Apple Design Award winners announced

Last night, I had the chance to attend my first-ever Apple Design Awards. For those not familiar, this is basically like the Oscars for OS X software developers. Awards are given out in eight categories, with a runner-up and a winner for each category. Last night’s awards were the eleventh annual version of this popular event—I’d estimate there were 1,500 to 2,000 people in the crowd.

The winner’s prize packages are impressive—each winner receives two 15-inch MacBook Pro laptop computers, two Apple 23-inch Cinema Displays, an ADC Premier Membership, reimbursement of WWDC 2006 expenses, a Premier Apple Developer account for 2007 (which includes WWDC tickets), and an exhibitor space at Macworld 2007. The prize package is valued at $16,000. (Runner-ups receive a trophy, but no physical prizes.)

The atmosphere was very much like an awards show—the pre-show music was designed to get the audience pumped up, and the show’s visual effects included spotlights on winners as they walked to the stage, spinning multicolored light beams flashing out over the crowd, and a fog machine. The crowd was quite energetic, and it was quite obvious that the developers were very excited about the process and appreciative of all the winners.

The hosts, John Geleynse (User Experience Technology Manager) and Shaan Pruden (Director, Partnership Management), both from Apple’s Developer Relations Group, did a great job of keeping the show moving at a great pace—there wasn’t ever an “Oscar moment,” where I was left thinking “OK, get on with it now.” They got through 16 winners in just about an hour, and the crowd seemed to appreciate the lively pacing.

So enough about the event…who walked away with the cool loot? Here’s the list of winners, along with any thoughts I have on the software in each category. (The category descriptions come right from Apple’s Design Awards site.)

Best Mac OS X Student Product: Best product from a current full-time student at a university.

  • Runner-up: PhotoPresenter, a tool to present movies and slideshows in some cool looking layouts.
  • Winner: Lineform, a tool for creating vector-based art. The demo was incredible—an image of an iPod nano appeared in the program, looking very much like an excellent Photoshop effort. But then the layers were unlocked, and every single bit of the nano was dragged apart, including some slick gradients, showing that the entire thing was developed in Lineform.

Best Mac OS X Developer Tool: Development tools that increase programmer or interface designer productivity.

  • Runner-up: F-Script, a tool to help Cocoa programmers look at various things in real time. The developers loved this, though it was clearly not something I’d ever use!
  • Winner: TextMate, a powerful text editor designed to help programmers in a multitude of languages, including stuff even “normal” folks might use, such as HTML and CSS.

Best Use of Mac OS X Graphics: Innovative uses of Max OS X Quartz, OpenGL, and QuickTime.

  • Runner-up: Unity, a game development tool. I saw this demoed earlier in the day, and it’s quite impressive. Using Unity, developers can create impressive 3D games, and then deploy them to any number of “targets,” including Mac OS X, Windows, Dashboard widget, and even web, which creates a version playable in a browser. The tool looks amazing, especially in terms of how it helps developers manage the huge number of items (art, sounds, code snippets) related to 3D game development.
  • Winner: modo 201, a sub-division surface rendering application. This powerful 3D tool is used by people in the film, TV, architecture, modeling, and other businesses that require 3D visualization. The demo was quite cool, showing how a face can be manipulated by the software using its various tools. It’s not something I’m likely to use, but it looks incredibly powerful.

Best Mac OS X Dashboard Widget: Widgets that bring relevant, innovative functionality to Dashboard.

  • Runner-up: WeatherBug, a really useful local-area weather tool. You can see the temperature, wind speed, and daily forecast at a glance. Using tabs in the widget, you can also see a three-day forecast, current radar image, and web cams from stations in your area. It’s like Apple’s weather widget, but provides even more information.
  • Winner: iClip Lite, a multiple-clipboard widget. Copy and paste usually only stores one item at a time; with iClip Lite, you can have multiple text and images stored in “cells” in the widget.

Best Mac OS X Automator Workflow: Innovative, efficient workflows that eliminate repetitive manual tasks.

  • Runner-up: Lecture Recording Workflow, designed to automate the process of turning lectures at the University of Michigan into podcasts.
  • Winner: Build Real Estate Catalog, which is part of the Ultimate Productivity Automator Action Pack, a collection of 50+ Automator actions. This particular tool uses iPhoto, FileMaker, and InDesign to create a real estate catalog, all completely automated. It was impressive to see it in action, grabbing data from each separate source app to make the final project in InDesign.
Best Mac OS X User Experience:
  • Runner-up: Boinx FotoMagico, a powerful slideshow creation tool.
  • Winner: iSale, an incredible tool for putting together eBay auctions. This app had a great interface, and made the somewhat-tedious process of creating and monitoring an eBay auction much simpler. Gorgeous templates mean you’ll also have some of the best-looking ads on eBay. I was impressed by the app, though I don’t do much with eBay.

Best Mac OS X Game: Games that take full advantage of Mac OS X to offer compelling entertainment.

  • Runner-up: Wingnuts 2, a top-down flying shooter arcade game. Lots of stuff going on, great use of OpenGL graphics, and addictive gameplay, this was actually my personal choice as the winner in the category.
  • Winner: The Sims 2, the continuing saga of The Sims. The demo showed the wide variety of tweaks one can make to the characters in The Sims 2, and the game did look impressive (I’ve never played it, though.)

Best Mac OS X Scientific Computing Solution: Scientific software that enables researchers to quickly and easily push the limits of knowledge and understanding.

  • Runner-up: FuzzMeasure Pro 2. Since this whole category was way over my head, I’ll just provide the description of FuzzMeasure Pro 2 from their site: “FuzzMeasure Pro 2 delivers a complete suite of features geared towards professionals in the acoustics, live sound, and recording industries.”
  • Winner: EnzymeX, a tool for molecular biologists. From their website: “EnzymeX is a program for molecular biologists, developed to help you determine which restriction enzymes you should use to cut your DNA of interest.” It looked amazingly powerful, though I had no idea what I was watching!

Conclusion

Even though this event was in the evening, after a long day of sessions and writing, I’m glad I took the time to go. It was great seeing how much the developers appreciate each others’ efforts. It was also clearly not a “staged” event—the winners had no idea they were winning, and listening to their reactions was half the fun.

Apple invests a fair bit of money in these awards, something on the order of $120,000 worth of prizes. It’s clear that the winners are appreciative of the recognition, not to mention the amazing hardware, and that the competition to get up on that stage was intense. If I’m lucky enough to attend WWDC again next year, attending the Design Awards ceremony is again going on my agenda.

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