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App Store Awards: Reviewing Apple’s Top Apps & Games of 2021

Lucas Riedinger by ,  ASO Expert at AppTweak App Market Insights

At the end of each year, Apple releases its winners of the App Store Awards! These awards showcase the best apps and games of the year across iPhone, iPad, Mac, Apple TV, and Apple Watch. Apple selects its 15 award recipients based on technical innovation, user experience, and design, as well as the impact these apps and games have had on our lives.

In this blog, we will analyze how well these awarded apps and games performed in terms of ASO throughout 2021. Did each app follow ASO best practices? We will also provide key takeaways to help you maximize your chance of success for next year!

In this article, we’ll solely focus on the best apps and games on iPhone and iPad, but you can find the full list of nominees here.


App Store Award winners: Recap

In this section, we’ll briefly analyze how well the awarded apps and games performed on the App Store before the announcement.

Apps of the Year 2021 (iPhone and iPad)

Toca Life World was awarded the best iPhone app of the year. First, it is interesting to note that the developers of Toca Life World positioned the app in the Education category, not the Games category, where the app was ranked #3 among the top free apps. In the 90 days before the App Store winners were announced, Toca Life Word was featured on the App Store 259 times, including 80 times in the Today tab! This represents an average of around 20 featurings per week, which is an especially high number. Considering this number with regard to Toca Life World’s competitors, we see that only The Sims earned a similar amount of featurings; the app’s other competitors typically did not gain any featurings in the 90 days before the award winners were announced.

Toca Life World featurings on the App StoreToca Life World was the most featured app among its competitors in the 90 days prior to the award announcement.

LumaFusion was awarded the iPad app of the year. It was ranked #10 among the top-grossing apps in the iPad’s Graphics & Design category, as well as in the Photo & Video category. On average, LumaFusion was featured on the App Store 3 times per week before the award announcement, which is quite nice considering its main competitors were not featured at all.

Games of the Year 2021 (iPhone & iPad)

League of Legends was awarded the best iPhone game of the year; despite being ranked #12 among the top free apps of the App Store’s Strategy category, the app ranked outside of the top 200 in the App Store’s Games category. The game was featured 525 times in the 90 days before the App Store winners were announced (around 41 featurings per week), which is an incredibly high number! Still, games tend to be featured on the App Store more often than apps, as we also see with Clash Royal which was also featured a lot over before the announcement.

League of Leagends featurings on the App StoreLeague of Legends was the most featured game among its competitors in the 90 days prior to the award announcement.

MARVEL Future Revolution was awarded the best iPad game of the year. It ranked only #152 among the top free app in the iPad’s Role Playing category and was featured on average around 15 times per week before the announcement, including 14 times in the Today tab! Contrarily to Toca Life Word and League of Legends, Marvel Future Revolution was not the most featured game in comparison to its competitors. We actually see that Roblox was (by far) the most featured app among the game’s main competitors!

Marvel Future Revolution featurings on the App StoreMARVEL Future Revolution was not the most featured game among its direct competitors on the App Store prior to the award announcement.

Trend of the Year 2021: Connection

Canva and Peanut were both nominated for the App Store’s Trend of the Year: “Connection.” Respectively, the apps ranked #13 in the iPhone’s Photo & Video category and #148 in the Lifestyle category. Prior to the announcement, Canva was featured around 5 times per week whereas its competitors were not featured on the App Store. On average, Peanut was featured 25 times per week.

Peanut, Canva featurings of the App StorePeanut and Canva both were featured numerous times on the App Store before the award announcement.

What do the App Store Award Winners 2021 have in common?

Now that we have briefly presented some of the App Store’s award-winning apps and games, we’ll sum up some of their key similarities:

All the awarded apps and games rank within the top 200 of their primary categories. More specifically, with the exception of Peanut and MARVEL Future Revolution, all the awarded apps and games ranked in the top 15 positions of their category before the winners were announced. Interestingly, out of the 15 award-winners, only 2 were paid apps (LumaFusion and Myst).

Secondly, all the awarded apps and games were featured by Apple numerous times in the 90 days before the awards announcement. With the exception of MARVEL Future Revolution, all the awarded apps had earned the most featurings from Apple compared to their direct competitors.

Read this blog to maximize your chances of being featured on the App Store!

Uncovering award-winning App Store Optimization strategies

How well these award-winning apps and games performed on the App Store is one thing, but what can we learn from their ASO strategies? In this section, we’ll take a look at ASO best practices followed (or not) by the winners of Apple’s App Store Awards.

App and Game of the Year 2021 (iPhone)

The 2 winners of the iPhone award both conducted keyword optimization. Indeed, the two games not only relied on their brand names or brand awareness to drive downloads, but they also added relevant generic keywords to their title or subtitle to capture additional traffic.

Both games also decided to implement an app preview video on their product pages, aiming to showcase real gameplay and some of the games’ main characters. It is also interesting to note that both games chose to represent one popular game character in their icons.

Expert Tip

App preview videos are especially interesting for games. These videos are indeed the best way to depict the real gameplay that users can expect to experience.

Toca Life World and League of Legends’ App Store product pages.Toca Life World and League of Legends’ App Store product pages.

Moving on to screenshots, we see that both apps have done extremely well regarding their creatives—they both incorporate super well-designed screenshots that attract the eyes and display catchy captions. The captions follow best practices well, as they are not too long and easy on the eyes (nice contrast, font size, etc). Toca Life World’s captions focus more on the features and gameplay, whereas League of Legends does not explain the gameplay, focusing more on the users’ feelings in its captions.

Additionally, the 2 games use landscape screenshots, which is definitely the right choice as the games are played in landscape mode. Both apps also follow best practices of screenshot optimization, putting emphasis on the games’ main characters. The notable difference is that League of Legends’ screenshots don’t really show what the gameplay is about, whereas this is well-defined in Toca Life World’s screenshots.

Finally, looking at how users perceive the app, we see that Toca Life World has an enormous amount of ratings (189k) whereas League of Legends has fewer ratings (24.4k); nonetheless, both games have a good average rating (4.3 and 4.2 respectively)!

Discover how you can use AppTweak to monitor your app ratings over time and compare them with competitors.

Toca Life Word and League of Legends’ screenshotsToca Life Word and League of Legends’ screenshots.

App and Game of the Year 2021 (iPad)

Marvel Future Revolution and LumaFusion have less-optimized keyword selections than the 2 previous games we analyzed. In particular, MARVEL’s title and subtitle lack relevant generic keywords that could drive some traffic to the game. On the other hand, LumaFusion has a well-optimized subtitle but leaves a missed opportunity in its app name; its App Store title only includes the app’s brand name and leaves 20 characters available that could be used to implement relevant generic keywords.

Both apps have also decided to implement an app preview on their App Store pages. Both videos aim to show the in-app features and gameplay, which is especially the case for LumaFusion for which the app preview is a recording of someone using different app features.

MARVEL Future Revolution and LumaFusion’s App Store product pagesMARVEL Future Revolution and LumaFusion’s App Store product pages.

MARVEL Future Revolution has well-designed screenshots, with the first 2 highlighting new in-game features. The subsequent screenshots and captions give us a great idea of what to expect from the game (interface and gameplay). They also put emphasis on well-known Marvel characters.

On the other hand, LumaFusion keeps the same strategy as its app preview video, incorporating screenshots that are taken directly from the app and that demonstrate plenty of the available in-app features. LumaFusion does not pay much attention to design—for instance, there are no backgrounds, pop-ups, or captions—which is not common in this category (all the app’s direct competitors have more embellished screenshots).

Again, both apps have decided to use landscapes screenshots. Interestingly, LumaFusion adapted its screenshots from the iPhone version of the app to showcase portrait screenshots of the in-app user experience, taken from an iPhone. If your app’s interface and features differ between its iPad and iPhone versions, we recommend you adapt your App Store screenshots accordingly.

Both apps have a good amount of ratings (40k for Marvel, 19k for LumaFusion), but more importantly, both apps have very high average ratings (4.7 and 4.8).

MARVEL Future Revolution and LumaFusion’s screenshotsMARVEL Future Revolution and LumaFusion’s screenshots.

Finally, let’s have a look at the ASO strategies of 2 apps that were awarded “top trending apps” of 2021. These two apps have well-optimized keyword selections in their title and subtitle: In addition to their brand names, both apps incorporate selected relevant terms that might drive additional traffic through generic keywords to their app. Of course, Peanuts’ keyword selection is more specific by nature.

We see 2 different strategies when looking at the icons of these 2 apps. Whereas Canva has decided to include its brand name in its icon, Peanut has chosen to represent the form of a peanut in its icon. The design of this peanut, a continuous line on a red background, helps to transmit the emotional social feeling of sharing and connecting to store visitors.

Canva and Peanut’s App Store product pagesCanva and Peanut’s App Store product pages.

Surprisingly for a design app, Canva’s screenshots are slightly less attractive than the other awarded apps and games. Canva’s screenshots do not have a background color; the caption font is not eye-catching, and there is a surcharge of information to take in (we recommend only highlighting 1 feature per screenshot). Even though the captions’ design could be improved, the messaging is concise and emphasizes some of the app’s key features. Additionally, it is interesting to note that Canva uses a totally different set of screenshots for the app’s iPad version.

On the other hand, Peanut’s screenshots perfectly follow ASO best practices. It shows an interesting mix—some screenshots are taken in-app and nicely highlight the app’s features, some are beautiful mock-ups that focus more on the way users might feel when using Peanut. The captions are great calls-to-action, concise, and attract the eyes.

Canva and Peanut’s screenshotsCanva and Peanut’s screenshots.

With a 4.9 average rating out of 880k ratings, Canva’s average rating may be a goal for every app on the App Store. Because of its niche market, Peanut, on the other hand, has way fewer ratings (5k) but still has a pretty good average rating (4.3).

Finally, it is interesting to see that MARVEL Future Revolution, Canva, and LumaFusion devote a lot of effort to answer (most of) the reviews that are left for their apps. Considering that these 3 apps are those with the highest average rating among the App Store Award winners, we strongly recommend replying to the maximum amount of app reviews possible!

Discover how and why you should reply to reviews on the App Store and Google Play.

Key takeaways from the App Store Award winners

To conclude this article, we’ll now sum up some key insights we can learn from the ASO strategies of the App Store Award winners 2021.

Keyword optimization

The majority of the awarded apps don’t solely rely on their brand awareness to drive downloads—they also try to capture additional traffic by implementing generic keywords within their titles or subtitles. Still, when optimizing your keywords, you should always pay attention to avoid keyword stuffing. Every keyword that you implement in your metadata should be relevant for any user that lands on your product page.

Creative optimization

While we saw different strategies for icons implemented across apps (brand name, main character, or stylized icons), all the apps and games share similar best practices for the screenshots displayed on their App Store pages. In particular, award-winning apps and games showcase the apps’ main features and/or characters throughout the screenshots, use catchy captions written in a well-visible font, and have a uniformized design across all the screenshots.

Reviews & ratings

All the rewarded apps have an average rating higher than 4.2. There is no magic trick to drastically improve your ratings, but there are ways to favor positive reviews from your users. Some of these strategies include carefully timing when you ask your users to rate your app or game, or answering as many reviews as possible.

Featurings

We saw that every analyzed app has been featured on the App Store numerous times. We suggest you try your best to get featured by Apple—one way to increase your chances of this is to establish a strong storyline about your app and submit it to Apple’s Editors for consideration.


Having gone through the best practices shared by the award-winners of the App Store Awards 2021, it is now your time to maximize your chances of being the best app/game on the App Store in 2022!

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Lucas Riedinger

by ,  ASO Expert at AppTweak

Lucas is an ASO expert at AppTweak, helping to fuel growth for the world's most popular apps and games. He is passionate about rugby, basketball, and video games.