1 Angry Birds
You knew Stieg Larrson books had gone from cult concern to cultural phenomenon when you suddenly couldn’t move for people them on the London Tube network. Over the last six months, it’s people playing Angry Birds on their smartphones that have become impossible to avoid. From kids, to sober-suited business types, to OAPs, it seems like everyone is partial to Rovio’s avenging avians.
And its ubiquity doesn’t end there. The mass media have got on board, too. Both the Times and the Guardian have run high falutin’ features looking at Angry Birds' unique appeal and it’s now become de-rigeur for celebrities to proclaim their love. But Angry Birds is a landmark in apps for much more than the odd starry endorsement. Thanks to its simple, pick up and play mechanics, it took mobile phone gaming to the mass market as never before.
It was also the app whose leading characters made the move from a mobile game property to movie stars – a reverse of the usual paradigm whereby movies spawn tie-in games. And they’re coming to Xbox 360, PS3 and Wii – making Angry Birds the first true mobile game to make the transition to home consoles.
Perhaps the most significant sign of its import to the tech world, though, is that by ushering a new age of casual gaming, it’s got the console giants running scared that consumers will abandon high-cost titles with high production values on their platforms in favour of cheap, easy-to-pick-up mobile games.
At the last count, Angry Birds has topped 100 million downloads across all platforms, raking in millions in revenue for Rovio. So perhaps the likes of Sony and Nintendo have every reason to be afraid.
Now that music discovery apps are ten-a-penny, it’s hard to imagine now just how ground-breaking Shazam felt when it first landed. Or how magical it felt when you first fired it up, stuck your smartphone next to the speaker and it identified that obscure Northern Soul track you loved for years but weren’t sure was the work of Don Thomas.
The best thing about Shazam, though, is that it means you’ll never again have to engage with Weatherall-style Moody DJs or poisonously rude record store snobs just to find out what it is they’re playing. For that alone, it’s changed the world for the better.
This pint of beer/drinking sim was in essence nothing more than a sight gag. And a pretty one-dimensional one at that. But it’s precisely its goofy nature that made it so significant, spawning a slew of imitators as people woke up to the fact that there was real money to be made from apps with little more than a simple idea and a smattering of coding nous.
By the time Apple named iBeer among the top-grossing apps of 2008 you couldn’t move for copycat apps. And long after the joke stopped being funny, you still can’t.
4 Google Translate
Apps that make the world seem smaller, more navigable and altogether more friendly place are rare indeed. But thanks to its real time voice translation smarts, Google Translate did exactly that.
The notion of the Universal Translator has been a meme of Science Fiction since the 1940s. But it always seemed fanciful even to the most rabid fanboy. Google have got a way to go before this app can handle extra-terrestrial languages. Even so, this is closer to our near-future fantasies than I ever thought we’d get.
5 I Am Rich
Priced $1,000 (£599), this app made a vast diamond appear on your smartphone. Press an onscreen icon and it displayed the charming message: “I am rich
I deserv [sic] it. I am good, healthy & successful.” That was it. There was, as its maker conceded: “no hidden function at all”.
Rather than an app I Am Rich was a work of art, the man behind it claimed. We’re not sure about that. It certainly prompted wise heads in the tech press to debate the value and purpose of apps. But claiming it had real merit as art seems like rather a stretch to us.
However, looking back it does seem like pretty smart satire on the perceived kudos that owning an iPhone conferred on folk back then. Smart enough to rile Apple, that’s for sure, who pulled I Am Rich from sale the day after it first went on sale. And not long after we saw capped charges for apps introduced.
The Foursquare app is tied to the first-ever social network created specifically with smartphones in mind – the better to take advantage of their GPS functionality. It’s also the first to introduce game dynamics to the realm of social networking, in so doing subtly altering how we perceive our surroundings forever.
7 Google Goggles
Visual search tool Google Goggles is a smart app indeed. There’s little in the world of apps that impresses neophytes quite as much as the way it allows users to take pictures of say a building or landmark with their phone and seconds later get a slew of information about it.
But if there is something that is more likely to knock the tech novices for six and instill them with wonder at the modern world, it’s the fact that this app – in conjunction with Google Translate - also allows you to take photos of menus printed in a foreign language and get one back with all the copy transmogrified into English.
Massively impressive as all that is, though, it’s the potential of Google Googles that’s just as much a factor in its inclusion here. Not least is among these is the search giant's plan to allow botanists to snap plants to help identify rare specimens. Plus, we've got some knockout augmented reality games to look forward to as well.
TomTom wasn’t the first app to turn your phone into a de facto sat nav. But it’s probably the best, and thus is most responsible for rendering dedicated route-finders a bit obsolete.
When it dropped back in 2010 it had one major, not to mention killer, USP. All the maps you need are included in the app, so there’s no need to download them via 3G. And by the same token, it also meant, unlike its rivals, you’re able to avail yourself of TomTom’s route-finding smarts in areas where there’s no 3G signal to be had.
In a recent, typically caustic piece in the Guardian Charlie Brooker dubbed iTunes ‘a steaming binary turd’. It’s not hard to see what he’s getting at it. For a start, it's fugly and more closely resembles a productivity tool rather than a sexy music app. But the real black mark against the software is that Apple’s synching system is so arcane and mysterious that it confounds the greatest minds of our generation.
The arrival of the Spotify app meant you can wash your hands of iTunes completely and use this app’s clean and user-friendly desktop UI instead. Not only does it sync faster than iTunes, thanks to the ability to store playlists of stuff you’ve streamed to then play on the go, it's better for discovering new music too. For music fans, this is manna from heaven.
10 Infinity Blade
Apple product launches are the acme of ramped up marketing hype. So when Steve Jobs claimed to be “amazed” that this gorgeous first person, hack n' slash- action-RPG was running on the just-unveiled iPhone 4, you could be forgiven for assuming it was the famous Cupertino marketing machine in action rather than Jobs being genuinely astonished at what he was seeing.
Thing is: Infinity Blade genuinely does leave your belief beggared. The graphics really are as rich as anything consoles can offer. And thanks to the same Unreal Engine from the likes of Gears of War and Mass Effect, it’s got a depth to its gameplay that marks it a landmark game for mobiles. What's more, it proves that mobile games need not be cheapy casual titles or time killers. They can be every bit as immersive as their more grown-up cousins.