From Periscope and Enlight to Apple Music, Google Photos, YouTube Gaming and Pacemaker: the best new iOS apps of the year
According to analyst firm Forrester Research, smartphone owners spend 85% of their time on those devices using apps, but 84% of that time is spent using just five apps that weren’t already preloaded on their devices.
That’s why it’s so tough for new apps to become WhatsApp or Candy Crush-sized hits: even if their developers can persuade people to download them, getting them to use them regularly is another challenge entirely.
Still, plenty are trying, and 2015 saw some inventive ideas launch on the App Store. Here’s our roundup of 25 best brand-new iOS apps from the year. If Android is your platform of choice, there is a separate year-end list for that here. Meanwhile, if you’re looking for the best iOS games of 2015, read this roundup.
What have we missed though? The comments section is open for your recommendations for iOS apps that were new (or even just new to you) in 2015.
25. Star Walk 2
Some apps’ main benefit is that they help you spend more time not looking at a screen, and Star Walk 2 is one of them. Aimed at amateur stargazers, it helps you identify stars, constellations, planets and comets in the skies above, with 3D models of notable nebulae and a night-time mode to cut screen-light to a minimum.
Strictly speaking, Grayout is a game, but I’m filing it under “interactive fiction”. However you classify it, this is marvellous: a prequel to the same developer’s thought-provoking censorship game Blackbar. Set in a hospital, it sees you negotiating “post-traumatic aphasia” to find your way through the story.
Mindfulness was much in the news this year, with Moodnotes one of the apps hoping to capitalise. It’s a digital moods journal that gets you to track how you feel, while suggesting some tips for avoiding “thinking traps” that could plunge you into a gloom. Its design ensured the process was never a chore.
It’s a fair question to wonder why this is a separate app and not simply a feature within Instagram, but that doesn’t stop Layout being a slick and accessible photo-collage tool. Choose your shots, arrange them in a multi-image frame, and then share or save them – the latter handy for sharing on non-Facebook social networks.
Who would pay to watch YouTubers’ videos, given that they’re all available for free on YouTube? Vessel was a well-designed attempt to find out, offering new content from a range of online video stars before it hit YouTube. Its mixture of music, vlogging and comedy for £2.29 a month had plenty of appeal.
20. MyHeart Counts
Apple’s ambitions with its HealthKit initiative are some of the most interesting things about iOS right now, including its partnerships with medical researchers. Stanford University’s MyHeart Counts app – which crossed from the US to the UK in 2015 – was a good example: putting your heart data to good use.
iPad-only Electricomics was the latest attempt to rethink comics and graphic novels for touchscreen devices. Complete with comics from Alan Moore, Garth Ennis, Leah Moore and John Reppion, and Peter Hogan, it showed how careful (rather than show-offy) use of interactivity really could add to the medium.
More interactive fiction with a novel written by author Iain Pears specifically for this medium. Its branching storyline traced 10 characters’ intersecting tales, and while its almost tubemap-like interface was very clever, the quality of the writing ensured this always felt like a novel, rather than a digital gimmick.
17. Office Lens
If you’ve ever found yourself taking a photo of a scribbled-on whiteboard for later use, Office Lens is well worth a look. As good for scanning in documents as for turning business cards and receipts into digital notes for safe archiving, it’s become one of the most useful work-related apps since its launch in April.
In 2014, Pacemaker was a slick DJing app for iPad that tapped Spotify for its music. In 2015, though, it became something even more interesting: an iPhone app with its own artificial-intelligence helper (called Mållgan) that will construct mixes for you – complete with the ability for you to tweak them at will.
For frequent travellers who often find themselves hunting down internet access that won’t shred their mobile bill, WifiMapper is invaluable. It provides a map of Wi-Fi hotspots (both free and paid) with data on how decent their connections are, and the locations they’re at.
14. Apple News
There are lots of questions around what Apple News becoming a gatekeeper to news means for publishers, but judged strictly as an app, it made a strong start. It pulls in news from a wide range of sources, displays them neatly, and in just a few months has shown a decent ability to tune its feed to your preferences.
13. YouTube Gaming
Alongside music and children’s videos, games has become one of YouTube’s three main pillars of content. Accordingly, this year it got its own standalone app, providing quick access to the latest Let’s Play videos, reviews, developer uploads and – an area of increasing focus for YouTube – Twitch-esque live streams.
Already a hit on Android, Camera51 has been just as impressive on iOS as an alternative to the built-in camera software. Its emphasis is on helping you with your framing and composition, whether you’re snapping objects, landscapes or people (selfies included, this being 2015).
11. MixRadio Music
MixRadio was once Nokia’s music-streaming service, before being sold to Microsoft, and then sold again to Japanese social network Line. Under its new owner, it came to iOS for the first time with a polished personal-radio app. Tap in a few artists to whip up a channel, or dig deep into its impressive collection of themed playlists.
10. Apple Music
What to say about Apple Music that hasn’t already been said at length – not least in our in-depth review? The Spotify rival wasn’t as bad as its harsher critics claimed, nor was it as groundbreaking as its creators suggested. But excellent playlists, a very-listenable live radio station and a smart recommendation engine made a decent enough start.
For those of us who swear by Mailbox, 2015 ended with the disappointing news that Dropbox is canning that email app. For Gmail users, Inbox may be the answer in 2016. Having learned from Mailbox’s user interface, it adds in features like bundling similar messages together, and separating out reminders from emails.
The problem with inventive calendar apps is that they’re often likely to get bought and shut down by a bigger fish: as Sunrise did this year. At least that won’t happen with Google Calendar, but the app had plenty to recommend it as an alternative to the default iOS calendar, with a simple interface and handy reminders.
If you’re interested in how virtual reality (VR) can be about more than gaming, Vrse is well worth a homescreen slot on your iPhone. It provides access to the growing number of short VR films being produced by interactive filmmaker Chris Milk’s Vrse startup – from Syrian refugees to U2 music videos.
6. Eve by Glow
Apple thankfully remembered that women have needs beyond discovering music this year, and added period-tracking to its Health app. But Eve (formerly called Ruby) is worth a look as an alternative for tracking everything from periods and stress to sex, with a wider community to tap for advice.
A fine daytime complement to Star Walk 2’s night-time stargazing, Detour is an app for on-foot wanderers. It offers a selection of audio tours, starting with San Francisco but now with London, Paris, Berlin and Barcelona among other cities. From Backstage Westminster to Radical Clerkenwell, it could shed new light on London for Londoners, not just tourists.
Strictly speaking this was released right at the end of 2014, but it was in 2015 that lip-sync app Dubsmash became a bona-fide mobile craze – leapfrogging tech early-adopters to go straight to the mainstream. Which is why your friends and family members were regularly sliding in to your social feeds mouthing along to music hits or movie dialogue.
The re-energised Flickr remains a force to be reckoned with when it comes to storing and sharing mobile photography, but Google Photos provided some stiff competition this year. It’s easy to use, offers unlimited storage for standard-resolution shots, and has some helpful editing and sharing tools built in.
One of 2015’s most impressive apps in both its iPhone and iPad incarnations, Enlight was the latest attempt to improve photo-editing on mobile devices. At its basic level, it’s really easy to use, but the more you explore its creative features, the better your resulting shots will be.
Live-streaming video often doesn’t make sense … until some live video turns up that does – from breaking news events to celebrities chatting to fans. Acquired by Twitter before its launch in March on iOS then May on Android, Periscope is quietly becoming a very interesting addition to the media: as our piece on how Bild reporter Paul Ronzheimer used it to cover the Syrian refugees story showed.
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