You may have noticed that we’re big fans of iMessage apps and stickers. Since their introduction with iOS 10 in September, we have covered more than 250 sticker packs and apps between MacStories and the weekly roundup of stickers Federico and I do in MacStories Weekly for Club members. That’s a lot of apps and stickers, and there are so many excellent ones we covered this year that it was difficult to narrow them down to shorter list.
When it comes to iMessage apps, my favorites are games and apps that make it easy for me to share bits of useful information with friends and family. Sticker packs become favorites for a wider variety of reasons; some are useful, allowing me to get my point across better than words alone, others are funny, and some just look great, but all liven up conversations. Here are my favorites of 2016.
Stickers dominate the iMessage App Store, but there are many clever iMessage apps too. Unsurprisingly, most are turn-based games or have iOS components.
Truth, Truth, Lie (free with IAP). Truth, Truth, Lie is a fun game that leverages the iPhone's camera. You record three short videos – two truths and one lie – and send them to a friend who has to guess which one is a lie. With an In-App Purchase you can play the inverse game, Lie, Lie, Truth.
GamePigeon (free). GamePigeon has 15 built-in mini-games like 8-ball, poker, checkers, and knockout. Every game is turn-based and plays remarkably well within the constraints of Messages.
GIFwrapped (free with IAP). I used GIFwrapped to find and organize my favorite GIFs long before it added an iMessage app. Now, my entire library is available and searchable right within Messages, making it perfect for firing off a quick reaction GIF to a friend.
ETA ($2.99). ETA is a beautifully designed app on iOS that calculates your travel time to a destination for different modes of transportation. I text my family many evenings to let them know when I'll be home. With ETA, I can send a nicely-designed message that is easy to read and includes my arrival time and trip duration.
CARROT Weather ($3.99). Winters are tough in Chicago. When I want to share the sub-zero pain with friends in warmer climates, I use CARROT Weather’s iMessage app, which includes the current conditions, an hourly graph, and a snarky comment.
Castro ($2.99). Castro 2.0 and its subsequent updates have introduced innovative features, some of which aren’t available in any other podcast player. One of my favorites is Castro's iMessage app that lets me share episodes of my favorite shows complete with show art.
Television Time ($2.99). We recently reviewed the latest update of this excellent TV show tracking app. Its iMessage app includes all the shows you track in the iOS app and is a great way to recommend a show to a friend with show art that can be tapped to reveal additional information about the program.
Record Bird (free). Music discovery has seen its fair share of innovative apps in the past year. Record Bird looks at your iTunes library and alerts you about recently released and upcoming albums from artists in your library. The iMessage app adds the ability to share those albums with friends and family. Similar to Castro and Television Time, Record Bird includes album art that you can tap to open the album in Record Bird's iOS app.
More Than Just Emoji
Stickers can serve the same purpose as emoji in conversations, so it’s not surprising that there are many emoji-style stickers on the iMessage App Store, some of which go as far as adopting the ‘emoji’ moniker as a sort of shorthand description of their sticker pack. If a picture is worth a thousand words, a sticker is surely worth at least a dozen, making them a great way to express yourself in conversations.
Mo Moji's ($0.99). Mo Moji’s is an adaptation of classic smiley emoji that are part of the Unicode Standard. The set includes great smileys like an emo smiley, pirate, ninja, the always-fun dab-moji, and dozens more.
Kaomotion ($1.99). Kaomotion stickers bring kaomoji to life through animation. Kaomoji are a type of emoticon popularized in Japan that are even more fun and expressive when animated.
Rando Emoji ($0.99). I couldn’t pick just one animated kaomoji sticker pack because Rando Emoji and Kaomotion compliment each other so well. There is some overlap, but there are some terrific unique stickers in Rando Emoji like the bear and high-five stickers.
Emoji Stickers ($0.99). What makes Emoji Stickers unique is that you can combine standard emoji and props in new and creative ways, like giving the nerd emoji a top hat and briefcase.
There are a few categories on the iMessage App Store that seem to have the best stickers week after week. When I’m looking for new sticker packs to share with Club MacStories members, I know I can always count on finding something interesting in the Animals & Nature category.
Nyan Cat (free). You might be surprised how well a cat with a Pop-Tart body spewing a trail of rainbows works in a iMessage conversation. Ok, maybe it takes a bit of imagination to use regularly, but this classic meme is wonderful as an animated sticker pack.
Toca Life Paper Bag Cat (free). Cats and dogs make up a big part of the Animal & Nature sticker category on the iMessage App Store. Toca Life Paper Bag Cat, from the maker of many popular kids’ apps, is a cat with a paper bag on its head riding a pizza rocket, flying through the sky, searching for clues, and a whole lot more. The stickers are cute and fun to share.
Party Parrots ($0.99). The Animal & Nature category has its share of odd sticker packs. Party Parrots is right up there among the strangest. Pixelated, neon-colored parrots gyrating across the screen are a perfect way to let your friends know when you’re ready to party.
Shark Head ($0.99).Stickers like these great white shark heads work best when combined with photos and other sticker packs. Next time someone asks you if you’re hungry send a shark head eating a cheeseburger to get your point across.
Llama ($0.99). Some weeks it feels like Federico and I are racing each other to the iMessage App Store to see who can find the best stickers first. Llama is one of Federico’s many finds that I love, which stars a vaguely creepy animated llama. Side-eye llama is my favorite.
Kyoto Pug ($0.99). This is one of the funniest dog packs I’ve seen. The charm is all in this pug’s eyes, which are incredibly expressive.
Libuny ($1.99). Libuny is a highly-stylized cartoon rabbit. Say ‘hi,’ let someone know you’re ‘ok,’ or you’re feeling sick with this little bunny.
Trash Doves ($1.99). Sometimes I wonder where the ideas come from for sticker packs. Trash Doves is a collection of dove stickers, many of which are animated. What makes these work is the artwork and puns.
Food and Beverage
Food is another top category on the iMessage App Store. It’s full of creative and funny stickers, which made it hard to pick just a handful of my favorites.
The Mixologist ($1.99). Joe Cieplinski has a couple sticker packs on the iMessage App Store. The Mixologist is an extensive collection of mixed drinks, beer, wine, related glassware, and cocktail-making tools. Joe has paid a lot of attention to detail in these stickers, which are a great way to invite a friend out for a drink.
Pizza Friend ($0.99). Sometimes it feels like there must be an unwritten rule in the HIG that you can’t make a food sticker pack unless the food has arms, legs, and a goofy face. Pizza Friend is a random assortment of reaction and Halloween stickers of a hapless slice of pizza.
Moody Foodies ($0.99). A drunk bottle, a carrot that pops out of the ground, and pizza slice with pepperoni sunglasses are a just a few of these funny animated food characters.
Parakeet Snacks ($4.99). Portland-based design studio Parakeet has created wonderful collection of snack foods, sandwiches, breakfast items, cocktails, and holiday cookies that make me hungry every time I open them.
Happy Toast ($0.99). This rosy-cheeked toast character can be found dancing with bacon, bending spoons, and drinking coffee. It’s odd, but it’s cute and it just works.
Banana Animated Stickers ($1.99). A banana shark fin, a banana skateboard, and a banana pacing in a jail cell are just a few of the stickers in this clever pack that make me laugh every time I send one.
Sweets Stickers ($1.99). Cheerful candy, waffle, and donut characters are the highlight of this tasty collection of colorful stickers.
Coffee Stickers (free with IAP). There are a lot of coffee-themed stickers on the iMessage App Store. My favorite set is Coffee Stickers by Rachel Dike. These animated stickers are pure caffeine-fueled jittery goodness. A great way to start your day.
All the Rest
Not every sticker pack is neatly categorized. What they have in common is creativity and delightful artwork that make any conversation a little more fun.
Bright Eyes ($0.99). This is a relatively small set of just 16 stickers, but it’s a fantastic one. Each is a hyper-expressive, animated face. The scared and mischievous faces are two of my favorites.
Face Bomb (free). From the creators of Wallace and Gromit, Aardman Face Bomb is a claymation-style sticker set that is goofy by itself, but hilarious when you stick them onto a friend’s face.
Sticker Pals (free). Sticker Pals was one of the most ambitious sticker packs we saw after the launch of iOS 10 and it’s only expanded from where it began. Sticker Pals include four separate sets of character stickers by artist David Lanham plus accessories that can be used to decorate photos or combined with other stickers.
Dramatic Ellipses (free). Comic book style lettering with messages in narrative-style boxes like ’To be continued…’ and ‘Wait for it’ are a fantastic way to add flair to conversations.
Places ($0.99). These faux stamps of cities around the world are beautifully illustrated. There have been some additions to the set since we first covered it, but I’d love to see even more. The stickers are a perfect way to let people know when you’re jet-setting off to a big city somewhere in the world.
Passport Stickers ($0.99). Another great travel-related sticker set, Passport Stickers are passport stamps that add international flair to your messages.
The New Yorker (free). This small set of animated stickers in the style of the cartoons from The New Yorker magazine are all funny, but I particularly like the mushroom cloud rising from a cup of coffee and the dinosaur munching on city buildings.
Stuck On (free). All of The Iconfactory’s stickers are worth a look, but one of my favorites is Stuck On, an assortment of objects designed to look like stickers that are peeling off the page just a little. I love the little green monster used in this sticker pack’s icon.
Anitate ($1.99). The style of Anitate reminds me a little of Stuck On, but all 86 of these stickers of smileys and objects are animated – even the bagel and sandwich.
Pencil Doodles ($0.99). These stickers look like doodles that someone aimlessly drew in a notebook while sitting in a boring class at school. There are lots of handy stickers here, from a doodle of a phone that says ‘Call Me!’ to arrows and circles to call out specific things in a conversation.
Rag Tag Classic Pack (free). If I had to pick a single sticker as my favorite of them all, the dancing bacon in the Rag Tag Classic Pack would probably be it. The bacon’s sassy, scolding look cracks me up every time. Pro tip: use several dancing bacon guys together to form a bacon conga line.
Relay FM (free). The Relay FM stickers were designed by Frank Towers who also does the podcast network’s show art. Frank’s stickers do a terrific job of capturing inside jokes and the character of some of my favorite podcasts.
The Little Ones ($0.99). The Little Ones is an odd collection of monsters and other creatures that uses simple color schemes and a cute style that make these characters feel like little mascots for your conversations.
Pixel World ($0.99). I have a affection for pixel art stickers. There are a lot of good ones, but The Iconfactory’s Pixel World is one of the very best with a wide variety of pixelated food, objects, and even delivery trucks.
Hipster ($1.99). The Hipster sticker pack is packed with hipsters and their accessories. The glasses, mustaches, and other accessories are my favorite part because they’re great for decorating photos.
It’s been fun trying so many stickers and iMessage apps since iOS 10 was released. The market for both grew rapidly and feels more vibrant than any other new storefront Apple has opened in some time. But despite the iMessage App Store’s initial success, it has led to a lot of consumer confusion. Many users expect stickers and apps to show up on their Home screen. When many don’t, customers leave a bad review.
The new Messages UI also needs work. It’s been improved in point releases of iOS 10, but there is still much that could be done to make it easier to use and to make apps and stickers more discoverable, which is necessary to maintain the growth of the iMessage App Store.
Nonetheless, it is good to see a new avenue for developers and artists to reach iOS users. Especially with stickers, Apple has lowered the barrier of entry by eliminating the need for any programming. iMessage apps and stickers are still in their infancy after just four months. I can’t wait to see what developers and artists come up with in the new year.