The cream of the crop
Just when we thought we had reached peak app, 2014 brought us a fresh round of iOS awesomeness we can't live without. Messaging apps and social networks are old news: The best apps of the year helped us work smarter and live better than we did in 2013.
From a HealthKit-integrated activity-tracker to a workflow automator than turns your iOS device into a multi-tasking machine, Macworld's top apps of 2014 take full advantage of iOS 8 and iPhone 6 (and 6 Plus!) features. Install them all and tell us what you think.
Image by Kārlis Dambrāns on Flickr
Disney Movies Anywhere
True, Disney Movies Anywhere doesn't technically need to exist, since it basically just links to your iTunes account and shows the Disney, Pixar, and Marvel titles you've already purchased. Browse for new titles, and you're kicked back out to the iTunes Store to buy them—so it's really just a Disney-fied portal to the iTunes Store. But the app is free, and for a limited time you get Wreck-It Ralph for free for linking your iTunes account, so that's reason enough to download it right there.
You can download Wreck-It Ralph or your other purchased movies to your device to watch offline, or stream them over Wi-Fi right inside the app—which has Chromecast support, a nice extra you won't get from Apple's Videos app. Cross-platform families will appreciate connecting Vudu and Google Play accounts too, so you can watch on any device.
Some of us care about squeezing enough physical activity into our lives, but don’t feel like investing in a smartwatch or fitness tracker just yet. That’s where Lark comes in. The HealthKit-integrated app uses your iPhone’s M7 (iPhone 5s) or M8 (iPhone 6 or 6 Plus) sensor to track your movement and give you a snapshot of your daily and weekly activity.
Lark’s most appealing feature is its conversational tone. Instead of just displaying your activity in chart form (though it does that, too), the app asks you questions about your day and sends you reminders when you’ve been too sedentary. When I’m engrossed in work, I’m not good at forcing myself to take a break and walk around. Yet when Lark tells me I’ve only been active for 25 minutes in an entire day (so sad), it gives me the kick I need to get moving.
Sometimes the sound around you isn’t entirely relaxing—a city night filled with sirens or highway noise, or a workspace where you hear nothing but Joe from Accounting nattering on about red and black ink. If you want to instead immerse yourself in ambient nature sounds, there’s no better way to do it than with Naturespace, which offers a wide variety of incredibly realistic audio tracks of rain, wind, waves, birds, and other ecoscapes.
Price: Free with in-app purchases
This year, I ditched Apple’s Podcasts app for Overcast, a beautifully designed podcast manager with some nifty customization tools. I was originally drawn to its clean layout and the fact that it didn’t randomly add duplicate subscriptions to my feed (shaking my fist at you, Podcasts), but quickly grew to rely on its seek/speed functions and playlist tool. Plus, it’s great for discovering new podcasts—Overcast pulls recommendations from people you follow on Twitter, and gives a breakdown of popular podcasts by category.
Though none of Facebook’s experimental apps were a huge hit in 2014, its News Feed-meets-newsreader app Paper is by far the best—so good, in fact, that it completely replaced Facebook on my home screen. Paper’s responsive UI, a custom-built framework called AsyncDisplayKit, makes flipping through posts and photos in your News Feed an entirely new experience. Paper is everything the main Facebook app is not: beautiful, intuitive, and free of advertising. And as a bonus on top of an already lovely app: Paper still offers in-app access to Facebook messages, so you don’t need to install Messenger.
Shopping app Spring deserves major props for two reasons: It redefined the mobile checkout experience before Apple Pay was even on our radar, and made shopping for clothes on the iPhone actually enjoyable. Gone are the cramped item thumbnails, boring product shots, and overflowing virtual carts—instead we get items sorted by brand in an intuitive Instagram-like layout. You can build your own fashion feed by connecting to brands and designers you like, or you can browse for specific items by style or price. The checkout process only requires two taps (or two taps and a fingerprint, if you have Apple Pay). Even if you’re not into fashion, Spring’s forward-thinking UI is something to applaud.
Hello, iOS 8, and hello, third-party keyboards! SwiftKey has quickly become the most widely used third-party keyboard for iOS, and for good reason. It has creepily accurate predictive capabilities, and it gets better the more you use it. When you start typing, SwiftKey suggests the word or phrase it thinks you want to say next, displaying up to three predictions in a word bank directly under the text box. With common phrases, it will even predict the next few words before you even start typing.
You can also customize shortcuts and link it to your Facebook or Google accounts so it can learn your natural language even faster. Once you get used to SwiftKey’s look, you’ll learn to love it.
TextExpander 3 Custom Keyboard
TextExpander had an iOS app before iOS 8 . That app had all my time-saving, life-enhancing snippets that I use day in and day out on my Mac, but the iOS iteration was a little clunkier, requiring you to use compatible apps, or type your messages into its notepad to then copy and paste to other apps.
Now that iOS 8 has features like extensions and custom keyboards, you can just install TextExpander 3 as a custom keyboard and use it in any app. It’s totally brilliant and absolutely worth its $5 fee for anyone who uses it on the Mac.
You can’t throw a brick without hitting yet another app that applies filters to your images, but Waterlogue is something special. It takes you images and turns them into watercolor paintings—convincing watercolor paintings—in one of a variety of styles. While other image filtering apps can make your pictures appear dated or faded, Waterlogue makes them look beautiful.
If you appreciate automation on your Mac, you’ll love Workflow, which is an iOS app that allows you to string together actions on your iPad, iPhone, or iPod touch to accomplish more complicated tasks. For example, with a tap you can upload the last photo you shot to Dropbox or get directions to the nearest coffee shop.
Price: $2.99 introductory price