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By Courtney Banks 2010 has been called the Year of the App, and some tech pundits have even suggested that apps could eventually replace Web browsers as the primary tool for using the Internet. Sure, apps have been around for a few years now.
But in 2010, they went mainstream and became an industry of their own moving beyond Apple Inc.s iPhone onto Google Inc. Android devices and others. Here, in no particular order, are 10 smartphone apps that made impressions in 2010, in five of the hottest areas for app makers: Casual gaming: Angry Birds (Rovio Ltd.; iPhone, 99 cents; Android, Free) was the top paid app in the iTunes store this year, prompting the question Why do smart people love seemingly mindless games? The simple, physics-based game involves a series of avian kamikaze missions in which plump, ticked-off poultry are launched via slingshot at piles of green pigs.Other casual games caught our fancy too. In Fruit Ninja (Halfbrick; iPhone, Android, 99 cents), melons, apples, pineapples and other fruits are lobbed into the air, and the player must slice through them with a sword (producing a satisfying squelch) before they hit the ground. Cut the Rope (ZeptoLab; iPhone, 99 cents) is a deceptively tricky puzzle game that involves cutting a series of ropes to release candies into an eager pet monsters mouth. The company says the paid version has been downloaded more than 4 million times since it launched in October. Photography: With smartphone cameras becoming increasingly high end, its no surprise that some of the most popular apps of the year involved photography. Hipstamatic (Synthetic Corp; iPhone, $1.99) lets you give your iPhone photos a vintage, Polaroid-style panache with a variety of filters, film and flash options (some at a price). And Path (iPhone, Free), a new photo-sharing service that launched last month, pares down the social network to what it calls the personal network. The app lets you tag and share photos with select groups of (no more than 50) friends, promoting the rather novel idea that not all sharing has to be open to the public. Location-based shopping: Screenshot of Shopkick app (Shopkick Inc) for iPhone. Several apps this year let shoppers use their smartphones not just to shop online, but also to interact with stores in the real world. Shopkick (iPhone, Android, Free) gives users points (called kickbucks) when they walk into participating stores (partners include Macys, Crate & Barrel and Target), pick up merchandise (by scanning the barcodes with their smartphone cameras) and make purchases. Kickbucks can then be redeemed for rewards like gift cards and merchandise. TheDealMap (iPhone, Android, Free) serves up an interactive map that shows users sales and promotions near where they are shopping. The app offers a variety of filters to customize the types of deals users want to see, such as restaurants, hotels and kid-oriented promotions. Communication: Google Voice finally made it to the iPhone this year, after a lengthy review process. The free app, which has been available on Android devices since 2009, lets users make calls (with cheap long distance rates), send and receive texts (free to and from U.S. numbers), and integrates other features from the Google Voice platform. And Internet telephone company Skype just released an update to its iPhone app that lets users make video calls over Wi-Fi and 3G networks. (Video calling is not yet available for the Android version.)

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