Posted by Stuart Dredge @ Mobile Entertainment
1. Google Voice
The app so potentially disruptive to mobile industry economics, Apple wouldn’t let it onto the App Store. Google Voice gives people their own ‘Google number’, complete with voicemail, that they can route to any device they like at any time. It also transcribes voicemails. Great for anyone with lots of phones who wants to tie them to a single number, but pretty worrying for the mobile operators. Google Voice is still something of a niche, being most popular among the more hardcore Android users in the US. This will change in 2010.
Much of the hype around Spotify has been based on fact: its excellent user experience on both desktop and mobile. When it launched for iPhone and Android, Spotify’s app wasn’t the first streaming music application. However, it was the first to use ‘caching’ technology to let users save their playlists for offline listening. At a stroke, it addressed the biggest criticism of these apps: ‘what happens when you’re on the tube or plane?’ Its rivals are now scrambling to offer similar features in their own apps.
Is Foursquare a social networking app? A location-based service? A game? It’s all three. It revolves around users ‘checking in’ to bars, restaurants, nightclubs and other public spaces, letting their friends know what they’re up to but also earning points and achievement badges. It’s recently expanded beyond its initial list of cities to let people add venues and check in anywhere, and is now seeing a check-in every second. All it has to do now is find an effective way to make money out of all this…
4. Pocket God
The games industry has been banging on about episodic content for years, without ever really nailing the idea. Pocket God managed it in a matter of months on iPhone. On the surface, it’s a simple-yet-fun god game set on an island, yet by delivering (more or less) weekly updates with new features and content, it built a ferociously loyal audience and remained at the top of the App Store charts. More recently, it was one of the first iPhone games to succeed with in-app payments too.
5. Layar Reality Browser
Expect to hear a lot of excited talk about augmented reality at Mobile World Congress, even if opinions vary greatly about a.) what it’s for, and b.) what the business model is. Layar is the most intriguing mobile AR app, thanks to its structure. Developers are encouraged to create ‘layers’ – from gig listings to house prices to Beatles magical mystery tours – making it a platform for rapid, creative innovation. Its most recent iPhone update suffered from bugs, but in 2010 Layar could do great things.
6. Eliminate Pro
When Apple removed its restriction on allowing free apps to use in-app payments, the games industry wondered who’d be first to make the ‘freemium’ plunge. It turned out to be ngmoco with Eliminate Pro. It’s a visually impressive online first-person shooter – a genre previously restricted to console and PC – but the innovation is in its business model. The game is free, but funded by payments for energy packs, which are required to level up your character. Did it work? We don’t know yet, but it was important to try.
7. Google Maps Navigation
How big a deal was Google Maps for Navigation’s announcement late last year? Ask the GPS navigation companies whose share prices plunged in the aftermath. In a nutshell, Google Maps Navigation marries mapping with navigation and voice search. Crucially, it does it for free, undercutting the premium pricing structure of its established rivals. Restricted to Android 2.0 handsets and above, for the moment it’s niche. But like Google Voice, this app will have a huge impact in the year ahead.
8. Firefox Mobile
Just to make your head spin, number eight is a mobile browser whose innovation is that it might help the industry to focus less on apps in the coming years. Mozilla’s Firefox Mobile is currently only available for the Nokia N900, but it’s shown that it could have a significant impact as it spreads to other devices. It can sync bookmarks and other data with the desktop version, allows developers to create add-ons for extra functionality, and handles multimedia content without a fuss.
There are many mobile Twitter apps, with new features being launched every week, so ordering them by innovation is a hiding to nothing. Even so, Tweetdeck looks well set. It has all the power features, including the ability to manage multiple accounts, create groups, browse Twitter lists and geo-tag tweets. But so do its rivals. What made us place this higher was its synchronisation with the desktop version of Tweetdeck: an example of proper cross-platform design.
10. The Guardian
It’d be easy enough to take a newspaper website’s RSS feed and whack a nice app UI around it, then boast about your iPhone-straddling zeitgeistiness. However, the Guardian took its time, and came up with an app that shows a more interactive and relevant way to go mobile. Users can customise the homescreen, mark their favourite sections and/or journalists, and specify which bits they want to read offline. Podcasts ensure it’s not just text and pics too. An example to its rivals.
One of Foursquare’s main rivals, Gowalla offers a similar mix of checking in and game-like aspects, complete with virtual items.
By far the most polished social app on iPhone, while its BlackBerry incarnation makes excellent use of the device’s push capabilities.
13. Tap Tap Revenge 3
iPhone’s premier music game, which has switched to a freemium business model and sold more than a million in-app track downloads.
14. Shazam Encore
It’s been around for years, but Shazam caught fire on iPhone and other platforms in the last 18 months, with regular new features.
Barcode scanner apps are all the rage, but ShopSavvy was one of the first to popularise the idea, on Android.
Riding the twin hype-waves of social location and real-time, Buzzd is one of the most appealing location-based apps around.
17. eBay for BlackBerry
Why the BlackBerry version? It ties tightly into the handset’s calendar and inbox: mobile crack for hardcore eBayers.
18. I Am T-Pain
The iPhone music app that made Auto-Tune the toast of the App Store in 2009 – with social elements boosting its word-of-mouth buzz.
Offers social iPhone app discovery with a streamlined review system, strong social features and a great recommendations engine.
The UK’s answer to Foursquare and Gowalla, Rummble offers a slick and innovative take on the hot social location genre.
21. 7Digital Music Store
One of a cluster of apps hoping to be the iTunes of BlackBerry, 7Digital’s store won plaudits for also including a decent player.
22. Ovi Maps Racing
N-Gage is dead, but Ovi Store could be a haven for innovative games. Ovi Maps Racer mixes real-world maps with virtual racing.
This UK-developed social location app lets people upload postcards of ‘local secrets’. Strange, but in a beautiful way.
Like Chomp, Chorus aims to serve up accurate iPhone app recommendations, based on the habits of the user and their friends.
25. Kindle for iPhone
Amazon’s e-reader spin-off ties in both with its Kindle store, and the Kindle device itself – start reading on one then transfer to the other.
Social location apps are prominent in this list, with Loopt offering a sophisticated blend of recommendations and real-time social alerts.
27. Ustream Live Broadcaster
Livestreaming is hot in 2010, with Ustream’s app helping people to broadcast live video to the web, direct from their handsets.
One of the pioneers of mobile augmented reality, Wikitude is evolving into a platform for developers, like its rival Layar.
29. Sekai Camera
More mobile AR? You got it! Japanese app Sekai Camera has quirky charm based around location-based virtual post-it notes.
30. Sky Mobile TV News and Sports
Mobile TV used to be an operator thing. Now it’s increasingly an app thing too, with Sky’s sporty iPhone app a prime example.
31. Starbucks Card Mobile
M-commerce got an (espresso) shot in the arm with this app, that lets people pay for their coffees using their iPhones. Well, in Silicon Valley, anyway.
Currently in private beta, Phreadz is a ‘social multimedia network’ offering threaded conversations. YouTube meets Twitter meets Web 2.0 joy, you could say.
33. Skies of Glory
Like Eliminate Pro, SGN’s Skies of Glory iPhone game is free to download, but funded entirely by in-app payments for extra planes and missions.
It seemed like a novelty app to swap contacts by bumping iPhones, but Bump could spawn more interesting uses in the year ahead.
35. Leaf Trombone
Playing a virtual trombone by blowing into the mic? With other players judging you in real-time? It sounds bonkers. It is bonkers. But hugely innovative too.
36. Anytime Pool
You still don’t get many games that span iPhone and Facebook properly. Anytime Pool is a sign of cross-platform social gaming things to come.
37. U2 Mobile Album
This BlackBerry app turned out to not be a full album after all – but it was groundbreaking in its use of push and social features to delight U2′s fanbase.
38. Little World Gifts
Virtual item gifts are big business on Facebook, but still rare on mobile. This iPhone app makes an intriguing first stab at taking the phenomenon to phones.
39. Real Racing
This iPhone racer was hailed for its 3D graphics, but online tournaments and the ability to upload replays of your best laps to YouTube were equally impressive.
40. Little Boots Reactive Remixer
This branded version of the RjDj iPhone app lets fans remix three of Little Boots’ songs using touch and ambient sounds. Playful and imaginative in equal measures.
Can comics really make the jump from printed page to mobile screen? iPhone app Comixology showed they could, and with a business model to match.
Of all the third-party music player apps, TuneWiki is hotly tipped. Get lyrics in real-time, while using its social and location features to discover new tunes.
43. Sketch Online
Like Pictionary for the Android generation, this multiplayer online game gets one person to draw, and others to guess the word. Google loves it, and so do we.
One of the rash of club-branded iPhone apps, Everton FC’s is included here for its use of push notifications and in-app purchases to keep fans informed.
45. Turf Wars
There are many mafia games on iPhone, but only one so far uses GPS to let players annex real-world places, terrorising their actual manor while building an empire.
Why read one newspaper when you can get a smart app to pick and choose stories from all of them to suit your tastes. That’s iPhone app Broadersheet’s USP.
47. Flight Control
The iPhone game that defined a genre – ‘line drawing’ – and also popularised the idea of location-based high score tables for local bragging rights.
For music artists, letting fans remix your songs on iPhone is all the rage. But Sonifi – created for trance DJ BT – lets two people do it at once via Bluetooth.
49. Opera Mini
The not-so-unsung hero of the mobile web world, Opera Mini is driving usage from handsets beyond the smartphones that tend to hog the headlines.
Voice control technology has been around forever, without ever truly catching on. Vlingo is part of a new breed of mobile apps that could change that.