10 Must See Web Apps & Games

Polycraft

JavaScript was born in 1995, and lived half its life as a toy language that people didn’t take very seriously. Today, JavaScript is the most popular programming language in the world, and it’s being used to build everything you can imagine, from the obvious famous examples like Facebook, Twitter, and Medium, to robots and IoT devices.

I recently wrote an article called “Native Apps are Doomed” about how PWAs (Progressive Web Apps) can provide a smoother install experience for users and eliminate app store hurdles. The main push-back I got in the comments was a lot of skepticism about what web apps are capable of. I was shocked at how many people seem to be living under the delusion that the web platform is stuck in 2004.

It’s 2016, and people are building everything with standard web technologies, from well known developer productivity apps like Cloud9 and Trello to HTML 5 games like Miyu or Yoda’s Jedi Training.

It seems that web apps have a lingering reputation for being clunky. This list shows off a bunch of very cool apps that defy those obsolete stereotypes. Remember, all of these apps have one thing in common: They run on the web platform using technologies like HTML 5, JavaScript, CSS, WebGL, and Web Audio.

We’ll start with the most performance intensive apps that exist: Game engines.

This was just a demo and it’s been replaced by a lame Tappy Chicken game. If you want a taste of what it was like, you can still check out the Android or iOS versions, which look and feel about the same to me, except of course for the touch and swipe instead of click interface.

In case you think this is going to be packed with lame tech demos, read on. There’s a lot of mature, polished web applications out there. In fact, nearly all of my favorite apps are built with web technology.

1. Polycraft

Polycraft is a fun browser-based tower defense strategy game reminiscent of the original Warcraft games. It uses a cartoony low-poly style and it’s suitable for children or adults. The gameplay is smooth, fast-paced, and engaging, and it’s packed with quests and prompts to help you find your way.

2. Swooop

Swooop is a fun and challenging game where you fly an airplane around an island in the sky collecting gems and trying not to run out of fuel and crash. A great way to kill a few minutes if you’re bored. It plays a bit like Flappy Bird, but I like the graphics a lot better. And you can fly in loops.

3. PlayCanvas

Swooop was built with a 3D game engine and production environment that lets you build 3D and WebVR games right in your browser. It’s called PlayCanvas, and it’s the best JavaScript-native game engine I’ve seen to date. It has an integrated JavaScript editor and 3D editor.

If you’re familiar with game engines like Unity, Unreal Engine (both of which have export to web capabilities — check out the DeadTrigger 2 web demo), and Amazon’s new Lumberyard offering (basically CRYENGINE + AWS + Twitch), you’ll have a fair idea of what to expect. PlayCanvas seems more targeted to indie developers, but has the best native web offering, as far as I can tell.

If you’re interested in building games for the web platform, definitely check it out.

4. Polarr

Polarr is a world-class photo editor suitable for professional photographers who may be using tools like Adobe Lightroom and Photoshop. Like Lightroom, it’s particularly good for tasks like color grading. It works in browsers, on Android and iOS devices, and allows photographers to create and share filters. I love it. If you’re a photographer, you’ll love it, too. The UI design and performance easily compares to native mobile and desktop apps from industry leaders like Adobe. I worked on the Adobe Creative Cloud team myself, and I’m not afraid to admit that I think Polarr is better than the web version of Adobe Lightroom.

5. Usecubes

Usecubes is an easy and fun way to build 3D models using … you guessed it. Cubes. If you’re into pixel and voxel art, this is the app for you.

But this app has a twist. Once you’ve designed your amazing cube-based creation, you can get real blocks and assemble real 3D models using little Lego-like cubes:

6. Sketchfab

Sketchfab is a great platform for 3D artists that lets you upload, share, discover, embed, and even edit 3D content in the browser.

7. Looplabs

Looplabs is an online digital audio workstation for the masses. They pitch it as a great way for non-musicians to make music. I’m very familiar with audio production tools, and I think that even pro musicians would love the collaborative tools. I wish some of these features existed in the pro apps.

The UI is cleaner and smoother than most of the real professional DAW UIs I’ve seen. It’s much easier to figure out than apps like Ableton Live. Throw in some drum machine pattern sequencers, a suite of great software synths, and a good MIDI integration and I’d be all-in.

8. Flowkey

Flowkey is a great app that teaches you how to play piano. It uses web APIs to access your microphone so it can interact with and respond to you as you play along.

9. SoundCloud

Now that you’re making amazing music, it’s time to share it with the world. What better way than to upload it to SoundCloud, where you can share playable embeds across the web?

10. Duolingo

Duolingo is a great PWA (Progressive Web App) for learning languages. It has over 120 million users, for good reason. In my opinion it’s the best language learning app on the market.

I’ll let Obama fill you in:

Conclusion

Hopefully you’re beginning to see web apps in a new light. Recent advancements of the web platform have made the web very competitive with native and desktop applications. So much so that even serious professional content production tools and AAA game engines are starting to migrate to the web.

Performance is great. Usability is great. You can write your app once, and it’ll run on every device. This is the big selling point for me, because that means that your app will have a much wider audience. Do you think an app like Duolingo would have over 100 million users if it only ran on iOS?

The web offers the lowest friction experience for users, too. Since there’s nothing to install, deciding whether or not to try a web app is a no brainer. Just hit the URL and start using the app.

All of the new apps I build will be progressive web apps. The web has grown up. It’s time to take it seriously.


Want to start building amazing apps for the web platform that run on Android and iOS, too?

Learn JavaScript with Eric Elliott


Eric Elliott is the author of “Programming JavaScript Applications” (O’Reilly), and “Learn JavaScript with Eric Elliott”. He has contributed to software experiences for Adobe Systems, Zumba Fitness, The Wall Street Journal, ESPN, BBC, and top recording artists including Usher, Frank Ocean, Metallica, and many more.

He spends most of his time in the San Francisco Bay Area with the most beautiful woman in the world.

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