Apple’s App Store continues to grow and a number of excellent apps debuted this year. While it’s impossible to look at every single new app, we did come across several stand-outs this year that deserve a place on our year-end list of the best apps.
If you’ve been following the AppShopper blog, you know that we tend to focus on apps that are well-designed and useful. We don’t look at fart apps or silly dating advice apps that will give you a few minutes of entertainment before you delete them off your iOS device or Mac. With that in mind, this list is cultivated from apps we’ve seen this year that have intuitive user interfaces and do what they’re meant to do very, very well. In short, if you have a need for apps in these categories, these apps are worth your money.
I’m a big sucker for productivity apps. If an app will help me get things done more quickly or more efficiently, I’m all for it. Bonus points if it’s fun to use at the same time. In 2012, there were several notable apps in this category that deserve mention. The first is Clear, a lists app created by Realmac Software, Impending, and Helftone that has a gesture-driven interface (look, ma, no buttons!) to create and navigate around your lists. The iPhone version was released in February 2012 (my review) and the Mac version was released in November 2012 (my review). If you have both a Mac and an iPhone, Clear will synchronize automatically between the two devices via iCloud. If you like to keep lists for groceries, tasks, or anything at all, Clear is our top pick for you this year.
Though Siri can make it easier to create calendar appointments with natural language, sometimes speaking aloud to your phone isn’t always appropriate or practical. Also, what if you don’t have one of the newest iOS devices that supports Siri to begin with? This is where Fantastical by Flexibits comes in. Fantastical lets you use natural language to create calendar events, so you can just type (or dictate if you have dictation-capable iOS device) “Lunch with Susie at 4 on Saturday” to create an event, which takes far fewer steps than it normally would in the built-in Calendar app (or most other third-party calendar apps I’ve seen). To see it in action, check out the video in my review.
(A Mac version of Fantastical is also available and it isn’t technically on this list of 2012 Picks since it was released in 2011 but I use it daily and still recommend it.)
Apple doesn’t make it easy for you to quickly toggle system settings or add shortcuts to make calls or complete other common tasks on an iPhone or iPad. If you’re a fan of jailbreaking, this isn’t an issue for you with all of the tweaks (like SBSettings) out there that let you get around this. However, if you’re running iOS 6 and unable to jailbreak your iPhone (at the time of this post, an untethered jailbreak method for newer devices running iOS 6 is not yet available), App Cubby’s Launch Center Pro should be front and center on your home screen. Launch Center Pro can act as an app launcher for your most-used apps and lets you set up shortcuts to complete actions in compatible apps (of which there are hundreds – the full list is here). Launch Center Pro has been useful enough to me to boot Safari from my iPhone’s dock and you can read how I have it set up here if you’re looking for ideas on how to use it.
Though you could argue that it’s easy enough to just look outside to check the current conditions and a handful of weather apps to provide information you can’t glean from a glance out your window should suffice in the App Store, this message apparently hasn’t reached developers. There are thousands of weather apps in the App Store and it’s a tough crowd to stand out in. However, Jackadam’s Dark Sky managed to do something different in this category this year by offering precise precipitation predictions for your location. Dark Sky can alert you before it starts to rain or snow, allowing you to squeeze in that dog walk or finish up the yard work beforehand. While it’s not perfect in its predictions, I’ve found it to work very well (see my review) and it’s gotten me and my dog out of the house in time to enjoy a walk before downpours that would otherwise have kept us indoors all day.
It seems that everyone is on Twitter or Facebook these days and the App Store is filled with apps to let you share anything and everything through these networks, making it another tough category to stand out in. However, The Iconfactory managed to shine with Twitterrific 5 for iPhone and iPad. The new Twitterrific has a gorgeous interface and plenty of features to make your Twitter experience a treat though it does lack push notifications, which could be a deal-breaker if you like to be notified of your Twitter mentions and direct messages as soon as they happen. Read my review for details and to see a video of Twitterrific 5 in action.
An honorable mention in this category goes to Tweetbot for Mac. The iPhone version was released last year and it’s a regular in the Top 200 Paid Social Networking apps and the Mac version debuted in October 2012. While it’s every bit as functional and fun to use as its iOS counterpart, its $20 price tag keeps it off this list since there are several other options in the Mac App Store that cost less and are just as capable.
As you probably already know, we usually leave game coverage to our sister site, TouchArcade. However, I’d be remiss in failing to mention a couple of games that have stolen hours of my time in 2012. First is Loren Brichter’s Letterpress, a cooperative word game with Boggle overtones. In Letterpress, you fight your opponent for ownership of as many tiles in a 5-by-5 grid of letters by creating words. The tiles you claim by creating words become yours, which is denoted by the color of the tiles, though they can reclaimed by your opponent if you’re not careful. The player who has claimed the most tiles once all of the letters have been used wins the game. See the full review over at TouchArcade for a more detailed look at Letterpress.
Next is a game called 10000000 that combines tile matching with RPG elements that blew the mind of TouchArcade’s Editor-in-Chief Eli Hodapp and earned a 5-star review shortly after its release over the summer. I’ve played through 10000000 a total of three times now from beginning to end, using the acquisition of a new iOS device each time as an excuse to install it and start over again from the beginning. Check out the review and video over at TouchArcade and download it now – you won’t regret it.
This last pick was admittedly driven by a little bias but since it’s free (and awesome), I hope you’ll forgive me. Our sister site TouchArcade released an app earlier this year so that you can have even easier access to its excellent editorial content covering the best in iOS games and its active forum. With push notifications, you can even be alerted right away when a game you’ve had your eye on is released or goes on sale. If you like to play games even casually on your iPhone or iPad, the TouchArcade app is a worthy download.
That’s it for our 2012 picks. We look forward to what 2013 will bring to the App Store and sharing the best of what we find with you as always!