2011 iMore Editors Choice Awards
The TiPb staff picks their favorite devices, features, stories, and new or majorly updated apps and accessories of 2011!
The TiPb editors, writers, contributors, forum admins and moderators, and podcasters have come together to nominate and select the winners of the 2011 TiPb Editors Choice Awards. They were all tough choices, and a lot of things we love simply didn't qualify for consideration -- weren't new or weren't majorly updated for 2011. But a lot of really, truly great stuff was. These, then, are our picks of the year.
- Want an alternate take? Try our 2011 TiPb Readers Choice Awards!
iOS device of the year: iPad 2
Last year we had a really tough time picking the iOS device of the year -- Apple introduced a new product category with the original iPad, redesigned their signature handset with iPhone 4, refreshed the iPod touch, and unveiled an all new Apple TV 2.
This year they didn't introduce a new iPod touch or Apple TV, kept the same design for the iPhone, and even the iPad 2 wasn't the most radical of refreshes.
Of the updated devices, however, iPad 2 got a new casing design, both thinner and lighter, two new cameras (lame as they may be), and was first to get the new, dual-core, Apple A5 system-on-a-chip.
iPhone 4S admittedly got the A5 as well, a new, better antenna and a much better rear camera, but it just wasn't as much or enough to take the title.
While visions of Retina display tablets, 4-inch phones, and 1080p TVs dance in our heads for next year, this year we give the nod to the best that we got.
The iPad 2.
iOS feature of the year: Siri
Sure, it debuted as iPhone 4S-only, but so did multitasking, so did video recording, so do many of Apple's new iOS features. It's the flagship device for a reason. Not just a simple voice control system -- we're told Nokia invented those in 1812 or somesuch -- it's an honest-to-Asimov digital personal assistant with a personality right out of Pixar. It's to previous voice control systems what multitouch was to previous resistive touch screens. It's Apple's next great mainstream computing interface. It not only remembers context but can understand relationships. It can remind you to call your mom or wear your jacket, it can find you a restaurant or find your friend. And it puts up with all your lame query jokes.
iMessage bypasses the exorbitant carrier text charges and brings iOS users, all over the world, one step closer to BBM-like instant messaging. Notification Center finally makes alerts almost as good as Android, if not as elegant as webOS. PC-free cuts the cord to iTunes and takes us to the iCloud, where all our data gets stored and backed up. All of those, and more, are great additions to an already great OS.
But Siri is transformative.
Story of the year: Steve Jobs
Heart breaking. Inspiring. Tragic. Triumphant. The biggest story of the year wasn't the untimely passing of Apple's co-founder, it was the full realization of his life, his vision, and his legacy.
In March he took the stage, in a way only he could ever take it, to introduce the iPad 2. He reportedly considered the tablet the most important innovation of his career -- a career that included the mainstreaming of the command-line interface with the Apple II, the graphical user interface with the Mac, the multitouch interface with the iPhone, and the revolutionizing of digital music with iTunes and the iPod, retail with the Apple Stores, the consumer electronics business with Apple itself, and even animated feature films with Pixar.
Relentlessly democratizing technology his entire life, his final Keynote appearance in June was to introduce iCloud, the server side of the mobile equation. His vision of the future was deeply personal, deeply connected, and deeply integrated. And his will made it manifest, not only for Apple and of Apple, but as influence for the culture well beyond.
He resigned as CEO and then passed away right after the introduction of the iPhone 4S, and just before the publication of the biography he himself set in motion. While Apple will go on, perhaps even reaching greater heights than ever before, we will never see his like again.
Thank you Steve.
Epic fail of the year: Patent lawsuits
It seems as though there was an embarrassment of embarrassments to choose from this year. Yet even amid such a massive mountain of fail, one managed to rise above all the rest.
Intellectual property rights exist for a reason -- they encourage investment in innovation by ostensibly preventing others from simply copying the ideas of the innovators. Yet they've become a weapon used not to create competition but to stifle it by those who've often simply bought and paid for pieces of paper.
Apple didn't release new iPod touch and Apple TV hardware this year. Granted neither has much competition but Apple's mantra has always been to compete with themselves. Likewise the iPhone 4S didn't get a design update even as competing devices have seriously upped the handset game.
Privacy also took a swift, hard roshambo in the rights this year as everything from Apple's poorly coded location recording system to Google, Facebook, and Twitter being forced into decade, or double decade privacy oversight, to lack of disclosure surrounding Carrier IQ making headlines. On the flip side, the media earned more than their usual share of fail points for once again never missing a chance to linkbait and headline grab at Apple's expense.
But ultimately, from Apple and Android makers suing each other to Lodsys suing independent developers, one things brought fail to an all time abysmal low this year.
Patents, the patent wars, and the patent trolls
Productivity app of the year: Noteshelf 4.0
When the iPad first launched it seemed to take a while for everyone, including Apple, to figure out exactly what it was and where best it fit. Now, a year later, it's fitting in every where from the couch to the board room, the school to the planning session.
Screens 1.5 showed us our iPhones and iPads could be powerful, elegant windows into our PCs and servers. Agenda made the calendar ridiculously clean and elegant, and interfaced with Due to get more done, better and faster than ever. Instapaper got a full on facelift, and Apple brought iWork to the iPhone.
What caught our attention, though, from the corporate heads behind Mobile Nations to our our own editors and writers, was an app that not only made the iPad useful, but better than anything else. From taking notes in class to jotting down ideas while brain-storming big business, it took a lot of our iPads from nice-to-have to must-have.
Arts & Entertainment app of the year: GarageBand
Just like last year, a previously desktop-only app was re-imagined for iPad and forced us to once again re-evaluate just how good tablet software could be. But Apple wasn't the only one wowing us this year.
It was what Apple did with music, however, that really blew us away this year. Introduced alongside the iPad 2, it's interface immediately is recognizable to anyone who has ever used iLife for Mac yet immediately accessible to anyone who has ever put finger to multitouch display. With built in smart instruments for novices and the ability to interface with real instruments for pros, and multitrack recording an editing, it's a studio on your lap or in your pocket. Very few people are making content creation software this robust for mobile, and very few, if any, other platforms can boast anything like this in their libraries.
GarageBand was music to our ears.
Social app of the year: Tweetbot
Twitter and the iPhone feel like they came into their own together, a blend of mobile device and social network as good as the richest peanut butter and darkest chocolate.
Path 2.0 made the smaller-scale social network drop-dead gorgeous, but does a world covered with the wreckage of Friendster and Wave and Buzz and Jaiku really need another social network? And if it does, isn't Google already cramming Google+ down as many throats as it possibly can? Facebook finally decided that the iPad was mobile enough to deserve it's own app and rolled out Facebook Messenger in case the normal app just wasn't fast enough to get your IM on. LinkedIn got a re-design, finally growing up into its own app, while Twitter for iPhone go a re-design to make it... um... better for Twitter to push #hashtags to new users intent on keeping up with celebrities?
But you don't always need to start a new network, or radically change a user experience that works. Sometimes you just need to make a damn good client, with solid features and finely honed panache, that respects long-established usage patterns but does so with character and charm.
Sometimes you just need to make something like TweetBot.
Hardcore game of the year: Real Racing 2
There's a difference between a great game and a game that not only stays great but gets even better. There were a lot of great hardcore games on iPhone and iPad in 2011. Modern Combat 3 was the best first-person shooter we've ever seen on iOS, and Dead Space took spooky, atmospheric, interstellar survival shooters to a whole new level. And Infinity Blade II... the new Unreal Engine 3 game looks so good you won't believe it's on mobile.
But the folks at Firemint just never stayed still long enough for anyone else to catch up. Every bit as fast as the cars on their virtual tracks, the moment Apple added a new feature to iOS, Firemint added it to their game. Whether it was better graphics for more powerful chips, multiplayer for more robust networking, and full on AirPlay Party Play for an almost hybrid console experience, Firemint was on it in a flash.
That's why Real Racing II won this year's grand prix.
Casual game of the year: Tiny Wings
If a game is incredibly simple and more than a little repetitive, it has to be really well executed to turn our well. It has to be phenomenally well executed to become our favorite of the year.
Tiny Tower was brilliantly realized and Cut the Rope: Experiments breathed new life into an already great game. DragonVale brought the creatures of myth to farm-style games of the present, Minecraft brought the classic constructor to iOS, and SPY Mouse brought the Firemint magic to puzzlers.
But it was a bird that not only wasn't angry but couldn't even quite fly, that was perpetually chased the setting sun, that was as exquisitely well rendered as it was well suited for the iPhone.
Because it proved once again that sometimes less really is more -- Tiny Wings
Jailbreak app of the year: IntelliscreenX
While I've always been a huge fan of LockInfo by David Ashman I have to admit that the guys over at Intelliborn really stepped up to the plate with their new version of IntelliScreen for iOS 5.
When Apple "Sherlocks" your app -- basically incorporates it into the OS and built-in feature set -- you can either pack up and go home, or you can figure out that Apple's only providing the median functionality and double-down on doing it better for the power users.
LockInfo did just that, making a great app even better. SBSettings and BiteSMS kept doing what they've always done -- filled gaps Apple hasn't -- while integrating and improving at the same time. Dreamboard created an alternative to Winterboard, and iUsers provided for multiple logins on iPad. ATV Flash brought the same power to the iOS Apple TV that it did to the original, Mac OS version.
Not to be outdone by Apple's foray into Notification Center, however, Intelliborn rolled out an update that not only fully integrated with iOS 5, but provided so many features it became a veritable one stop functionality center.
iPhone case of the year: Lifeproof
Apple didn't introduce a new iPhone design this year, which meant a lot of case-makers didn't have to worry about coming up with all new cases either. But what about all better cases?
Both DracoDesign and Element took their existing aluminum bumpers and added incredible new colors and finishes. Case-Mate did similar with their Barely There. BodyGuardz and DODOcase introduced great new sticker skins, one carbon fiber, the other rich leather. Pad and Quill brought iPad-style to a Little Black Book and mophie and Apple both made sure their already excellent battery case and bumper case fit not only the CDMA iPhone 4, but the iPhone 4S as well. And Otterbox introduced the Reflex case to their already industry-leading line.
There was something new this year as well, something that could protect against the weather -- rain, snow, ice -- but not be as big nor as bulky as past solutions.
iPad case of the year: Smart Cover
iPad 2 was a design change this year -- thinner and lighter and with cameras on both sides. Again, we got a lot of great variants of already great cases, but we got some truly new cases as well.
ZAGGfolio bound a keyboard into their case, for those who still couldn't truly give up tactile typing for multitouch, and Case-Mate added a kickstand to their Pop Case. DODOcase rejuvenated their hand-made case and added new variants and new artist lines, while Pad and Quill created the Contega, adding new age features to old world craftsmanship.
Apple, however, had an unfair advantage. They built magnets into the iPad 2, and they were ready to take advantage of them on launch day. It's not that it kept the thinner, lighter iPad 2 as thin and as light as possible. It's not that it could be folded to keep the iPad 2 up and easy to type with or watch on. It's not even that it can turn on or off the iPad 2 display. It's all of that, together, in several elegant shades (that no longer include orange).
Accessory of the year: Kickstarter
Beyond cases, there were a lot of great accessories this for iPhone and iPad both. There were amazing interfaces to let you plug instruments into GarageBand. There were fantastic bands to make iPod nano not only a working watch, but a gorgeous one. And there were all manner of chargers, docks, and camera peripherals and so much more.
And this year a lot of them came not from the traditional places, the large, established accessory makers, but from the same place -- a platform that let independent innovators find the finances they need to produce their innovations. It worked so well this year that many of the aforementioned docks and watch-bands and cases and camera peripherals came straight from its pages.