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748 0 0 0 2. 624 0 0 0 1. 47 0 0 0 13 6. 5 0 1 0 6. We’re increasingly reliant on the smartphones in our pockets to keep in touch with friends, watch movies and TV shows, and get work done, among other tasks.
But the phones themselves would be meaningless without the software that, almost like magic, imbues them with new powers even their creators never thought possible. These are apps that were either released, had a notable redesign, or took off in popularity this year. The list is unranked, as the different functionality of each app makes them impossible to fairly compare. That’s exactly what’s happening with money-sending app Venmo, especially among cash-allergic millennials. Why include Apple’s default messaging service in this list? Messages is now a feature-rich messaging platform, complete with third-party apps, stickers, and fun graphic effects like confetti and laser beams.
All the new functionality puts it leagues ahead of regular old SMS texting. Which messaging app should you use when you really want to make sure your chats stay secret? Try Signal, an encrypted chat app used by politicians, businesspeople and whistleblowers worldwide. Signal offers complete end-to-end encryption, meaning the company behind the app can’t see what you’re sending and receiving.
And it works with your existing contact book, so long as both parties have Signal installed. With that update, the free disappearing video messaging app laid the groundwork for all sorts of killer features, from geofilters to facial lenses. As a result, Snapchat has not only become one of the most fun apps of the year, but it’s turning into a real business, too. The super-powered creatures that triggered a worldwide craze in the 90’s have finally reached the smartphone era.
Immediately upon launching in July, Pokémon Go became a massive sensation among seemingly anyone who owned a smartphone. The game tasks players with physically exploring the real world to capture new Pokémon creatures, engaging in battles to claim gyms, and collecting items. It also uses your phone’s camera to make it seem like critters from the game are appearing in your actual surroundings. By cleverly using the technology in our smartphones and tapping into a wildly beloved franchise, game developer Niantic created a smash hit.
The Facebook-owned app initially gained popularity because it works on most smartphones and provides a cheaper alternative to SMS for sending messages around the globe. Which means it’s hard to find public radio, a great source of news, knowledge and new music. NPR’s new NPR One app can help — it’s basically a customizable public radio station that learns what shows you like and what topics you’re interested in, building a more personal feed over time. You can also use it to listen to NPR podcasts on demand, like Planet Money and the NPR Politics Podcast.
Need an easy weekday meal for two? What should you do with all those apples you just picked? How about a slow-cooker recipe? It offers lots of great recipes searchable by type of meal, prep time and more, often along with beautiful photos. A big bonus: You can save recipes from around the web to this app, making it a clearing house for the meals you’d like to cook. Spotify is still king of the music streaming apps. A big redesign this year brought a more modern interface that’s still dead simple to use, and gorgeous to boot.
One of our favorite features is the mood-based playlists, great when you need something for a rainy day or a morning workout. A puzzle game about crafting people made of snow, rolled into being by a blobby black creature surrounded by tiny gardens of white. Players fashion snowballs from strips of snow by swiping to roll, then stacking them in threes, large-medium-small. Only each garden has constraints, from ornamental bird baths and birdhouses to rows of potted plants. Beautifully visualized and scored, A Good Snowman Is Hard to Build is one of the sweetest, smartest puzzlers to grace 2016. Photo editing apps are generally a dime a dozen, all offering slight variations on the same basic features: Film-style filters, crop and resize tools, red eye reduction and so on. Prisma stands out from the pack by using complex algorithms to transform your images into vibrant and unique works of art.