MORE than four million software programs are available in the Apple and Google app stores, including games, productivity tools and weather apps.
This year, only a few stood out. Some of these apps were exceptional; others were useful or funny or just well designed. Here are my picks for outstanding apps of 2016:
NUZZEL Though Nuzzel was released in 2015, it gained more popularity this year as people realized how clever it was. The app is a news aggregator with a trick: It curates news items users may be interested in because their friends or followers on Facebook and Twitter have already read and shared them. This social angle works well and I find Nuzzel’s home page is always worth scanning.
The concern with a news app that relies on social curation is that it can create an echo chamber — users may end up reading only the news they prefer. But another option is to read news shared by friends of friends, which is a wider social network that will deliver more diverse news articles. While people should not rely on Nuzzel exclusively for news, this free iOS and Android app is worth checking out.
NPR ONE This year, NPR added new features to its NPR One app that turned it from a popular radio-listening app into something broader. By connecting to audio content from other suppliers, including podcasts and locally sourced news programs, NPR One is now a one-stop shop for all sorts of fascinating audio.
The app even recommends related stories after users listen to a radio segment, which can offer more about a particular topic or give a more nuanced view about something in the news. NPR One has a clean and simple interface, and it is free on iOS and Android.
CASTRO Podcasts are a big phenomenon, and the Castro app provides an elegant way to listen to podcasts and discover new ones. Designed like a news feed, the app shows popular charts so users can see what other people are listening to. On iOS 10, the app even integrates with Apple’s newly enhanced iMessage chat app so users can easily share podcasts directly inside iMessage. Elegant and powerful, Castro costs $4 for iOS devices.
UNTAPPD This beer-tracking app got a big upgrade in 2016, adding the ability to scan a bar code on a beer bottle so users can add its details to a log. It also lets people hail an Uber from inside the app so they can get to a particular bar or pub responsibly and safely.
The Untappd app has always been great for craft beer fans, letting aficionados keep track of beers they have tried and those they have yet to sample. The app can recommend beers based on someone’s previous choices and includes a social angle to see where friends are and what they’re drinking. It’s fun, easy to use and free on iOS and Android, though the new Uber features haven’t arrived for Android users yet.
IX Microsoft’s Pix brings artificial intelligence to the smartphone camera. The app is essentially a smart camera assistant. It can adjust different camera parameters while shooting a quick burst of photos, and then choose the best result to keep.
In addition, for users with shaky hands, there’s automatic image stabilization when using Pix to shoot video. Video can also be saved at a different speed than it was recorded. The free app is easy to use and is iOS-only.
CHEEKY FINGERS This is my favorite kind of app — it does a single job very well, with excellent design and a sense of humor. The app is an assistant for those learning to play the piano. It’s a chord dictionary that contains everything a beginner needs to know about playing chords, using cute graphics that show fingers over a keyboard. Cheeky Fingers is far from the most sophisticated app, but it’s adorable and is staying on my phone. It costs $3 on iOS and Android.
A Trio of Games
Finally, there are guilty-pleasure apps — the time wasters, as I call them.
SUPER STICKMAN GOLF 3 This is a cartoonlike golfing game for thwacking a ball around unlikely terrain, trying to avoid getting stuck to gooey walls, falling into sand traps and so on. It’s simple but fun and free on iOS and Android.
PINOUT This is a pinball game for iOS and Android devices that brings neon lights to the classic game, turning each table into something that looks like it’s out of the movie “Tron.”
MICROSOFT’S SOLITAIRE Who can resist this PC gaming classic? Nowall sorts of variations can be played on iOS and Android. This app will eat away spare minutes, and it’s free.
(The New York Times)