Apple fans were treated to a great year in 2014, with two new iPads, two new iPhones and a shiny new version of iOS. But iDevice owners also got a slew of great new apps this year. Here are some of my favorite new iOS apps from 2014. It seems like Facebook launched about a dozen new apps this year, but its most exciting one was Hyperlapse, which made it really simple to create time-lapse videos. Whether you were filming the world around you or creating Hyperlapse selfies, Facebook made the process simple – and made sharing it to Facebook and Instagram even easier. Another great free app is Nuzzel, which helps make sure you’re caught up with everything your friends are talking about on Twitter by gathering and displaying the articles your friends are sharing so you can stay in the loop. Nuzzel isn’t one-stop shopping for getting fully caught up with the news cycle, but it’ll help you stay up to date with the stuff your friends care about most.
If you’ve ever wanted a wake-up call from a total stranger, today is your lucky day. A new iOS app called Wakie lets you schedule a phone call to use as your alarm clock in the morning. Wakie, a “social alarm clock,” has been available on Android and Windows Phone for a while now, but iOS users can finally experience Wakie’s wake-up call for themselves. Set an alarm for whatever time you need to wake up, and you’ll get a call from another user when that time comes. If no one is there to give you a call, Wakie’s automated system will give you a call and make sure you don’t oversleep. Want to be the one making calls? Head into the app to see how many people are ready to get up, and select someone to initiate a wake up call. Wakie may be an unusual app, but it also respects your privacy – no one ever sees your phone number, and wake-up calls are limited to one minute.
Email apps and clients have evolved through the years, but few have made email simpler and less time-consuming. Google’s newest email app, Inbox, aims to boost your productivity and make you hate email less with some great new features. How many times have you gotten a work email when you were eating dinner or right about to go to sleep? Inbox lets you “snooze” that message until you’re ready to deal with it. Tap the clock icon next to the message and pick a time you want to deal with it – like when you’re at your desk in the morning. “Preview” is one of Inbox’s smallest but most convenient features. Preview lets you view and download which documents are attached to your messages without having to open the email. Preview works with every attachment – pictures, spreadsheets, videos … you name it. That means no more scrolling or hunting for attachments. Inbox is only available through an invite from Google. To request an invite and try out Inbox today, send an email firstname.lastname@example.org.
Spotify’s tried to make its music player more social in many ways, but its latest effort may be its best yet. A new feature called “Top Tracks in Your Network” is a personalized, ever-changing playlist of all the music your Spotify friends listen to. Available now on Android and iOS and coming soon to desktop, “Top Tracks” wants to help make sure you always have great new music to listen to. Think of “Top Tracks” like the greatest hits of what your friends are listening to. It picks out the best of the best, helping make sure you never have to sift through everything your friends stream. Spotify looks at all the music the people you follow listened to in the past week, and pulls out tracks that everyone is playing, or a few people are listening to over and over. If you’re not on Spotify but want to give “Top Tracks” a try, now’s a great time to do it – Spotify is offering a three-month subscription for just 99 cents.
Between its Lollipop update and the release of awesome phones like the LG G3 and Samsung Galaxy S5, 2014 was a great year for Android. The past year also saw a handful of awesome apps launch for Android. Here are some that anyone with an Android phone should be sure to check out. Afterlight is a great photo editing app that’s been available on iOS for a while, and it made its way to Android this year. Afterlight lets you quickly tweak your pictures with dozens of great tools, filters and textures. Another great app is Estar Battery Saver. When it comes to your phone, few things are more precious than battery life. To help maximize your battery, Estar will not only show you which apps use the most juice, but also provide power-efficient alternatives you can download from Google Play. Another must-have app is Google’s new Calendar app, which scans your Gmail accounts to grab and schedule upcoming events, like flights or dinner reservations.
Between the launch of iOS 8 and the iPhone 6 and 6 Plus, it was a great year for Apple’s handsets. But more than a fresh, new OS and shiny new hardware, 2014 was a great year for iPhone apps. Here are some of my favorite picks from the past year. Investing your money can be a daunting and overwhelming task, but Acorns makes it easy. Acorns takes the change from your everyday purchases and invests it with the help of a financial professional. Acorns gives you complete control over how much you want to invest and how aggressive you want your portfolio, and it only costs a dollar a month. If your contact list is overwhelming, check out Humin. This free app reorganizes your contact based on how you know them. Humin can quickly generate a contact list of everyone you’re related to, or everyone you currently work with. Plus, Humin learns from your behavior and can predict who you want to get in touch with.
Amazon’s new ‘Elements’ line of products continues the company’s recent quest to tackle just about every corner of the market. Available exclusively to Prime members, Elements is a premium line of products with “transparent origins,” which means Amazon will tell you exactly when and where the items were made, where the materials came from and why those materials were chosen. The first Amazon Elements products diapers and baby wipes, with more consumer products scheduled to launch in the near future. The Elements line is different from many of Amazon’s other Prime benefits in that it pits the company and the products head-to-head with other retailers selling goods on Amazon.com. While Amazon’s line of diapers is slightly more expensive than Huggies, they’re significantly cheaper than Seventh Generation’s diapers, which is a very popular brand for environmentally-conscious shoppers. Amazon may have raised the annual price of Prime to $99 earlier this year, but services like Elements show why it’s still one of the best values around.
If you’re feeling overwhelmed by email, Google’s new app Inbox is here to help. While Google says Inbox may never replace Gmail, it can make your life easier in a handful of ways. Here are some of its best features that will make you hate email a little less. Inbox lets you “pin” emails to keep them front and center, and even offers an option to only display pinned messages. Did your boss send an important email? Pin it and never lose track of it. Inbox also lets you “bundle” emails into different categories. Planning a surprise birthday party for your wife? Bundle the confirmations and RSVPs together to keep everything accessible in a single place. After that surprise party goes off without a hitch, the app’s “Sweep” feature will help make your inbox neat and tidy by archiving the entire bundle and getting it out of sight. Inbox is only available through an invite from Google. To request an invite and try out Inbox today, send an email to email@example.com.
Sprint recently announced a tempting offer for Verizon and AT&T customers: Switch to Sprint and see your monthly cell phone bill cut in half. Here’s how it works. Bring your cell phone bill into a Sprint store, and an employee will set up a new plan that halves the price you pay for calls, texting and data. To sweeten the deal, Sprint will even cover up to $350 of your early termination fees. There is a bit of a catch, though – you’ll also have to buy an unsubsidized device. Sprint says you can buy the device outright or pay for it through installments or one of the company’s new leasing plans. The device’s cost prevents your monthly cost from truly being halved, but even with that additional cost, this new offer will almost surely save you money. Sprint says the promotion is only available for a limited time, but any Verizon or AT&T customers who make the switch will be able to keep their new rate for as long as they’d like.
Who doesn’t love tapping the ‘snooze’ button in the morning and grabbing a few extra minutes of sleep? The downside is that it’s hard not feeling guilty every time you snooze, but a new alarm clock app called iCukoo has a plan to make you feel good about that extra shuteye. Every time you tap the app’s snooze button, it donates a bit of your money to charity. One of the app’s developers said he was tired of his girlfriend snoozing every morning and having her alarm wake him up three or four times before she finally got up. He helped develop the app to add a ‘bit of a silver lining’ to early morning laziness. iCukoo keeps track of how many times you’ve hit the snooze button, and once you reach a certain amount, it will send you a text to ask if you want to donate. iCukoo is only available in the U.K. for now, but the team hopes to bring the app to new markets in the future.
When a natural disaster strikes, one of the first things you want to do is get in touch with your loved ones to let them know you’re alright. But if local cell phone towers have been affected, you might be stuck without your regular cell phone service and have no way to get in touch with the rest of the world. A new gadget called goTenna changes all that by letting you send text messages when you don’t have service. goTenna is a five-inch device that pairs with a companion app on your iPhone or Android phone. The messages are sent from one goTenna to another over Bluetooth LE, which transmits the message to your phone. Think of it like a sleek walkie-talkie that pairs with your phone. goTenna is also able to send your current location to contacts, letting your friends and family know exactly where you are. You can pick up a pair of goTennas for $150 today if you want to be prepared for the next time nature strikes.
What if your office lamp could tell your co-workers where you were? That’s the thinking behind Place Lamp, which syncs with your smartphone to set up “geofences” that detect how far you are from your lamp. In the office but not at your desk? The lamp can glow blue. Out of the office on your lunch break? The lamp can glow yellow. Out of the country on vacation? The lamp can glow red. If you’re sitting at your desk, Place Lamp acts like a traditional desk lamp and provides light for your tasks. You can also use the lamp to set up notifications, like changing color when you get an email from your boss or have it “wink” pink if a loved one texts you. The Place Lamp is entirely automated, which means you can set it and forget it. Place Lamp isn’t available for purchase yet – the team is looking into a cheaper bulb than the Philips Hue – but it does offer a sneak peek into The Connected Office.
Just about every week, a popular website – or two – gets hacked and leaves you vulnerable. Making your social media accounts more secure is relatively quick and easy. Here’s what you should do. First, enable two-step verification on every site you can. Two-step verification, adds another layer of protection to your account by making you enter a new code from your phone every time you log in. Next, disconnect third-party apps. You’d be surprised how many sites you’ve given access to your Facebook or Twitter accounts. Most are perfectly harmless, but the more you have, the more likely it is that one will get hacked and leave your account vulnerable. Be smart about what you click on. If a Facebook friend sends you a message that looks like a virus, it probably is. Clicking an unknown link could infect your account, too. Finally, add a passcode or password to your device. Even a simple code adds another layer of security and makes it tougher to mess with your accounts.
Vine is one of the best ways to share bite-sized videos of your life with your family and friends. Here’s a simple way for iPhone users to make recording your videos easier. Normally, to record in Vine, you need to tap and hold your finger on the screen. But the iPhone can keep a “software finger” on the screen for you, meaning you only need to tap the screen once to film your Vine. Head to Settings, then General, then Accessibility. Scroll down to Assistive Touch, then tap on Creature New Gesture. Tap and hold on the screen for six seconds. Save and name the gesture, then turn on Assistive Touch. When you head into Vine, you can tap on the Assistive Touch white dot, find your custom gesture, and enable it. Tapping the blue circle on the screen registers as a tap and hold. When you’re done, remember to turn off Assistive Touch – otherwise every iPhone touch will register as a six second tap and hold. Happy Vining!
Another Black Friday is in the history books, but you still have another chance to save. Today is Cyber Monday, which began years ago as a way to encourage more of us to shop online rather than in stores. Many sites have been running online sales for over a week now, while others like Amazon and Walmart started even earlier than that. Cyber Monday marks the end of this run of sales, so here are a few tips to stay safe while you shop. Like any other day, make sure your anti-virus software is up-to-date. If any offer seems too good to be true, it probably is – no one’s selling an iPad Air for $100. Don’t click on any links or offers from sites you don’t recognize. Make sure you make all purchases with a credit card to stay safe and be protected by federal law. Finally, look for https:// in the address bar and the “lock” in the lower-right corner of the screen. These ensure you’re on a safe and secure URL.
If you’re looking for a worthwhile alternative to Spotify, check out YouTube Music Key. Available on an invite-only basis for the first six months, Music Key is like Spotify in a couple ways – it’ll eventually cost $10 per month and includes full access to Google Music, which is really similar to Spotify. Unlike Spotify, though, Music Key is more than just music streaming. Music Key raises your YouTube experience to the next level to help turn it into your personal jukebox. It removes all pre-roll ads before music videos, creating a seamless playback experience, and it lets you play YouTube videos behind other apps or with your smartphone’s screen off. You can also save songs for offline playback by tapping the ‘Add video to offline’ option. Music Key includes access to millions of songs, and aside from Taylor Swift, it’s hard to find major artists not on the service. Cross your fingers for an invite, or wait until the middle of next year when Music Key is available to the general public.
Want to make sure you don’t overeat? Check out BitBite. BitBite is a new earpiece on Indiegogo that tracks how much food you eat, as well as what you’re eating. Using a built-in microphone and sensor, BitBite gauges how quickly you’re eating, then transfers that data to a companion app on your phone. The app, which works on iOS and Android, offers up a ton of information, including your total number of bites and how many calories you’ve eaten. By telling BitBite what you’re eating, you’re able to get even more accurate results, and get better coaching to help improve your diet even more. If you’re eating unhealthy food – or just eating too fast – BitBite can suggest healthier options, or may tell you to slow down and chew your food a little more. BitBite, which is scheduled to start shipping in the middle of next year, still has a few more weeks to go on Indiegogo, where you can secure your device for $119.
Black Friday is just two days away, and people began lining up two weeks ago to make sure they get all the best deals. To save you some time and money – and make sure you get the best deals – here are a few tips. Read the specifications of anything you buy, BEFORE you buy it! I’ve seen a lot of cheap TVs the past few years, but a lot of these sets have very bad specifications. They’re cheap for a reason: they’re not great. It’ll cost a thousand bucks to buy that great 60” flatscreen, not $500. Look for TVs that are 1080p and the highest refresh rate you can afford. If a deal seems too good to be true, it probably is. That’s true both in stores and online. And if you’re shopping online, don’t trust sites you’ve never heard of. No one’s selling an iPad Air for $199 this year. Don’t even click on it. Whether you shop a lot, a little, or not at all, play it safe and be smart.
As Black Friday continues to become a bigger part of our culture, it’s easy to get swept up into the hype. Luckily, there are plenty of great online tools you can use to get the most out of Black Friday, and help make sure you don’t make a dumb purchase. Best of all, you won’t have to fight any crowds to find great deals. First things first, know what’s on sale, and where. Many sales circulars are already online, so find the deals you want, along with what stores are offering them and when they go live. Some sites, like Walmart and Amazon, started their Black Friday sales last week. Some, like Best Buy, start on Thanksgiving. Others won’t start until Friday. If there are specific products you want, but you can’t stay glued to your computer, use a price tracker, like CamelCamelCamel.com. If something you want hits your desired price, Camel will send you an email. Remember, no matter what you’re shopping for this year, shop smart – and shop safe.
Imagine you're at a grocery store to pick up a couple bottles of wine for a family dinner. You're tired of buying the same old stuff, time after time. But with so many choices, how do you make sure you don't wind up with one nobody likes? Next Glass is here to help. Recently launched on Android and iOS, Next Glass predicts what beer and wine you'll enjoy based on the others you’ve tasted and rated. Next Glass says there’s no guesswork involved, and all of its recommendations are powered through science and your preferences. Download the Next Glass app, rate a few wines and beers, then point your phone at a bottle of wine or case of beer. Next Glass will compare your selection to the beers and wines you’ve rated, and give you a personalized rating to let you know whether it’s worth picking up. Next Glass is now available for free on Android and iOS, and with the holidays coming up, it couldn’t have launched at a better time.