The 21 Best Designed Apps of 2015

And the Must-Know Mobile Trends They Highlight

2015 is officially the year of the smartwatch, with early estimates suggesting that 30 million units will be sold come December. The moment Apple divulged its plans to develop a timepiece, a groundswell of coverage began to dissect the pros and cons: Do we need smartwatches? Will we ever? What does this mean for mobile computing?

Amidst all of the hype, you might have forgotten that smartphones exist, despite their status as the most important computing device on the market.

With 1.5 million apps on iOS alone, and App Store discovery still broken, it’s become a challenge to stay abreast of mobile innovation. That said, the first half of 2015 was an inspiring stretch for app development, especially in a few key sectors. At 2015’s halfway mark, the following apps highlight the most important trends in mobile and serve as reminders that we should all take a moment to look up from the watch and focus our attention back on the phone.

Bonus: See the 21 Best Landing Pages of 2015.

Commerce

The past few months have seen Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest and Instagram announce the integration of buy buttons, as social has finally attempted to cash in on commerce. This recent foray is influenced by Asia’s major messaging apps (most notably WeChat) that enable their users to book a medical appointment, hail a taxi, or send a red envelope of digital cash for the Lunar New Year.

Social has finally attempted to cash in on commerce

Whether these changes gain traction (let alone alter the face of commerce) remains to be seen. Mobile now exceeds the web in both units sold and traffic, but just a few mobile-first companies encourage consumers to make purchases on their phone. Although developments in this realm have been glacial, a few companies have created mobile commerce experiences that are truly promising…

Operator

Would you rather text: “Reservation for five people @ Momofuku 7pm” or load your OpenTable app, scroll, tap, and type for 5 minutes for identical results?

The idea that SMS could operate as a platform has gained traction this year, inching us closer to what Ron Kaplan calls a “Conversational User Interface.” The transition feels inevitable, and SMS makes perfect sense as the first avenue of exploration.

Operator pitches itself as a mobile native, SMS exclusive network that helps you find and buy anything you want. It may sound a touch complex, but upon closer inspection, it’s extremely simple: write a text, get what you want. Hopefully Operator will soon emerge from its private beta status to give everyone their first taste of shopping’s bright future.

Mylo

Investors have taken notice of fashion in recent years, but attention has primarily been given to traditional eCommerce outfits that favor brick and mortar expansion over the development of innovative technology: which begs the question, what is truly disruptive about these companies?

Enter Mylo: a magic button that analyzes each piece of your wardrobe before making a split second outfit suggestion. Even better, it can poke its head outside to check the weather and survey your daily activities to refine its suggestions.

Mylo aggregates pieces from shops around the globe, presenting them in a simple, cohesive interface that looks and feels like a single store. Add a unified checkout, and we have the latest example of what Scott Belsky calls the “Interface Layer” in a one-stop staples shop for men.

Disclaimer: I’m the founder of Mylo.

Honorable Mentions

  • Canopy (late 2014): A curated shop for Amazon. Canopy brings boutique curation to the internet’s largest catalog of products.
  • Spring (late 2014): Spring features 700+ brands in a single app, allowing you to follow brands, browse favorites, and explore collections curated by industry influencers.

Productivity

Mobile is now superior to traditional computing platforms in nearly every aspect, save the workplace. 2015 is the year this begins to change, however, as productivity apps and mobile OS enhancements wrestle even more time away from the keyboard and mouse.

Mobile is now superior to traditional computing platforms in nearly every aspect, save the workplace.

Apple’s recent Multitasking announcement along with the unprecedented success of Slack should make it clear that the present desktop/laptop stranglehold on productivity will soon be loosened. This is further evidenced by…

Sunrise Meet

Startups have been trying to reinvent the calendar as long as they’ve been trying to reinvent email. Sunrise is to Google Calendar what Mailbox was to Gmail a few years ago, with one notable addition: it’s embedded into your phone as a keyboard, allowing you to set up an event in the app without actually opening it.

Assuming “apps are dead” and the future of digital interaction is conversational (see Operator above), then this is a pivotal moment for mobile. Hopefully Sunrise will spark the onset of a major shift towards apps being integrated into the OS layer and other platforms such as Facebook Messenger or Mailbox.

Miscellaneous

Niiice: Niiice allows you to streamline your creative process. Search for inspiration around the web and collect it in smart moodboards.

Hopper: Hopper provides insightful, data-driven research to help travellers make better decisions about where to go, and when to fly and buy.

Timeline: Get today’s news in context. Timeline allows you to scroll through a story’s history so you understand how the news got there.

Workflow (late 2014): Workflow helps you perform multiple actions in multiple apps from the iOS home screen, fixing a key usability issue in a very clever way.

And That’s Not All

Social has been mostly figured out for mobile, leaving commerce and productivity as the major markets to tap, but what are other interesting applications being developed for mobile?

Live Video: Periscope & Meerkat

The emergence of Periscope and Meerkat is the mobile story of 2015, and it will continue to gain steam as both apps rush to become the leader in live streaming video.

Both products look and feel smooth, guiding users through an entirely new experience with relative ease. Still, both have a few glaring design challenges that already need to be solved, and it’s likely that new solutions will present themselves as they grow.me

Social may seem saturated at the moment, but interesting new products continue to surface, with video emerging as a likely contender for the next decacorn. After a few updates and design improvements throughout the remainder of 2015, it’s safe to assume that both applications will be a fairly different experience by the year’s end.

Internet Art: Metamorphabet

Internet Art is an underappreciated, underrepresented niche that is rapidly maturing. If you’re reflecting curiously: “What is Internet Art?” you’re not alone. Chances are, at some point you’ve randomly clicked and quickly disregarded popular works such as Cat Bounce, Cache Monet, or Staggering Beauty from a website like The Useless Web. Perhaps you’ve come across Electric Objects or been the subject of Rafael Rozendaal’s 100+ pieces (many of which have been sold like “real” art).

Technically, Metamorphabet is a game, but it’s certainly not out of place in the loosely defined category of Internet Art. Says Fast Co’s John Brownlee, “It sort of feels like a Sesame Street segment animated by the guys who did Yellow Submarine.” Every screen, interaction, and animation is beautifully designed.

Vectorworks, the company behind Metamorphabet, has been creating web and mobile pieces for several years, but this is their first release after a long hiatus, and hopefully it will spark a mobile art movement akin to its web-based cousin.

Honorable Mentions

  • Runnin Through the 6: Run through the streets of Toronto as Drake. Every 6 you run through will get you an extra 100 woes.
  • GeekWatchApp: Turn your high-tech Apple Watch into a retro, Casio-style calculator.
  • My Idol (late 2014): Upload a selfie, style your avatar, and watch your bobblehead likeness perform your favorite track.
  • PooTime (late 2014): Poo Time is an entertainment channel and poo-tracking app. Never be bored on the toilet again!

Print is Dead: NeuBible

NeuBible answers the question: what would The Bible look like if it was designed by Medium?

Regardless of your religious beliefs, NeuBible is a must-see for its clean visual design, a flawless highlighting feature, and most notably, its fluid, intuitive interactions. With an unconventional side navigation and six panes organized left to right, you’d expect this app to be a navigational disaster. Quite the opposite — it’s completely seamless.

However, the real story here, is the contemporary reinterpretation of the most circulated book of all time. Along with the announcement of Apple News at WWDC earlier this month, I think we can confirm that print is finally dead.

Offline -> Online: Soulcycle

At WWDC, Apple proudly announced that 98% of Fortune 500 companies now have apps. Every major business knows how important the transition to mobile is, yet far too often, these rushed, half-baked attempts result in ugly, non-functional products that probably shouldn’t have been developed at all.

Offline will have to move online to survive, and despite the Soulcycle app’s lack of innovation, it is a fine example of how a company can make the transition from offline to online without rebuilding their entire business.

Soulcycle is certainly not the largest offline company (and that’s probably why they were able to successfully pull this off), but they’ve definitely set the standard for a simple, beautiful, user-friendly app that performs exactly as its customers would like it to. From a customer experience perspective, this effort is a definite win.

Honorable Mentions

  • Ello: Ello is a beautiful and ad-free social network that feels like a Tumblr x Facebook hybrid, updated for 2015.
  • Highball Cocktails: Highball allows you to collect and share cocktail recipes with a stylish interface.
  • Bookmarq: Cleanly designed, Bookmarq is the best way to read with friends.
  • Density: The heartbeat of a city, Density measures foot traffic to and from local merchants.
  • Apps from Late 2014: Medium, Reserve, Pennies, Product Hunt, Facebook Groups.

Looking Ahead

Thanks for taking the time to check out the most interesting apps of 2015 thus far. The first half of 2015 was a promising one, here’s to the last six months. If you think I might have missed a few of your favorites, don’t hesitate to let me know, I’d love to chat about it.

Don’t forget to checkout the 21 Best Landing Pages of 2015 and follow me on Twitter.

If you enjoyed reading this article, please hit the ♥ button in the footer so that more people can appreciate great design!

Hi, I’m Daniel. I’ve founded a few companies including Piccsy (acq. 2014) and EveryGuyed (acq. 2011). I am currently open to new career and consulting opportunities. Get in touch via email.

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