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App Store Fifth Anniversary: The Ten Biggest iOS Surprises

Posted by Rob LeFebvre on July 11th, 2013

What do the following iOS apps and games have in common? Well, they all surprised the heck out of us when they were released. That's saying something, considering we're all jaded journalists and such.

Apps that come along and knock our socks off are rare, so we've put together a list of ten of the most surprising apps from the last five years of the App Store to commemorate that fact, and to maybe show you some cool stuff you might have missed.

Surprising Apps

These are the apps that came out of left field, making innovative use of iOS hardware and software to bring us a truly unexpected experience.

Hipstamatic - The grandaddy of hipster photo apps, Hipstamatic created the crop and filter genre, with switchable virtual lenses and film types to apply to your ironic images.
Word Lens - Aim your iPhone camera at a sign in another language and see it magically transformed right on your device. If this isn't transformative tech, I don't know what is.
Cycloramic - This one lets you set your iPhone down on a hard surface, then uses the built-in vibration feature to spin around in a circle, taking a 360-degree video of the entire process. Wow!
Dark Sky - This innovative weather app does one thing really well: warn you when it's going to rain. You can even get a 5 minute warning, which is enough to get your umbrella out and stay dry!
Star Walk - Astronomy apps have been all the rage, especially since the iPad came out. But this one lets you hold your iOS device up to the sky, and it will show you what stars and other heavenly objects are up there, in real time. Heck, you can even track Santa with it during the holidays.

Surprising Games

These games either came out of nowhere and burned themselves into the collective unconscious, or were so bizarrely fun and successful that they had to be mentioned here.

Game Dev Story - We've spent entire days in thrall to this cleverly addictive saga of video game development, putting our retro-styled pixel people through their paces to push out the next great hit.
Candy Crush Saga - What's so surprising about a match-three game becoming the top-grossing app in just a few weeks? Well, it's a match-three game.
Tiny Wings - One indie dev, Andreas Illiger, sat down and created this brilliant piece of game design, popularizing the one-touch game genre and garnering a ton of copycat and clone apps in the bargain. Plus, he made a lot of money, which we like to talk about, too.
Angry Birds - Did you ever think that flinging birds in a slingshot at pigs in bizarre structures would turn into a global hit, spawning way too many tie-in items, like fishing lures? Us, neither.
10000000 - Small, brutally difficult indie game that became a smash hit overnight. That's pretty surprising, right?

Revolutionary Translation App Word Lens Now Available

Posted by Brad Hilderbrand on December 17th, 2010
+ Universal App - Designed for iPhone and iPad

One of the more daunting aspect of travel is the prospect of getting lost in a new land without a proper understanding of the language. If you find yourself in a place where you can't read the signs and can't effectively communicate with the locals then matters can quickly grow rather unsettling. Now you need not worry about such situations, as Word Lens will put your mind at ease by translating simple text into your native tongue (that is of course assuming your native tongue is English or Spanish) by simply pointing your iPhone camera at a sign. As the demo video below says, Welcome to the future.

The app is incredible, as it allows users to point the iPhone's camera at text and translate from one language to another on the fly. So if you should find yourself standing before a sign you can't read, all you need to do is point your phone and you'll be good to go. Best of all, you don't need to be connected to a Wi-Fi hotspot or 3G to use Word Lens; the words are already programmed into the app so you can still get assistance even if you aren't able to connect to a network. Take a look at the video below for a cool demo.

Though the app is remarkable, there are still a few issues to keep in mind before throwing out your guidebook and relying solely on technology. First off, Word Lens can't handle handwriting or some stylized fonts, so while you should be able to easily read official street signs and the like, handwritten directions or fancy storefront fonts will likely return nothing but an error. Finally, the app doesn't provide a perfectly phrased translation, but rather a general meaning based on the words it recognizes. Think of it like a sort of Babelfish or Google Translate and you get the idea. Finally, as mentioned above the app only currently works for English and Spanish, so it won't help for those traveling to nations which speak languages other than those.

So while Word Lens won't exactly replace a translation dictionary or general language knowledge, it does serve as a nice companion piece for travelers and those who want a little extra peace of mind as they go about their adventures. Go confidently, knowing that you have at least one more tool at your disposal to help you find your way.