On Nov. 28, Apple celebrated the top App Store games and apps of 2022 — including BeReal, Apex Legends Mobile and GoodNotes 5 — and also recognized five apps as Cultural Impact Award winners.
According to Apple, the Cultural Impact app winners encouraged users to authentically connect with friends and family and also paid homage to heritage and previous generations while proposing solutions to help create a better world and future.
One of the winners this year was the Locket Widget, an increasingly popular addition to phone home screens with which people can send live photos to their friends and family — all while eliminating the pressures and formality of social media.
Founder Matt Moss told In The Know he initially created the app as a birthday gift for his girlfriend when they dated long-distance for a couple of months.
“There was no ambition to put it out there on the App Store or for it to become a big thing or anything like that,” he explained. “I would show the app to our friends, and they’d all want to try it as well. At this point, it was just a private thing for the two of us, so we had to turn people away. But enough people started asking, so we decided to put it on the App Store.”
The intimacy of seeing your friends and loved ones’ photos on your home screen struck a chord with a lot of users. It mixed the silliness of Snapchat — except the photos are kept in a gallery you can revisit — and the informality of BeReal — without the pressure of likes or comments.
“All of a sudden, this little side project had hundreds of thousands of people kind of pouring in to use it,” Moss said. “Even cooler was when a bunch of these initial users who started downloading the app actually started making their own TikTok videos about it as well.”
Locket has since grown to a team of 10 that has raised money from investors like Sam Altman and Mike Krieger, who co-founded Instagram. Since the app’s official launch in January 2022, it has seen over 30 million downloads, and more than 1 billion photos have been sent over the app.
“I think it really comes back to the kind of close-friends-and-family nature of it,” Moss said, answering why he thought the app was so popular. “I think what people really like about it is that [Locket shows] just the people they really care about.”
Despite the number of social networking apps available, finding something that feels personal and encourages a real connection is seemingly rare. Another Cultural Impact Award winner, How We Feel, is trying to use that personal connection with friends and family to encourage more users to track their emotional well-being.
The app, founded by Marc Brackett, author, professor and director at the Yale University Center for Emotional Intelligence, and Ben Silbermann, the co-founder of Pinterest, is a free wellness journal that helps users learn how to accurately and specifically describe how they feel. It also helps users spot trends and patterns in their feelings and offers therapist-backed strategies and advice to reshape how users view their emotions.
“What’s really cool is that when people begin seeing this data, they often have insights about themselves,” Brackett told In The Know. “We encourage people to accept all of their emotions.”
“We say that all feelings are information and the decision to shift is up to you,” Silbermann added. “The wellness industry is sort of selling people happiness — ‘We’ll make you happy or you’ll feel happy all the time.’ But the problem is that also sends the message that it’s not OK to feel sad or angry. And actually, that’s not the most healthy message for folks.”
The How We Feel friends feature also helps users share how they’re feeling with the people they trust the most. There’s no punishment for not maintaining a streak of checking in on the app, but the friends feature and notification reminders are gentle prods for users to make assessing their feelings a part of their regular routine.
“We wanted to put reminders in there because what’ll happen is that most people will check in when they’re having a strong, unpleasant feeling because that’s a signal, like, something’s wrong, I need help,” Brackett explained. “We don’t want people to have a false view of their emotional life.”
“I’m always peppering Mark with questions about the science,” Silbermann said, “and one thing I thought was so cool was there’s so much research that says the size of your emotional vocabulary, like the number of concepts, is positively correlated with all these other outcomes [such as] how well you can deal with emotions.”
Another app winner, Dot’s Home, also explores the idea of decision-making — but in a different way than How We Feel. The interactive game stars Dot, a young Black woman who discovers a magical key in her grandmother’s home and is able to travel back in time to relive important moments in her family’s history.
According to supervising producer Paige Wood and executive producer Luisa Dantas, the point of the game is to highlight systemic housing injustices and the impact that has on communities of color.
“Right-Home Stories [the production company behind Dot’s Home] is a groundbreaking collaboration between artists and activists who are working on issues of land, home and race across the U.S. together,” Dantas told In The Know.
“The player gets to witness and understand the racist policies and systems that Black and brown Americans had to navigate when it came to housing and just trying to find a place to live,” Wood added. “The aim of the game is for players to ask themselves, How did my family end up where they are now?”
The game has resonated with players all over the world who, as Wood and Dantas explained, have felt “the system is rigged” against them.
“We really want to change the narrative about land and home and center it on people over profit,” Dantas continued. “We really want to illustrate the beauty and complexity and joy of these communities, rather than just focusing on drama, and also challenge the notion of equal opportunity for all and a level playing field that all people start from.”
There’s also a deeper emotional impact on users who recognize their own families and experiences in Dot’s story.
“[For users] to see their own experiences reflected in the game, it’s reminded them of their own family histories and stories in their specific neighborhoods and cities,” Wood said. “We’ve heard from people all over the world how much it’s resonated with them.”
“Our producer and also grassroots organizer, Christina Rosales, really championed this being a video game,” Wood said. “We chose something interactive so that we can place the players in an environment where technically anything is possible. But as they understand, going through the choices that are presented, there are really only a few options and there are a lot of implications for why there are only those options available.”
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