Yet these eleven represent something significant, although there are justifications for other choices. Among the many important apps released in 2012, this group deserves attention. In some cases, they're a sign of things to come; in other cases, they're holdovers from the past. But they're all worthy bits of code that underscore meaningful trends.
1. Mozilla Popcorn Maker
Mozilla is best known for its Firefox Web browser, but its most compelling release of 2012 was Popcorn Maker, a tool for altering, enhancing and adding interactivity to Web video. It's important because it further democratizes video as a means of communication. It's open source. Services like YouTube, Vimeo, and the like have lowered the bar for video distribution, but editing and altering existing video has remained a somewhat demanding task. Popcorn Maker makes altering existing video, particularly as a means of comment and critique, much easier. It should help enrich the visual vocabulary of those who aren't yet video professionals.
2. Google Now
Introduced as part of Android 4.1 (Jelly Bean), Google Now represents a working example of the intelligent agents that computer scientists have been predicting for decades. The software surfaces relevant information to the user based on his or her activities and location. Think of it as a cross between search suggestions and Siri. It can, for example, tell you when to leave your current location based on known traffic and the distance to your destination. It's far from perfect, but it works well enough to make the notion of smart agent software a bit less laughable. And with Google having just hired futurist Ray Kurzweil, you can be sure there will be more machine learning and artificial intelligence in the company's upcoming software.
[ Google's Nexus 10 tablet does not disappoint. For more, see Google Nexus 10: My First Month. ]
3. Apple iTunes 11
An aesthetic improvement over previous versions, Apple's app for managing and selling content on its devices remains a source of contention. Some users hate it; others like it fine, but there's no doubt it's a holdover from the desktop era. It poses as an app that empowers users by helping them manage their content across Mac OS computers and connected iOS devices. But it's a gatekeeper that limits how many times you can burn music playlists to CDs and controls app installations. With iCloud, it has become redundant. Apple should either separate the e-commerce and file management functions of iTunes into two distinct apps -- the Mac App Store app doesn't duplicate Finder functions -- or it should provide an e-commerce API that allows any online store to create a plugin for in-app content purchasing (this applies to iPhoto too).
4. Windows 8
Microsoft's future depends largely on the fate of Windows 8 and on how its operating system software fares on mobile devices. Initial adoption appears to be slower than anticipated, but Microsoft's business customers tend to wait before upgrading and consumers appear to be daunted by the estimated two-week learning curve. Sooner or later, they'll warm to Windows 8. Apple and Google will make small gains, but Microsoft can count on a long half-life as its desktop hegemony decays. Most computers still run Windows in some form or another and they will probably continue to do so in most cases. It will just take a while for Microsoft's Windows juggernaut to get up to speed.
More games are released every year than anyone could possibly play. But wonderful, thought-provoking games are few and far between. Incredipede is one such game. Like other noteworthy indie games such as Braid, Super Meat Boy, and the World of Goo, Incredipede exists at the intersection of entertainment and art. In contrast to the soulless commercialism of social games and websites, Incredipede is authentic, quirky fun.
6. Kinect for Windows
Microsoft's motion-capture and control system for Windows computers consists of both hardware and software. It's intended for developers at the moment, but it provides a clue to where computing is headed. Along with soon-to-be released peripherals like the Leap Motion sensor, Kinect for Windows is helping to define device interaction beyond the mouse-dominated desktop.