2016 saw some huge hits in the app world. Pokémon GO sent people on an A.R. adventure around town. Google Translate combined the power of A.I. and user input to improve upon an already superior platform. Nuzzle and NPR One pushed real, researched news to users, pushing back a crashing wave of crappy clickbait. Super Mario Run, coupled with the smash-hit-sold-out-everywhere NES Classic Edition, marked the return of Nintendo. (Yes, like all children of the 80s, there is definitely NES nostalgia for me.) Social media giant Facebook got frighteningly larger, and in related news, created a huge stir before and after the election about what algorithms it used to create trends and how it rendered real vs. fake news. Instagram got a new logo and adopted more Snapchat-esque features like Stories. In a curious twist, Snapchat borrowed functions and cues from other platforms from other social platforms: first Memories and most recently Groups.

Amid all the giants, there seemed to be fewer indy games and under-the-radar hits. What what will 2017 hold? How will the industry address the troubling issue of fake news? Will A.I. take us to anywhere more meaningful than Pokémon gyms? When will edtech apps deliver on all the VC funding and the promises? We shall see.


For now, here are my top ten apps from 2016.

1. Google Translate – The Google Translate updates in 2016 represented lightspeed progress in both language translation and machine learning. The New York Times called it “The Great A.I. Awakening” in the December 14th Magazine article. I reviewed the app in January of 2015. Since then Google has released reliable updates that improve accuracy, fluency while creating its own secret internal language. 103 languages online, 52 with no internet connection, OCR/camera translation in 29 languages–these are all . This app represents a great resource for language learners and machine learning both.

2. Pokémon GO – It was tough to avoid the Pokémon phenomenon this year. People were either playing it, pondering its meaning a potential applications or stuck in line/traffic behind someone playing it. The Pokémon ball half white read is that this represents a significant step forward for A.R. apps and creates an interest and an infrastructure to build upon. The Pokémon ball half red read is that people seem more given to finding gyms in A.R. than any more significant pursuits.

3. Audible – I have to admit I’m late to the Audible game. My wife gifted me a subscription for Father’s Day and since then I’ve been hooked. I have a long commute and Audible has become my companion. Before I thought I was fine without it; now I can’t live without it. Did it get me through more titles than I expected? Yes. Did it get me through the election? Yes. Did it impress me with the original content and the breadth and depth of titles? Did it impress me with advertising that was targeted but not terribly intrusive? Yes it did.

4. Spotify – As with Audible, I was late to the Spotify game. In this case it was a competing platform–not because I put it off. I had been true to Pandora for years and I somehow thought I couldn’t toggle between the two. I now do. I think the U.I. is fantastic–updated and stupid simple–and the ability to listen to whole albums makes Spotify a superior choice. When a new albums from A Tribe Called Quest dropped, I listened on Spotify. When I needed Hamilton and now The Hamilton Mixtape? Same. When icons like David Bowie, Leonard Cohen, Prince, Phife Dog, or Glenn Frey all passed on–DAMN!–I indulged my sorrow on Spotify. Whatever your mood and whatever the occasion, Spotify is tops. I also appreciate the “Word” genre for its offerings of lectures and literary works.

5. Prisma – Prisma stands out from the fleet of filter and photo-editing apps by using complex algorithms to transform your images into vibrant and unique works of art. From high art to Heisenberg, Prisma has it all. I’ve used Prisma for Facebook posts and even for more formal presentations. In each case, it works. Additionally, in a world full of fishy-faces and freaky filters, Prisma can teach us a thing or two about fine art.

6t. Quizlet & Tinycards – Quizlet and Tinycards split the #6 spot on the list for their simple interfaces and their elegant premise that learning takes practice. The good news is that it’s easier and more fun than ever to practice with these apps. Quizlet continue to give students and teachers access to vocab lists from every imaginable topic. Quizlet also took a page out of Kahoot!’s book by making quizzes competitive in real time. DuoLingo’s offering Tinycards earned a spot on the App Store’s “Best of 2016” list because it’s functional and flat-out fun. ¡A jugar!

7. Spark Post – There are many social graphic generators on the market: Canva, Over and Spark Post are my faves. Of these, I’ll give the edge to Spark Post–which makes it the only repeat top ten app from 2015. There are tons of image, text and graphic functions, plus the free photo library is enormous. Whether I need a blog header image, an inspirational quote or a graphic for work, I can get them all done quickly and neatly with Adobe’s offering. Like the featured image of this post? I created it with Spark Post.

8. NPR One – NPR salvaged the election season for me. It doesn’t change the result or get us closer to solution on any of the major issues our nation faces, but the coverage and commentary from NPR did put things in perspective. In its own 50 Best offering, TIME magazine noted “NPR’s new NPR One app [is] basically a customizable public radio station that learns what shows you like and what topics you’re interested in, building a more personal feed over time.” For it professional coverage, its personalized feed and its on-demand or over-the-airwaves availability, NPR ears the #8 spot on my list.

9. Nuzzel – I’m new to Nuzzle but I really like what I see so far. I’m a huge Twitter fan, but I recognize that real news can get muddled with mass-hysteria. I also recognize that some really good content can get pushed down my feed. With Nuzzle, I can see top news stories from the people I follow and browse topics with ease. This app is on many top app lists for 2016 and I’m including it here on mine, looking forward to using it more in 2017.

10. Super Mario Run – I have to admit I haven’t played this much but I include it here for two reasons. First, it could be the breakout hit or the holiday season and of 2017. Second, it could mark the resurgence for Nintendo. The top app for 2016 and 2017? Who know what this will mean for mobile gaming.


Honorable Mention:

Flipboard – One of my top apps in 2015, Flipboard continues to impress with a unique interface and great content.

Canva – Canva continues to be a great app and I’m curious to explore the chart function.

voi – The best, most beastly puzzle game I played this year.

Watch – With the release of Apple Watch Series 2 and watchOS 3.1, Apple rebooted the brand in a way that was deeper than a new $40 band.

Layout – Also a top app in 2015, Layout continues to be my go-to collage app for all personal and professional projects.

 

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