Five years in: The ten most influential iPhone and iPad apps yet

Ocarina (2008)

A virtual flute with social leanings, which took full advantage of the iPhone.

When Ocarina arrived, there was nothing like it on competing platforms. Here was a sweet, simple app that turned your iPhone into a flute, powered by your breath, and gave you the ability to listen in on performances occurring worldwide.

There are echoes of Nintendo DS games in Ocarina, but the iOS app nonetheless took full advantage of the iPhone — utilising its microphone, speaker, touchscreen, tilt sensor and network capabilities — and became a social phenomenon. Its influence wasn’t felt through attempts to clone its success, but more through savvy developers realising that to have a similar hit, they had to innovate.

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Trism

A launch title that utilised the iPhone’s gyro and made its indie dev a small fortune.

A case of striking while the iron’s hot, Steve Demeter’s match game was an App Store launch title. It was straightforward, smart, had a hook (using the gyrometer), and positioned itself as the iPhone’s Tetris. Despite having originally released Trism for free on jailbreakme.com (an early unofficial home for iOS software releases), Demeter made $250,000 in two months from the App Store.

At iOS 3.0’s keynote, Demeter remarked in a video: “I always wanted to do a game. For the past ten years, I’d been working in a boring job and I knew I wanted more for myself. When I first discovered the iPhone SDK, I saw that it was a new opportunity — I could do a game on my own terms.” The iOS gold rush was on, with everyone knowing they had a chance of App Store riches.

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More after the break...

The Elements (2010)

A beautiful and interactive book exploring the periodic table.

When the iPad arrived, it was slammed by certain pundits who saw it as little more than a big iPod touch. Those who knew better realised that was precisely why the device was so great: similar features to Apple’s existing iOS hardware, but with a much bigger screen. The Elements was the first title that really took advantage of that extra real estate, providing a beautiful tome packed full of interactivity.

It opened the door to innovative touch-based educational and storytelling products, from augmented reality stargazing app Star Walk through to award-winning short film/interactive experience The Fantastic Flying Books of Mr. Morris Lessmore.

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UK Train Times (May 2009)

An app for accessing the UK’s train network time tables and getting you home.

For those who recall using UK Train Times for the first time in 2009, three words will elicit a shudder of glee: “Next train home”. This single button took something immensely complicated — figuring out your location and the best way for getting you home on the train — and made it so insanely accessible that it was like a little slice of magic. Such technology is relatively commonplace now — even baked into websites — but UK Train Times was a forerunner of apps aiming to take advantage of geolocation and use it to make your life that little bit easier.

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Infinity Blade (December 2010)

A swipe-based sword-fighting game. Oh, and Unreal Engine tech on a mobile phone.

Jaw, meet floor. That was pretty much everyone’s first reaction to Infinity Blade. “It was an exciting opportunity to push our Unreal Engine 3 technology on to mobile devices. The engine has been used on many next-gen console games, but this is the first time this level of technology has been brought to handheld devices,” said co-creator Donald Mustard at the time. “iOS devices are extremely powerful and we wanted to see just how far we could push the graphic fidelity, but also, uniquely, utilise the touchscreen to create gameplay that you’d never experienced before.”

In the end, we got a block/counter fighter starring giant foes reminiscent of those in Shadow of the Colossus. Holdouts hoping for Xbox 360-style AAA gaming remained unconvinced, but Infinity Blade’s creators were cunning in marrying a title that was rewarding in short bursts with cutting-edge mobile graphics. Within a year, it had made over $20 million.

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