Back in 2012, apps were just starting to hit their stride: many had begun to perform more complex tasks, but they also took up considerable battery and bandwidth on fledgling smartphones. Web services like Facebook, Netflix, and Yelp all released app versions of their service in 2012. At the same time, this was also when apps started to become truly innovative, carving out niche spaces in the competitive tech world. Here are our top five picks for the most groundbreaking apps to come out since then — and what companies today can learn from their innovations.
John Hancock Vitality (2015): Multi-device health tracking and incentivization
Life insurance policy holders with John Hancock Vitality know this health app is unique. When applicants are approved, they receive a Fitbit that syncs to both the Vitality app and Apple’s HealthKit app, tracking both steps and workouts. The more active a user is, the more Vitality Points they receive — and unlike some health and fitness apps, these points have real value. Points can be used to lower users’ insurance premiums or be exchanged for gift cards to Whole Foods, Amazon, and a host of other partners.
Furthermore, if a user is active enough each month, John Hancock will subsidize the full cost of an Apple Watch Series 2, which also has a downloadable Vitality app to track goals and earn more points. By creatively syncing multiple smart devices and incentivizing user health with enticing financial rewards, the John Hancock Vitality app is a model companies in the insurance and healthcare industries should look to for inspiration.
Duolingo (2012): Gamification of learning
In 2012, the Rosetta Stone software series was arguably the biggest name in language learning. But since then, the free Duolingo app has revolutionized language learning. By October 2015, the app had 50 million users — and today, that number is an even more impressive 200 million. And, to what does the app attribute its massive success? Gamification. Duolingo encourages users to keep playing (and learning) to earn badges, points, and rewards. By doing so, users can level up, post achievements to social media, and even compete against friends. Duolingo also took the limited attention spans of users into account with short lessons. It’s just as easy to complete one in under a minute as it is to binge twenty. As gamification continues to prove a winning strategy, Duolingo shows that even challenging tasks (like learning a new language) can be conquered while having fun.
Moovit (2012) Crowdsourced public transportation information
In the same way the Waze app revolutionized automotive navigation by crowdsourcing, Moovit has done the same for public transportation. Users can add public transit hubs, bus stops, and schedules to the app while reporting the fastest travel times in real time. Users may also be alerted when their stop is approaching and when delays occur, allowing them to search for an alternate route in advance. No matter how it’s used, crowdsourcing fundamentally changes the way we interact with our surroundings and organize information, transformative about even seemingly mundane aspects of our lives.
Pokémon Go (2016): Mainstreaming augmented reality
Perhaps no app has been the butt of jokes quite like Pokémon Go. Although it started with a boom, enrolling 28.5 million players in one month, the app now has about 5 million daily users. Even with this smaller profile, no one can deny the initial excitement surrounding the game’s augmented reality. And the concept has caught on further since then, with Nintendo recreating the first level of Super Mario Bros. in Central Park using augmented reality. Interacting with virtual creatures displayed in a real-world environment would have sounded like something only out of a science fiction novel a little more than a year ago — but Pokémon Go brought the future to the present, and there’s clearly a market for this kind of innovation in gaming.
CamMe (2014): Easier, more intuitive pictures
While the other apps on this list use advanced technology and crowdsourced algorithms, even simpler steps forward can make a big difference. CamMe won the Most Innovative App award at the Mobile World Congress in 2014 because it did one thing extremely well: it made taking selfies easier! No more awkward angles, outstretched arms, or selfie sticks — by simply raising your hand (or making a gesture) in view of the camera, a timer would count down from three, then take your picture. Take it from CamMe: sometimes, the best apps are the simplest and easiest to use.