Apple unveils 2023 App Store Apps of the Year winners while developers ponder a Vision Pro future

What do all Apple app developers have in common? Not much really beyond an almost preternatural enthusiasm for Apple’s platforms and the opportunity to reach the Apple ecosystem’s millions of customers. Apple unveils 2023 App Store Apps of the Year winners while developers ponder a Vision Pro future

What amps that excitement up to 11 for them is the chance to be named one of the best apps of the year. Recently, I got to meet and talk to some of the 14 developers of those now-award-winning apps. Naturally, I asked them about their apps, but what I really want to know about is how they’re preparing for Apple’s Vision Pro and spatial computing. To my surprise, some of them answered me.

One week after Apple’s App Store Editorial team named the 40 finalists, the Cupertino Tech giant revealed the 14 Apps and Games winners across, the best iPhone, best iPad, best Apple Watch, and best Mac Apps. Apple even added a new wrinkle this year: Cultural Impact winners. Apple also selected an app trend of the year, which was, unsurprisingly Generative AI, though no specific Generative AI app won an award.

Each App winner I saw has its own distinctive vision and style, though most of them manage to lean on Apple-specific device capabilities to do some surprising things.

The winners are a varied bunch, and you can check out the full list below. When I spoke to some of the winners still basking in the glow of the App Store award, physically represented by a nearly 10-pound blue Apple Store icon trophy, they offered some insights into the Apple app development process and thoughts about a Vision Pro future.

A stand-out winner is Prêt-à-Makeup, from Prêt-à-Template. This iPad app is for professional makeup artists and lets them build a makeup look on the tablet before applying it to their subjects. That sounds like a fairly simple idea, and little more than the life-size Barbie makeup styling head kids favored in the 80s, but I could see the app is something more.

In the demonstration I saw, there were hundreds of different makeup kits and dozens of sample faces. The faces all look like line drawings but hide inside them detailed 3D maps. As soon as we applied digital makeup with both touch and using Apple Pencil, the skin came to life and even reflected light when we turned the tablet from side to side. It’s an impressive effect.

It looked like a powerful tool but, since it’s my job, I’m always thinking about the future. I asked how this app might translate to Apple’s next big platform plans: Spatial Computing on the Apple Vision Pro. The developer didn’t demure and in fact revealed they are a launch partner, adding that they’ll be embracing Spatial Computing in the future.

Lies of P, from NEOWIZ. a rare AAA game simultaneously developed on consoles and the Mac, won for Mac Game of the year. Having played the immersive game based on the original Carlo Collodi Pinocchio tale on a 14-inch MacBook Pro (M3 Max), I agree with the selection. It clearly makes excellent use of the M3 Max’s native rendering capabilities. Neowiz Team Lead Justin Carnahan told me that while there was initially concern about the difficulty of building the game for the Mac it was actually “very smooth.” Plus, Apple Silicon has more than enough power to handle difficult in-game tasks like volumetric fog effects.

The game is so immersive, in fact, that I had to wonder if they, too, were thinking about what it might be like to play on the Vision Pro. Carnahan said bringing the game to Vision Pro is “a possibility,” but quickly added that “they just launched the game two months ago and are just now figuring out what to do going forward.” There are, however, already plans for a DLC and a sequel.

Not every app winner is as deeply immersive, or action-packed. Finding Hannah from Fein Games is a Cultural Award Winner and uses the larger canvas of the iPad to paint a colorful and intriguing story of the lives of three women from three different eras: 1940s, 1970, and now. What’s interesting about the game is that it’s really a relatively simple puzzle game that uses the puzzles as a gateway to the overarching narrative. It becomes a journey of discovery about the lives of these women and the worlds they live in.

Fein Games Art director Elena Resko agreed with me that such a game could live in the Vision Pro. “It might be possible. Not sure what the interaction would look like. I think it would be exciting to have this new technology for old-style games as well.”

I also checked out the anime-esque Honkai: Star Rail from Hoyoverse, an iPhone game of the year winner. It’s a space fantasy RPG that might not have enough action for me, but with multiple worlds, planets, and players, there’s clearly more than enough depth to keep you engaged for hours on end.

Could such a game work on the Vision Pro? The developer has no firm plans but confirmed that “everyone’s excited.”

I wonder if, by this time next year, Apple will have added a Vision Pro app of the year.


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