Whether you've just unwrapped a new smartphone or tablet or are
simply looking for something new to play around with over the holiday
break, hundreds of stellar apps made their debut in 2012.
iPad and Android owners, in particular, can benefit from inexpensive (or
free) downloads ranging from music discovery and photo sharing to
digital magazines and smart productivity tools.
For a small
sampling of what 2012 had to offer, consider the following a few of our
favorites - not listed in any particular order - as well as a few
updated apps and some "must own" oldies but goodies.
Note: This roundup doesn't profile any mobile games, so be sure to visit games.usatoday.com for reviews of the year's finest.
Action Movie FX
Robot Interactive's free app for Apple devices lets anyone add
Hollywood-like special effects to their real surroundings. First, use
your device's camera to record something around you - perhaps a
co-worker smiling in the office - then initiate a virtual missile
strike, which rains down on their desk. There are dozens of effects,
some of which require an in-app purchase for 99 cents apiece. When you
like what you've captured, share the humorous video clip with the world -
right from your device. Video gamers might also like the explosive Call Of Duty: Black Ops II-themed options found inside this fun app.
Available on Apple iOS, Android and Kindle Fire,
the free Songza is an excellent music streaming service with custom
playlists created by music experts. These collections of songs are meant
to "play you the right music at the right time." You can tap to select a
playlist based on your mood or location, as well as by genre and
decade. Examples include "Music While Working" (with or without lyrics),
"Music for a Weekday Dance Party," "The Holidays" or even ones like
"Songs in Apple Commercials." You'll see album artwork and information
per track; save all your favorite playlists and share them with friends;
or skip forward between tracks (with some limitations on how often you
can do it). Did we mention it's completely free?
the old saying goes, "You don't know what you've got until it's gone."
Apple replaced Google Maps - the awesome navigation app for mobile
devices - with its own Maps app this past fall. But after numerous
complaints about its inaccuracies and a lack of features (such as no
public transit info), not only did Apple CEO Tim Cook publicly apologize
for the kerfuffle, but a new-and-improved Google Maps app
was allowed back in the App Store in mid-December. Along with getting
accurate turn-by-turn directions to a destination, the new Google Maps -
also on Google's Android devices (of course), and BlackBerry
- also offers smart local searches (with reviews and ratings), a
360-degree Street View and the option to sync your searches and
directions between your computer and your phone.
the YouTube app still rocks for its sheer quantity of videos, those
looking for user-created "how-to" guides need look no further than the
free Snapguide app for iOS.
Learn to make beef jerky at home, how to open a beer bottle without an
opener to perform a magic trick. A number of holiday-themed Snapguides
are also available, such as "How to Make a Wine Cork Wreath" and "How to
Make Spiced Chocolate Cupcakes With Eggnog Icing" (yum). Each guide
offers a step-by-step lesson with photos or videos, along with written
descriptions at the bottom of the screen. Simply swipe to the left to
turn to the next page or swipe up for a list of what you need to perform
the task. If you sign up for a free account, you can also leave
comments, privately message other users, "follow them" to be alerted
when there's a new lesson or start your very own Snapguide.
Quite simply, Pocket lets you easily save content you like - such as an article at usatoday.com
- so you can read it later. It's not bookmarking: You don't need an
Internet connection to access the content at a later time. Pocket works
inside many hundreds of apps, and you can access your saved content on
multiple devices by signing into your free account. Consider it a DVR
for any online content you want to check out when you have the time.
Formerly Read It Later, Pocket also includes a simplified user interface
with fewer toolbars; new filters that let you switch between videos,
images and text; and easier-to-organize content, including adding
favorites, bulk editing and tagging options for simpler searches.
on a smartphone or touchscreen tablet is a challenge for many, but apps
like Swype make the task faster and more accurate while e-mailing,
texting, note-taking or posting to social-media sites. And now there's
something even better: SwiftKey 3
($1.99). Arguably the best Android keyboard to date, SwiftKey 3
cleverly makes real-time corrections and predictions as you type. Even
if you're sloppy and miss some spaces between words, this app can help.
SwiftKey 3 also learns the words and phrases you use often, making it
more accurate the more you use it. There are more than 50 supported
languages, and the app supports various "skins" to change up the look of
the keyboard. IPhone users might consider Path Input Pro ($3.99) or
Swype as alternative keyboards to Apple's default one.
Older, but 'must-have' apps
While these apps didn't make their debut over the past year, consider them essentials for your smartphone or tablet:
• Skype (iOS, Android and Windows Phone) and FaceTime
(iOS) let you video chat for free with friends and family, anywhere in
the world, by using your device's front- or rear-facing camera. Both
apps work over Wi-Fi and cellular connectivity.
• Flipboard is
like your own personalized magazine. Select topics that matter to you
and then flip through various articles and media. You can post your
favorite pieces to social media. Created for iOS (especially iPad) and
• A "cloud" storage app is a must, so you can access
files stored securely elsewhere. After all, your smartphone or tablet is
limited in the amount of files it can house internally. Recommended
free apps include SkyDrive, SugarSync, Box, Dropbox and Google Drive.
Watch thousands of streaming movies and TV shows on your smartphone or
tablet with Netflix (free, but service costs $8/month). Especially ideal
for larger screens, the app works on iOS, Android and Windows-based smartphones and tablets.
• Got a million-dollar idea while on the go? Write, type or speak it inside of Evernote
(free), a powerful tool for all major mobile platforms. Not only does
Evernote help you flesh out your ideas and stay organized, but the app
is cloud-enabled, therefore everything is immediately synchronized with
many other Evernote-supported platforms, such as your PC or Mac.
• Those who want news, views and reviews while on the go should snag the recently-updated USA TODAY
app (free), designed for iPhone, iPad, Android, Kindle Fire and Windows
Phone. Along with its articles and photos, there are digital diversions
like the daily crossword puzzle.
• Now that the company has addressed issues over photo rights, the free Instagram
app (iOS; Android) is an excellent tool for adding fun filters to your
smartphone or tablet pictures, sharing them with the Instagram community
and following others you admire.
• Facebook and Twitter
have both updated app offerings in 2012, and are key ones to download
and use if you're a fan of these social networks - opposed to logging
into these services via the mobile Web browser. Smartphones and tablets
also offer integrated support for these major players, therefore you
upload text and media to your circle of friends while in other apps.
• Not only does TuneIn Radio Pro
(99 cents; for all major platforms) give you more than 50,000 radio
stations from around the world - from Afghanistan to Zimbabwe - but most
versions of the app also let you record songs you like to listen to at a
later time, and also play, pause and skip around programming like a
• One of the best apps for kids is the free Toontastic
(iPad), which lets you create and narrate your own animated cartoon.
Choose the backdrop and characters - or create your own - and animate
the story in real time. When the work is completed, parents can allow
the video to be shared on the kid-friendly ToonTube.