is free to download but requires a $3.99 in-app purchase to unlock it.
Bonus: Trend of the year
This year, Apple included a Trend of the Year, and unsurprisingly, it was generative AI. Whether you are a tech enthusiast or just a casual consumer, you have probably noticed the explosion of interest in generative AI since ChatGPT was unveiled one year ago.
That interest made its way over to apps, where developers quickly started working on integrations of generative AI into their own existing or new projects.
Although Apple acknowledges that many of those AI features are still in their infancy, the company shares that they gave users an opportunity to see the technology in action for themselves and come to their own conclusions about the positives and the negatives.
To highlight the trend of the year, App Store Editors highlighted a collection of generative AI apps that exemplify the Trend of the Year, which can be found in the App Store.