1. SwiftKey Keyboard
The most popular keyboard-replacement app on Android made the leap to iOS in time for the launch of iOS 8, with its emphasis on the way it learns your writing style – with Facebook, Twitter and Gmail logins able to give it a head start – to make its predictions even smarter.
FireChat seemed like an innovative novelty when it came out, with the ability to text-chat to people even when internet access was down. But then came the Hong Kong protests, where it proved its mettle as a way to communicate in those kinds of situations, when rival apps struggled.
Now billed as a “video editor for Instagram”, that’s selling Replay a bit short, since it’s a slick standalone video editor in its own right too. You can add in up to 200 photos or video clips, then pick styles to turn them into professional-looking videos for sharing on various social networks. Instagram included.
4. Glow Nurture
US startup Glow’s first app helped women track their fertility cycles when trying to get pregnant. This year, it followed up with a companion Nurture app for people who succeeded: a pregnancy health tracker providing daily updates, the ability to track all manner of stats, and yes, bump-photo sharing.
5. Star Walk 2
More than 10m people have used the original Star Walk app for some amateur stargazing. This year’s sequel, Star Walk 2, was a good step on. You could use it to identify stars, but now it also had 3D planetary nebulae to browse. Great for stargazers of all ages and experience.
6. Inbox by Gmail
Another rival to Gmail, except Inbox was produced by Google itself – albeit as a complement to its flagship webmail service. Initially invite-only, it takes a similar approach to Mailbox and other apps in its efforts to make your inbox manageable, including an inventive feature bundling similar messages together.
Launched towards the end of the year, Wire was a potential Skype-killer backed by one of Skype’s own co-founders, Janus Friis. Focused initially on text messaging and voice-over-IP calls, it made a big feature of its design, with security including end-to-end encryption of calls.
8. Peak – Brain Training
Brain training games may have popped into the mainstream’s attention with Nintendo’s DS, but mobile devices have their own grey-cell-improving brands, from Lumosity to this year’s Peak. Its mini-games focus on memory and attention, with strong detail in its feedback on your performance over time.
Medium is trying to put a purdy new face on blogging platforms, and this year the company released its first mobile app. It wasn’t for writing, though: instead, this was an app for reading the best pieces on Medium, whether written by friends or strangers.
Swype was the other high-profile Android keyboard replacement app that finally made it to iOS this year, alongside rival SwiftKey. Tracing your thumb over the virtual keys rather than tapping them worked well, as on Android, with a choice of themes to suit touchscreen typists of all stripes.
11. Seasonal Cities
Seasonal Cities had an interesting twist for a travel app: its city-guides got rewritten every three months to take account of the current season. It’ll also tweak its recommendations depending on the next few days’ weather when you’re using it.
12. Silent Text 2
Silent Text 2 was a rewritten version of Silent Text, the secure messaging app from security firm Silent Circle. You can ping text messages and file attachments to friends, with the app encrypting them throughout the process. A sign of encryption getting more accessible to regular smartphone owners.
13. 7 Minute Superhero Workout
Developer Six to Start has taken an inventive approach to fitness applications, blending health and games to get people up and moving. Best known for its Zombies, Run! game, this year it turned its attention to superheroes.7 Minute Superhero Workout gets you to punch to blast aliens and crunch to recharge your exosuit.
Breeze was the work of fitness-tracking startup RunKeeper, one of the first fitness apps built for Apple’s iPhone 5s and its motion coprocessor. Rather than tracking workouts, it tracked more regular activity: walking, with location features and the obligatory pretty graphs.
A great educational app for people learning in their own time: Lingua.ly focused on language learning through a clever, simple system of digital flashcards. Handy whether you’re revising your rusty skills in a language you learned years ago, or exploring one for the first time.
16. Overcast: Podcast Player
Thanks to Serial, there was a surge of interest in podcasts towards the end of 2014. Overcast was a stripped-down podcast app that let you listen offline, create playlists and set push notifications for new episodes among other features, developed by Instapaper creator Marco Arment.
17. Sleep Better
Step-tracking apps have been popular for a while, but 2014 saw a flurry of interest from developers in monitoring what happens when we’re not active – i.e. at night, when we’re sleeping. Sleep Better from fitness startup Runtastic tracks your sleep cycles, and tries to wake you up at the right point to avoid morning grumpiness.
For now, Dice is only available in London, but as it expands, more music fans will realise why it’s such an exciting app. The nutshell pitch: buy tickets for gigs without booking fees. But Dice also acts as a feed of recommendations for new bands to see, and the company even employs people to be at the venue to make sure your night out goes swimmingly.
19. Hyperlapse from Instagram
Hyperlapse was Instagram’s new thing: a completely separate app that shoots video footage and turns it into time-lapse videos at up to 12x speed, while also applying (very impressive) stabilisation tech to fix your shaky camera-hand. A novelty, yes, but it produced some great results.
20. Genius by Rap Genius
Genius has become a popular site for looking up not just lyrics (initially rap, but now rock and poetry too) but the meanings and references within those songs. Its mobile app came out this year and was excellent: a quick way to search the site on the go, including Shazam-like identification capabilities.
21. Peek Calendar
iPhone owners aren’t lacking in decent alternatives to their smartphone’s default calendar app. Peek Calendar was the pick of 2014, making neat use of colour and swipes to help you navigate your upcoming appointments, and get on top of your schedule, however crowded.
Released towards the end of the year Workflow let you create combinations of actions you do on your iOS device, then automate them. Examples: turning Safari pages into PDFs, tweeting a song that you’re listening to, and turning a contact into a homescreen icon that calls them.
23. Wakie – Social Alarm Clock
Waking up with a stranger can be a disorienting experience. With Wakie, at least they’re on the other end of a phone call: the app gets you to set your alarm, then wakes you up with a call from a real person: one of its other users. Apparently there are already 1.5 million of them too.
An essential download for winter sports folk, Snowbuddy provides maps and weather forecasts for pistes around the world; tracks your speed and distance while skiing and snowboarding; and has some inventive social features to challenge friends.
If Serial inspired you not just to listen to other podcasts, but make your own, then Opinion was well worth downloading: an app for recording and editing podcasts before uploading them to SoundCloud, or emailing them if you prefer to use another hosting service. Simple and effective.
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