The 2012 Apple Design Awards were interesting because of the fantastic apps that got the exposure and recognition of an ADA. They were also interesting in what they revealed about Apple priorities and predilections when it came to the award selections.
In the Mac and iPhone categories, 2 our of 3 of the winners were games. In the Educational category, both winners were as much fun as they were facts. In the iPad category, one of the games was counterpointed by a music app that's also a lot of fun. Games and game-like books and experiences don't represent the majority of the App Store, but they represented the majority of the winners.
Apple also pointed out more than once when a title was exclusive to iOS. With the recent porting of Instagram, Instapaper, and Flipboard to Android, and some of the reaction surrounding those ports, platform-exclusivity seems more valuable than ever.
There's an argument to be made that platform specific apps will inevitably have an advantage. They don't have to support lowest common denominator features and can take advantage of platform specific API. They can also be more iOS-like because of it. That no doubt holds a lot of appeal.
Smart in-app purchasing was highlighted as well. Not so much the what but the how. For example, Paper by 53 was praised for letting users test tools before buying them.
Likewise, National Parks providing the option to buy and download additional content, as part of their overall experience, was lauded.
The cleverness of animation also attracted attention. When something didn't just appear, but moved, layered, transitioned, and otherwise delighted the eye, it was called out. Apple paid a lot of attention to animation in the iOS UI, and used it to help users feel oriented and give them time to consider or reconsider how they were moving through apps. But they always added a layer of eye candy on top of that. And they're enjoying it when developers add the same level of consideration and polish.
Simplicity was highlighted in an unlikely place -- the visual design of a game. That everything possible was removed until only the essential elements absolutely needed to play remained, and that that was used to establish atmosphere, set mood, and enhance the experience was specifically mentioned.
Out of the hundreds of thousands of apps, Apple carefully considered and chose 11 to honor with Design Awards. Considering why Apple chose them is a worthwhile mental exercise, if not in the specifics, then in the overall trends and spirit.