Every year Apple’s App Store editorial team selects the best apps and games of the year, but this year wasn’t like any other. That’s why the company has created a whole set of awards around the trend of connection.
While our iPhones and other devices can isolate us, they can also create a sense of community for users, whether it’s a relationship app that puts women in control or an app that helps people find Black-owned eateries near them.
Beyond this trend, there are some great iPhone, iPad, Mac and Apple Watch apps that made the list — including one that takes video editing to the next level — as well as a wide array of iOS games and iPad games that leverage the true power of Apple silicon and developer creativity.
Here are the top 15 apps named in the App Store Awards. And stay tuned for Tom’s Guide’s own best apps of the year list later this month.
Toca Life World ties together all of Toca Boca’s Toca Life games in one easy-to-access free app, and the fact that it’s won Apple’s iPhone App of the Year award suggests it does so with style and clarity. That’s important, because the Toca Life games are aimed squarely at kids ages 6-12, and while Toca Life World is itself free there are lots of in-app transactions available if you want to buy more content. However, the locations and characters you get for free in Toca Life World look charming enough to give any kid some open-ended fun for an afternoon. — Alex Wawro
Luki Labs’ Craft is a free note-taking app that aims to be minimalist, intuitive and easy to use across all your Apple devices. The fact that Apple is honoring Craft with an App Store Award this year suggests the app delivers on its promise of letting you quickly write, edit, and share documents between Apple devices, with useful features like offline syncing, Dark Mode and the option for others to suggest edits to your documents (once you invite them, of course) via web browser without having to download Craft. Power users can pay for a Pro account ($45/year) for unlimited cloud storage and a few extra features, including in-document search. — Alex Wawro
If you’ve been hanging onto your cable subscription just to keep up with sports, you’re probably missing out. DAZN is a live sports streaming app — and a name you probably recognize from any of our guides on how to watch major sporting events. From football to fight night, MLS to MLB, this Apple TV app lets you stream some of the biggest live events all season long. (It’s even got something for snooker and darts fans if you’re looking for that.) Whether you subscribe monthly or for a full year, DAZN offers easy access to all the sports you want on your TV, phone, or tablet, with up to two devices watching at a time in full 1080p. — Brian Westover
LumaFusion is the most powerful video editing app we’ve ever seen on a mobile device, and it caters to iPad power users who want to do sophisticated multipack editing with the touch of a finger. Produced by the original creators of the Pinnacle Studio App, LumaFusion lets you use up to 6 video/audio tracks and add an 6 additional audio tracks. It’s also a cinch to cut, copy and paste in your timeline or between projects. You can also isolate audio tracks and fine tune audio via the Graphic EQ, as well as choose from a wide array of effects. — Mark Spoonauer
Carrot Weather earning an Apple Watch App of the Year win is a neat reminder that we’re actually going back out and actually doing things again. Carrot Weather’s always won points for its customizable “voice” which you can set anywhere from apolitical to anarchic, but its Apple Watch complications (a feature you need to pay to unlock) are both highly elegant and exceptionally informative. You can fill up the Modular watch face with all sorts of clearly and colorfully laid out weather information, including a five day forecast, wind and rain. — Henry T. Casey
For years, fans had been waiting for League of Legends to leave the confined realms of PC and make its way to mobile. Well, what fans got was Wild Rift, a strong mobile version of its popular multiplayer online battle arena (MOBA). While there have been other MOBAs on iOS, Wild Rift has swooped in to take the top crown. It’s a mobile version that doesn’t feel neutered when compared to the original. — Imad Khan
Marvel fans wanting to escape to a multiverse of powers and epic conflict need only go so far as their iPad, where the game of the year is Marvel Future Revolution. One part superhero-themed brawler and one part open world RPG, the game puts you in the spandex of your favorite heroes to battle the villains we all love to hate while saving the multiverse from catastrophic collapse. Praised for its way-better-than-expected graphics, engaging storylines and multiplayer gameplay, this free-to-play title is a must for any Marvel fan, and anybody who just wants a great game. — Brian Westover
When Apple announced Apple Arcade, a subscription based gaming service for Apple devices, some gamers rolled their eyes at Cupertino’s attempt at breaking into the gaming space. But one game that caught the attention of many was Fantasian, made by Final Fantasy creator Hironobu Sakaguchi. It was a proper “Fantasy” RPG through and through, featuring strong gameplay and a soundtrack by Final Fantasy alum, Nobuo Uematsu. For all intents and purposes, Fantasian is a system seller for Apple Arcade. — Imad Khan
For some people, Myst wins game of the year every year. But for Apple, it wins in 2021 because this is the year developer Cyan released a version of this classic adventure game for macOS that’s optimized for Apple silicon. With features like improved models and textures, new dynamic lighting effects, and a 4K mode, this version of Myst runs just fine on an Intel-based Mac, but it’s built to shine on a Mac packing Apple’s M1 chip. — Alex Wawro
If you’re tired of games that just reward whoever’s fastest on the draw, spend some time with Space Marshals 3. It’s a stealth adventure game where you’ve got to employ tactics to bring down the bad guys, though as you play the game, you’ll find there’s more than one way to bring a varmint to justice. The “cowboys in space” theme is a hoot, and the graphics are colorful, but what sets this game apart for the Apple TV is its extensive support for game controllers. — Philip Michaels
Among Us! Is a curious case of delayed reaction. The game was made by a group of friends back in 2018, but it wasn’t until 2020 that it caught fire on Twitch. The Mafia-style whodunnit was easy to learn and a blast to follow along. It attracted the attention of Twitch’s top stars, as well as some major celebrities and politicians. — Imad Khan
Bumble is a mainstay among the best dating apps by putting the power in the hands of its women members. Only women can initiate conversations on Bumble, which gives the app a more welcoming feel than some of its more casual rivals. Even better, Bumble doesn’t necessarily need to be used to find dates — you can make connections in other ways whether it’s in sections aimed at increasing your circle of friends or expanding your professional contacts. And Bumble has added features throughout the COVID-19 pandemic that keeps its members connected even when they’re keeping their distance. — Philip Michaels
Canva is an app that’s all about visual communication and helping people create professional-level results without the pro-level learning curve. You can use Canva to make graphics, logos, birthday cards, wedding invitations, presentations, brochures, Zoom backgrounds and more. And there’s powerful photo and video editing tools baked right in. The company says 23 designs are created every second on the iPhone and iPad, so it’s definitely worth a download. — Mark Spoonauer
Whether you’re traveling to a new city or you’re looking for more diverse dining options whee you live, the EatOkra app is all about helping people find Black-owned restaurants. More than 400,000 diners have downloaded this app, where you can not only find eateries and see reviews but also shop for products to further support these Black-owned businesses. EatOkra is working on in-app ordering and already has a partnership with Uber Eats that it hopes to expand. — Mark Spoonauer
With schools closed during the Pandemic, many families were forced to work alongside home schooling. For moms, who may be dealing with pregnancy, menopause, and a host of other challenges, finding other women to connect with was essential. Peanut is that app. Called the Tinder for moms, it helped connect women to discuss every aspect of life. — Imad Khan