Both Apple and Google today announced their best apps and games of the year, with the hiking and biking companion AllTrails winning as Apple’s iPhone App of the Year in 2023, while the educational app Imprint: Learn Visually won as Google Play’s best app. Meanwhile, Apple and Google agreed on their Game of the Year, as both picked Honkai: Star Rail as their winner.
These year-end “best of” lists aren’t just a way to drive interest in new apps and games, but serve as a way to gauge the status of the app marketplaces, what the platforms themselves wanted to celebrate, and what drew consumers’ attention in the year.
Surprisingly, however, Apple this year bucked the trend of highlighting apps that were new to the store or that had taken advantage of a recently released technology in an innovative way. Instead, its finalists for iPhone app of the year included apps that have long deserved accolades as well-built and well-designed mobile companions, including the language learning app Duolingo and travel app Flighty, in addition to winner AllTrails.
Still, it’s worth noting that this is a different type of selection than in previous years, when App Store winners included the breakout social hit BeReal in 2022 and the well-received children’s app Toca Life World the year prior.
It’s also worth noting that neither Apple nor Google chose an AI app as its app of the year, despite the incredible success of ChatGPT’s mobile app and others. That’s particularly odd given that ChatGPT became the fastest-growing consumer application in history earlier this year when it reached 100 million users shortly after its launch. That record was later broken by Instagram Threads, which hit 100 million users within just five days, and as of October had still maintained an active user base of just under 100 million.
Either one of these picks would represent a mobile app success story, but both app store platforms looked to others as the top winners this year. Plus, outside of ChatGPT, many other AI apps are raking in millions in revenue as well, so the decision to avoid the AI category seems a deliberate choice on Apple’s part.
Other App Store winners include iPad App of the Year Prêt-à-Makeup, Mac App of the Year Photomator, Apple TV App of the Year MUBI, Apple Watch App of the Year SmartGym, iPhone Game of the Year Honkai: Star Rail, iPad Game of the Year Lost in Play, Mac Game of the Year Lies of P, and Apple Arcade Game of the Year Hello Kitty Island Adventure.
“It’s inspiring to see the ways developers continue to build incredible apps and games that are redefining the world around us,” said Apple CEO Tim Cook, in a statement about the 2023 winners. “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,” he added.
Apple also avoided naming an AI app among its Cultural Impact winners, despite the very real impact AI is having on culture, both online and offline. In 2023, AI has infused itself into everyday tech, has been used to create art and music, and has disrupted jobs while also creating new ones. Instead, Apple’s cultural winners included the children’s gaming app Pok Pok, an accessibility app Proloquo, the food waste minimizer Too Good To Go, the puzzle app Unpacking, and the hidden-object game Finding Hannah.
Still, the company could not avoid the AI topic entirely, so it gave a nod to the technology by naming generative AI the “Trend of the Year,” and rounded up a collection of generative AI apps that showcased this trend. It didn’t name these in its press release, though, instead pointing only to their App Store grouping.
In addition to its overall winners, Google took a different approach to its “best of” apps this year, highlighting “multi-device” apps that mirrored its efforts on the Play Store designed to make it easier to find non-smartphone apps. It named Spotify its best multi-device app — an interesting choice given that it was just revealed through the antitrust case with Epic Games that Spotify has a sweetheart deal with Google which allows it to bypass Play Store fees. The best multi-device game was the turned-based strategy game OUTERPLANE – Strategy Anime.
The company also rounded up other apps it wanted to highlight by giving them individual accolades, including the Best App for Fun Bumble for Friends: Meet IRL, Best for Personal Growth Voidpet Garden: Mental Health, Best Everyday Essential Artifact: Feed Your Curiosity, Best Hidden Gem Aware: Mindfulness & Wellbeing, Best with AI Character AI: AI-Powered Chat, Best for Families Paw Patrol Academy, Best App for Good AWorld in support of ActNow, Best for Watches WhatsApp Messenger, Best for Tablets Concepts: Sketch, Note, Draw, Best for Chromebooks FlipaClip: Create 2D Animation, Best for Google TV Max: Stream HBO, TV, & Movies, Best for Cars Amazon Prime Video
Unlike Apple, which has been feuding with Meta since its App Tracking Transparency changes impacted Meta’s ads business, leading to a soured relationship between the two tech giants, Google didn’t mind highlighting Meta’s WhatsApp in its winners’ list. It also gave a nod to the clever AI-powered Artifact app, which was built by Instagram’s co-founders. And while it also didn’t anoint an AI app as its overall winner, ChatGPT won the User’s Choice race and it created an AI category, which Character AI — an app built by former Google researchers — won.
It also rounded up Honorable Mentions for those that didn’t win their app category, including Reelsy Reel Maker Video Editor, Imprint: Learn Visually (which won overall but was an Honorable Mention in Personal Growth), ReciMe: Easy & Tasty Recipes, Stippl: Explore, Plan & Share, ChatGPT (which won User’s Choice but was an Honorable Mention in Best with AI), LEGO DUPLO DISNEY, AllTrails: Hike, Bike & Run (also Apple’s iPhone app of the year), Audible: Audio Entertainment, Canva: Design, Photo & Video, Everand: Ebooks and audiobooks, Evernote – Note Organizer, Wideo, Amazon Prime Video, Crunchyroll, Disney+, Tubi: Movies & Live TV, Beach Buggy Racing, and Spotify (which won Best multi-device app but was an honorable mention for Best for Cars.)
Best games included Best Multiplayer Game Farlight 84, Best Pick Up & Play: MONOPOLY GO!, Best Indie Vampire Survivors, Best Story Honkai: Star Rail, Best Ongoing Stumble Guys, Best Games for Good: Pokémon Sleep, Best on Play Pass Magic Rampage, Best for Tablets Honkai: Star Rail, Best for Chromebooks Minecraft, and Best for Google Play Games on PC Arknights. Honorable mentions for games were also included (seen here on Google’s blog alongside books of the year.)