It’s the end of another year, which means it’s time to take a good, hard look at your home screen: When was the last time you tried something new?
If the last new app you downloaded was a sketchy one that let you match your look with a celebrity, then it’s time to branch out.
From the games we couldn’t put down, to the apps that helped us chill out, get more done, and taught us a thing or two about our privacy, here’s what we were downloading in 2019.
Call of Duty: Mobile
Bringing a beloved console game to mobile is never an easy undertaking, but with Call of Duty: Mobile, Activision has managed to create a free-to-play version of its franchise that’s pretty damn fun.
The game brings in elements that’ll be familiar to longtime players, like maps from its console-based brethren Black Ops and Modern Warfare, while also adding the ever-popular battle royale elements. And zombies! We can’t forget about zombies. Say what you want about free-to-play or touchscreen controls for a first-person-shooter, but it’s proved to be a winning combination for Activision. The game has raked in a cool $87 million during its first two months alone.
Disney’s long-awaited streaming service has only been out a couple of months, but it’s already claimed the App Store’s top spot — and for good reason. Disney+ has given us the gift of decades of Disney classics, bizarre originals, and the entire Marvel universe at our fingertips — not to mention endless Baby Yoda memes. It’s almost enough to make us forget that, yes, it’s time to sign up for another damn streaming service.
If you’re not actively thinking about your online privacy, then, chances are, you’re allowing companies to take advantage of you. (Hell, even if you are, you’re probably still being taken for a ride). Jumbo gives you some of the tools to take back control. Whether or not you’re ready to cut the worst offenders out of your life entirely is another matter.
The app connects to the accounts most likely to be vacuuming up your data — like Facebook and Google — and walks you through which settings you should change to protect your privacy. The app thoughtfully explains exactly why you should care about something as seemingly innocuous as publicly displaying your interests on Facebook. It will also warn you about data breaches that might have compromised one of your accounts and help you delete your old tweets.
Mario Kart Tour
It’s hard to think of a more iconic game than Mario Kart, so it should come as no surprise to see the first-ever mobile version of the game, Mario Kart Tour, on this list. Besides bringing the Nintendo classic to smartphones, the game is an easy way to relive everything you’ve ever loved about the original, regardless of which iteration you think is best.
No, it’s not perfect, (critics have faulted the game’s reliance on in-app purchases, for one) but it manages to capture some of the best elements of Mario Kart in a game you can play one-handed, which is more than enough to get your MK fix on the go.
Scientists still can’t predict earthquakes, but MyShake might just be the next best thing. The app, which was created by UC Berkeley researchers, uses a combination of smartphone sensors and algorithms to crowdsource earthquake detection. Users can submit their own reports when they feel a quake and the app can detect nearby tremors using your phone’s sensors. And, in California, the app is part of the state’s early warning system, which can give you a valuable few seconds to duck and cover — an impressive feat, even if you don’t live in earthquake country.
There’s a lot to like about Google’s new Pixel 4, but the new Recorder app is the one we least expected. The voice-recording app is able to transcribe speech (and sounds, like music or applause) in real time, so you never have to worry about doing your own tedious transcription again.
It also creates a searchable archive of all your recordings, so you can find what you need at a moment’s notice. Better still, the app works without a Wi-Fi or data connection and keeps all of your recordings right where they belong — on your phone.
Free: Android (Google Pixel)*
*Officially, the app is still exclusive to Pixel phones, but there are workarounds to download the APK onto other Android devices. Though, it’s not clear how reliable they are.
Sayonara Wild Hearts
Apple Arcade has been a bit of a mixed bag, but Sayonara Wild Hearts alone is enough to make the subscription worth it. The developers describe it as a “dreamy arcade game,” and honestly… it’s pretty accurate. Players guide the game’s heroine through a series of winding, neon levels collecting hearts and knocking out enemies. It’s a familiar dynamic that manages to feel like nothing you’ve ever played.
The actual storyline is a little woo-woo — something about tarot cards, breaking hearts, and restoring balance to the universe — but it really doesn’t matter. The game is almost impossible to put down and the soundtrack is so catchy, you’ll actually want to keep listening long after you’ve finished the game (luckily, you can).
*with $4.99/month Apple Arcade subscription
As Apple continues to push iPhone cameras to new heights, you’d be forgiven for thinking there’s little reason to even bother with third-party camera apps anymore. You’d still be wrong, though, and apps like Spectre prove why.
The app enables you to take long-exposure shots without the need for a tripod or any additional equipment. By using algorithms in place of bulky equipment, the app lets you shoot long-exposure photos to make dreamy lightwaves at night or make crowds disappear during daytime shots. When you’ve perfected the technique, the app also saves the final product as a Live Photo, so you can see the entire progression.
We’ve said it before, but it’s worth repeating: At a time when meditation apps have turned into billion-dollar businesses that require pricey in-app subscriptions, Tap In is a refreshing alternative.
While other meditation apps have menus of hundreds of meditation exercises, Tap In takes a much more hands-off approach: once daily, guided live meditation sessions. That means, if you’re not available during the 10-minute window, you’re out of luck. But that’s part of the charm: It’s all about “tapping in” to the moment and then moving on with the rest of your day.
Yes, we’ve seen anonymous Q&A apps come and go, but Yolo has dominated the App Store charts since it launched in May. The Snapchat-first app lets you ask your Snapchat friends for anonymous feedback, using your Bitmoji character as your in-app avatar. Responses to your prompts come into a dedicated inbox and you can answer them in subsequent Stories posts.
It’s lighthearted, but it’s also a major success for Snapchat’s nascent developer platform, proving that Snap’s core demographic is every bit as dedicated as CEO Evan Spiegel keeps telling us.