This week, Apple released its annual list of the year’s top mobile apps, with the personal brain-trainer Elevate scoring app of the year honors (Instagram’s time-lapse video tool Hyperlapse took runner-up), and the addictive “Threes!” (with which I’ve had a torrid romance) winning game of the year.
App-wise, 2014 was a strong year, indicative of the ever-developing ways we think, work, create, and connect (even if it’s just saying “Yo!”). My own list of favorites feels like a crop of relative underdogs next to the Ubers and Snapchats of the appscape, but they all pack unique potential to both redefine their respective arenas and ensure that I never ever put my phone down ever.
With the increased presence and utility of short videos across social media and the broader chatscape, users are beginning to get a bit more savvy behind the lens (i.e. not filming vertically, for starters). For those looking to jazz up their videos of, say, frolicking baby pygmy goats without sinking hours into post-production, Fly provides a simple, gesture-based suite of editing tools: Tap to cut, swipe to dissolve, and chip in a few extra bucks to enable synchronous multi-camera shoots. It’s everything an iPhone director could ask for. (Catering sold separately.)
What with the Secrets and the Whispers and the YikYaks and the Anonyfishes and the Wickrs of the world, 2014 was the year anonymous apps made a name for themselves — if that's technically even possible. While most were used primarily for evil (so much trolling, so much cyberbullying, so much boring Silicon Valley gossip) Slight, an anonymous location-based chat app, shows a different kind of promise. By allowing users to submit anonymous posts tagged to nearby locations, it becomes possible to watch real-time context emerge around events and incidents. Slight could be an invaluable way to track anything from surprise acts at music festivals to the direction of a moving protest. Now it just needs users.
Tinder is great fun and everything, but sometimes our hunt for acceptable humans demands a deeper look than a profile can offer. Enter Looksee, which functions as sort of an incognito matchmaking Instagram. Users can snap and anonymously share photos, and when two users “like” each other’s shots, their identities are revealed to each other, and an ostensibly substantive romance is born. (Which means you may want to start taking pictures of something other than your lunch.)
If you’re sick of the clamor of crushing candy and clashing clans, give yourself a break with Bicolor — a sleek puzzle game with enough elegant simplicity to make you look smart and enough brain-bending difficulty to make you feel stupid. What starts as a Zen contemplation of math, color, and form becomes (over 180 levels) fodder for several phone-throwing fits. It’s awfully pretty in the most literal sense.
Columnists work in cold, bitter solitude, but if I ever were on something like a team and had something like a goal, I’d want to use Slack. A slick communication platform for workgroups, Slack eliminates the hazards and crossed wires that come with idiosyncratic messaging habits by bringing texters, chatters, e-mailers, and the dreaded voice mailers among us together. Slack offers a clean, searchable, and highly integratable channel-based forum for project management, file sharing, and “ambient awareness” (i.e. less time spent nodding off in the conference room).
Ephemerality was big this year, and then it just vanished. . . Just kidding, it’s still here. And the enduring success of Snapchat (even after the massive spill of user nudies known as The Snappening) signals an increasing desire among us for media that (for the most part) goes away. Mirage is the latest self-destructing contender. Users can send photos, video, text, or voice messages to anyone in their contacts (even ones who don’t use Mirage) with a single tap — a signature favorite feature of its creator Moshe Hogeg, who earned more attention this year for his lovable/hateable one-word messaging app, Yo!
Facebook spent 2014 pulling together its plan to pull itself apart. We saw widespread rage (swiftly followed by meek acceptance) as Messenger detached from its mothership app and went standalone (which, eh. . . ). The failed Poke app was replaced by the reciprocity-fueled Snapchat ripoff Slingshot (which, eh. . . ). They also tried to make old-school bulletin-board style chat happen with the anonymous Rooms app (which, eh. . .). For these Facebook-weary eyes, the best of this year’s Zucksmanship came in the form of Paper, a mobile-specific “story”-focused platform that somehow de-obnoxifies Facebook by sorting posts into tidy categories and rendering them with elegant, responsive minimalist design. Watching your dumb friends get suckered by Daily Currant stories has never been more beautiful.
Automation apps like IFTTT (If This Then That) and Zapier took off this year, using simple “recipes” to build cooperation between dozens of apps. And while both services offer integration with your phone’s GPS settings (thus allowing location-based triggers, like auto-texting your hubby when you’re a few minutes from getting home), LIFTTT (which was actually released in December 2013, so I’m cheating a little) allows you to add fine-tuned location and timing data to any IFTTT formula, which essentially means you can control various aspects of your world simply by moving through it. Multitasking has never felt more like a walk in the park.
The coolest app-bound birds of 2014 were neither Angry nor Flappy. They were the cool, cruel, obstructionist crows of Monument Valley, who croak their ire at the cone-hatted Princess Ida as she traverses a kingdom of Penrose triangles, Escherian belvederes, and other impossible geometries. Stylish, smart, and way too short, Monument Valley keeps its premise as minimal and profound as its presentation: Figure out how to get where you’re going.
Not everyone’s got rhythm, but everyone should at least have access to it. Beatmaking pros and novice newbs alike will delight in toying around with Drummer, a stunningly simple drum machine app from the makers of the addictive on-the-fly sampling tool Keezy). Its clever grid layout, no-brainer interface, and smooth operation will enable just about anybody to kick out the jams. Rapping skills not included; so please don’t.
Michael Andor Brodeur can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter @MBrodeur.