Christmas is over, and we are mere days away from the end of 2015 and the start of the second half of this decade. Pretty nuts right?
A lot has happened this year, and there have been a crazy number of new mobile apps hitting the scene. There were a lot to get through, and not all of them have been great (RIP Windows Phone apps, going by the last 12 months), but here's our top 10 apps that first saw the light of day at some point during 2015.
As much as we would all love to have a speaker system wired up to every room in our house, it just isn't practical. It costs money, and it's huge pain to have to physically wire everything together. How do you justify that for the few times you'll be using the whole thing? Well this year became the year that you didn't have to worry about either, and it's all thanks to AmpMe.
AmpMe takes advantage of the speaker system that every single person carries around with them all the time: the humble smartphone. Essentially, what it does is sync every phone in the immediate vicinity (provided they have the app installed) and plays music through them all.
The host has all of the power, setting the system up and choosing what music will be playing. All guests have to do is enter the designated party code to join in. It's that simple. It's not just for smartphones either, since AmpMe is compatible with a wide variety of Bluetooth speakers. All they need is a microphone and they're good to go.
Graphics tablets are a great investment if you're a creative type, but the problem is that they do tend to be rather expensive as stand-alone devices. Thankfully it's possible to use your Apple-branded tablet in exactly the same way - all you need is to download Astropad. Oh, and obviously you will need a Mac.
Sure you could just draw on your tablet and transfer the files onto your Mac separately, but that way you're stuck with the mobile software that's available in the App Store. Using Astropad lets you use your iPad in conjunction with the fully-featured software that you already own, so you don't need to cough up some extra cash for something less-effective.
Astropad offers pressure sensitivity, lag-free working, and works with all iOS styluses (including the Apple Pencil).You also have a choice of running it wirelessly or connecting everything up via USB.
Download for iOS
BitTorrent Sync (Free)
We live in an interconnected world that involves multiple work machines across numerous locations, making back ups and file transfers a bit of a chore. Automatic syncing features on cloud storage has helped alleviate this problem somewhat, but then you open up a whole mess of issues involving privacy, storage limits, and so on. Enter Sync from BitTorrent, a system that offers all the convenience of automatically syncing your data to the cloud without any of the downsides.
Simply put, it lets you automatically transfer and back up your files without going anywhere near a cloud server. Files are only ever stored on machines that you own, and transfers are done using encrypted peer-to-peer file-sharing.That means you don't have to worry about your account being hacked, and you don't have to worry about being able to afford enough storage since it's all free, with no usage limits.
The only downsides are that you're limited to the amount of storage each machine has, and that both devices have to be turned on for the syncing to take place. But, as a counter, BitTorrent promises that transfers times are 16x faster than you'd usually get using cloud services. So it's fair to say that it's a pretty great deal.
Drive Mode (Free)
We've all been told that using our phones while we're driving is dangerous, which was all well and good in the days when the phone was little more than, well, a phone. These days, though, phones do so much more and many of them are needed when driving. The problem is that the smartphone interface isn't really designed to be used in the car, so you reach a weird sort of impasse. Luckily for Android users there is Drive Mode.
Drive Mode is a very handy tool that when activated turns your phone into a device that's easy and safe to use while you're driving. No longer will you have to divert your concentration to your phone because Spotify decided you should be listening to the Spice Girls instead of your usual preferences.
It strips down your phone to the core features that you need to use while driving (navigation, music, calls, and even texting) and lets you control them in such a way that you don't even need to look at the phone while you're doing it. That means there are plenty of voice commands, gestures, and bright differentiating colours so that you know what's going on at a glance. Heck, even the texts are read aloud so you don't have to worry about missing something important.
If you use your phone as a companion while you're driving then forget Android Auto, this is what you want.
Download for Android
There are far too many ways to get in touch with people these days, and different people are bound to have their own preferred way of getting in touch with you. That can, rather counter-productively, make getting in touch with someone a bit of a hassle since it requires you to constantly navigate to different apps to do what needs to be done. The folks at drupe say screw that (I assume), and earlier this year they released an app that makes getting in touch with people from different apps an absolute breeze.
drupe brings all your contacts and all your communication apps together in one single place, so you don't have to worry about finding the right app. One one side you'll see bubbles for your contacts, and on the other bubbles for your various communication-based apps. All you have to do is pick a person and drag them over to the corresponding bubble. It's so simple that even a child could do it.
If that wasn't enough it also features an integrated smart dialler that lets you search contacts using contact numbers, and you can launch it directly from your lock screen - just like your phone's default phone app.
Download for Android
Inputting Plus (Free)
One of the things that makes working on a desktop or laptop great is that you have keyboard shortcuts that you can utilise to save yourself some time. Who needs to right click and scroll down to 'copy' if you can just hit Ctrl+C? It saves fractions of seconds, but it's incredibly useful and most of us wouldn't have it any other way. The big problem with on-screen keyboards on mobile devices is that those shortcuts don't exist, and you have to sort yourself out by, urgh, holding down on the screen until the icons appear.
Are you sick of that? I know that I would be if I had to work on a tablet everyday. That's where Inputting Plus comes in. It fills the functionality gap by adding a floating bubble to your screen that lets you take advantage of the keyboard shortcuts you would otherwise miss.
Don't worry, though, the bubble isn't there all the time. It only pops up when you're inputting text, and lets you do basic commands you're already familiar with like Ctrl+C, Ctrl+V, Ctrl+Z, Ctrl+Y, and the much-needed Ctrl+F.
Download for Android
Mac ID (£2.99)
TouchID is one of the key features of the iDevices these days, and it is pretty handy to be able to scan your fingerprint to access your phone/tablet without even a second thought. Don't you wish you could do that with your Mac,too? Luckily you can, and it doesn't involve buying an expensive fingerprint scanner to plug into your machine. All you need is an
expensive iOS device with a TouchID scanner, or an Apple Watch, and you're sorted.
That's fairly simple really, but Mac ID is more than that. Not only does it let you lock and unlock your machine via Bluetooth, there's a bunch more stuff you can take advantage of. For one thing it lets you use your connected device to control various aspects on your desktop machine.
Want to control iTunes playback? You're good to go. Fancy getting notifications from your phone beamed to your monitor? That's in there as well. Want to share the clipboard between the two devices? No problem. Heck, there's even a proximity detector that will automatically lock up your Mac if your phone ends up moving too far away.
So if you're an avid user of iOS and OS X, this is one app you should not be ignoring.
Download for iOS
Texting is a great way to communicate with people, but there are some drawbacks you have to deal with. Did autocorrect turn your innocent message into something filthy? How about that time you sent an angry message to your boss then instantly regretted it? With a normal SMS client you can't do anything about that except apologise profusely, or try and play it off as a joke. reTXT, on the other hand, gives you a little bit more control over your messages after you've sent them.
Once you've sent your message reTXT will let you edit what you said, or delete it altogether, and the recipient will be none the wiser. It also lets you ask for clarification on what someone else has said with a single swipe, lets you leave those irritating group chats anytime you like, and offers video chat with one or more people. Best of all it doesn't eat into your texting limit, provided you even have one, that is.
Since it requires both ends of a conversation to be using the app, reTXT is more like a special instant messaging app rather than an alternative to your default SMS app. Then again there's not much difference between those two these days, and reTXT offers all those special features that aren't offered in other apps.
Best of all? Unlike regular texting or certain instant messaging clients reTXT is locked down with end-to-end encryption to make sure nobody is snooping on your private conversations. Sure that's pretty commonplace these days, but it's not universal just yet so it's good to know when it's there.
Screen rotation in Android is a bit of a pain sometimes. You either have a choice of having everything in portrait, landscape, or in auto mode that flicks things around at the worst possible time. Some apps work great in portrait, but others might work better in landscape, and having to manually switch is a huge pain in the arse. The solution? Swivel.
Swivel actually lets you customise the rotation of individual apps, so that when you open it up you won't have to do any fiddling around in the quick settings menu. So if you would rather have your camera app default to landscape mode (which you should, unless you're some sort of vertical-filming sadist) you just need to tell Swivel and it'll make sure that's what happens from then on.
It's not just a case of selecting portrait or landscape either, as you also get to choose which way it'll appear on your screen. Say, for instance, that you're holding your phone vertically and the right way up. You can tell Swivel to orientate an app so that when it opens it will appear upside down until you flip the phone round in your hand. I can't think of any examples where that might be useful, but the point is that if you want it that way (for whatever reason) you can make it happen.
Download for Android
Trybal Feedback (Free)
We all love to express our opinions on things, regardless of what they are, and the internet has provided with the ideal means of doing so in front of a potentially large audience. The big issue is that offering feedback and your opinion on something often means compromising your own identity, meaning someone could trace that particularly harsh review of the local takeaway back to you in the future.
So let's be thankful that Trybal Feedback exists, an app that lets you offer opinion and ratings to businesses and other such establishments without being forced to give up the privacy that you hold so dear. It's like Yelp for the Edward Snowdens of the world.
That way you can express your appreciation or disdain without tying yourself to it for the rest of your life. It also lets the business respond to your feedback directly, but without actually seeing any of your own personal details.
The extra bonuses are that unlike other apps that are dedicated to offering feedback, Trybal has been designed to make sure you can get it done quickly. No need to feel pressured into typing out an essay because you didn't like the way the barista wrote your name onto your morning coffee. The other advantages include the chance to win fabulous prizes, and a feature that lets you find out what's around you at any given time.