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.
IPhone, 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
Bad 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 free Songza app is an excellent music streaming service with custom playlists created by music experts.
As 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.
While 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.
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