(Credit: Apple, Inc.)

It's no secret that the Google and Apple app stores can be difficult to navigate, thanks in large part to the dizzying variety of things you can download, and the dizzyingly large pile of new apps that continue to come in every day. If your app gets featured on one of these stores' home pages, it can be a huge boost to your visibility and long-term success. Today, Apple called out the best game, best app, and best app trends of 2018, and there are actually some surprises that could map the future for the lucky winners.

Apple leads with Game of the Year, which is no surprise because this app category is popular enough to warrant an entire section that's separate from non-gaming apps, for both iOS and Android. But despite Fortnite's tsunami wave of success, it's not the one getting the crown as you might expect.

SEE: Google Play names the best Android apps and games of 2018

Instead, that honor goes to Donut County by Annapurna Interactive, makers of the award-winning Gorogoa (Android, iOS). Donut County is a quirky indie game that could be described as the inverse of Katamari Damacy. Instead of collecting things into an ever-expanding ball, you put everything into an ever-expanding hole in the ground.

Like its apparent inspiration, Donut County is replete with charming artwork and full of personality. You can pick it up for $4.99, and that gets you the whole game. No ads, and no in-app transactions.

Apple's app of the year also isn't a usual suspect. Procreate Pocket by Savage Interactive can be thought of as an iPhone version of Adobe Illustrator.

Not to be confused with the Pocket app (Android, iOS), which can save enhanced bookmarks for your web browser, Procreate Pocket is an art creation app touted for pressure-sensitive 3D Touch support and a knack for handling high-resolution art, and it comes with over 135 brush presets and a Gaussian blur function. Procreate Pocket also has a streamlined interface designed for touch from the ground-up.

The app also integrates a timelapse function to let you create those popular "how they made it" artist videos you see on YouTube sometimes. These are valuable not just for entertainment but as marketing tools for individual artists.

Be aware that this app is specific to the iPhone. For iPads, the company makes a separate app, simply called Procreate. So the Pocket version can't make use of the Apple Pencil, since that gadget only works with current-generation Apple tablets like the 2018 iPad Pro.

Apple has increasingly pitched the iPad Pro as a laptop replacement, but it's not clear how much runway Procreate still has, as Adobe itself is reportedly putting Photoshop on the iPad next year. Granted, Photoshop and Procreate aren't directly comparable -- but where Photoshop leads, its sister app Adobe Illustrator is likely to follow.

You can pick up Procreate Pocket for $4.99, and there are no ads or in-app transactions. Procreate for iPad is $5.99.

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The most popular iOS apps of 2018, according to Apple

Third parties like App Annie already do an effective job of estimating app popularity on the iOS App Store and Google Play Store, so Apple's official list of most downloaded apps for 2018 isn't going to unveil a parade of new info. Fortnite is No. 1 with a bullet, but rival PUBG Mobile still hangs in at No. 4.

There's a separate list of paid games, topped by Heads Up! this time instead of perennial juggernaut Minecraft, but F2P games will get many more downloads thanks to the lower barrier to entry.

Apart from games, the most popular iOS app of 2018 was YouTube, holding onto its throne against a powerful cadre of social networking platforms like Instagram, Snapchat, Facebook Messenger, and Facebook itself. Google Maps, Gmail, Google Photos, and Google Chrome also make the list, giving parent company Alphabet a whopping one quarter of the chart to celebrate as it closes out the calendar year.

Takeaways

  • Today, Apple picked Donut County as the best game of 2018, and Procreate Pocket as the best app. Both are $4.99, with no ads or in-app transactions.
  • Procreate Pocket is specific to iPhones, making it incompatible with the Apple Pencil. For iPads, you'll need regular Procreate, which is $5.99.

Also see

Tom McNamara is a Senior Editor for CNET's Download.com. He mainly covers Windows, mobile and desktop security, games, Google, streaming services, and social media. Tom was also an editor at Maximum PC and IGN, and his work has appeared on CNET, PC Gamer, MSN.com, and Salon.com. He's also unreasonably proud that he's kept the same phone for more than two years.