Tech by VICE

Here's What It's Like to Be Named Apple's App of the Year

Motherboard spoke to past winners of Apple's App of the Year award to see how winning the prize affected their fortunes.

by Rachel Pick and Nicholas Deleon
Dec 9 2015, 4:30pm

Image: Martin Abegglen/Flickr

Wednesday morning, Apple announced the winner of 2015's App of the Year: Periscope, the Twitter-owned app that allows you to livestream footage straight from your phone's camera.

Periscope was acquired by Twitter in January 2015 and formally launched in March. It's already gotten a lot of attention, attracting over 10 million people who are using the platform for everything from frontline journalism to comedy.

You'd think the App Award would have an Oprah's Book Club effect, but not all App Award winners go on to dominate in the app market. We went back and spoke with the winners from previous years to see how they've been doing since their awards, and talk about how winning affected their success.

Hipstamatic was the original winner of the award back in 2010. (For those unfamiliar, Hipstamatic is a paid photo editing app that was sort of an Instagram predecessor.) CEO Lucas Allen Buick told Motherboard via email that Apple didn't even tip him off to his company winning the award—he read about it on TechCrunch on his way to the airport.

When asked what Apple could do to improve the App Store experience for developers, Buick said "Discovery is a real challenge...Creating literally one of a million apps presents a lot of issues when it comes to getting your app seen by potential customers and users...a lot of great apps go completely unnoticed."

Instagram came next, winning the award in 2011 and taking a lot of Hipstamatic's spotlight, though Buick says his app still retains a loyal set of users who are still with them after six years. "Hipstamatic getting awarded the App of the year really sparked a boom for the mobile photo industry," Buick told Motherboard. "It changed the way people thought about their phones as a tool for self expression and content creation."

The next year's winner was Action Movie FX, which added sound effects to video, but then the App Awards pivoted away from content creation and towards self-improvement and intellect-enhancing apps. In 2013, Apple granted the award to Duolingo, a language-learning platform that is still growing. The award gave Duolingo a 50 percent spike in their user count—users that, as VP of Growth Gina Gotthilf said to Motherboard, have continued to stick around.

We asked Gotthilf if winning the award had done anything to influence their product development, and she said no. "It just showed us that what we were doing was working...and that we could continue doing more of it—obsessing with A/B testing, trying to improve education efficacy, making the experience more fun and seamless."

Apple's 2014 winner was in the same self-educational vein as Duolingo. Jesse Pickard is the co-founder and CEO of Elevate, an Android and iOS app that, similar to Nintendo's old DS game Brain Age, offers puzzles and other activities that are designed to keep users' minds sharp.

"It was a wonderful feeling," Pickard told Motherboard in a recent interview. "It was also unexpected, given the number of apps that are released." Pickard estimates winning the year-end award netted Elevate about a million additional downloads. The app earlier this week hit 10.3 million downloads in total, according to Pickard.

"Winning the award was huge for us," he said, "and helps us stand out from the crowd."

All in all, most of the winners we spoke to were in accord: winning the App Award is a nice way to be recognized in a flooded market, and it comes with a big boost in users. But it's not a guaranteed slam-dunk. When Motherboard asked Buick if he'd do anything differently in the aftermath of the award, he said, "Maybe I should have sold Hipstamatic and retired to Mars."

App of the Year Awards