The Top 10 Apps
A puzzle game about crafting people made of snow, rolled into being by a blobby black creature surrounded by tiny gardens of white. Players fashion snowballs from strips of snow by swiping to roll, then stacking them in threes, large-medium-small. Only each garden has constraints, from ornamental bird baths and birdhouses to rows of potted plants. Beautifully visualized and scored, A Good Snowman Is Hard to Build is one of the sweetest, smartest puzzlers to grace 2016.
Even with Apple, Amazon and Google all taking aim, Spotify is still king of the music streaming apps. A big redesign this year brought a more modern interface that’s still dead simple to use, and gorgeous to boot. One of our favorite features is the mood-based playlists, great when you need something for a rainy day or a morning workout.
Unless you drive often, you probably don’t have easy access to an AM/FM radio. Which means it’s hard to find public radio, a great source of news, knowledge and new music. NPR’s new NPR One app can help — it’s basically a customizable public radio station that learns what shows you like and what topics you’re interested in, building a more personal feed over time. You can also use it to listen to NPR podcasts on demand, like Planet Money and the NPR Politics Podcast.
Need an easy weekday meal for two? What should you do with all those apples you just picked? How about a slow-cooker recipe? NYT Cooking, from The New York Times, can answer all these questions and more. It offers lots of great recipes searchable by type of meal, prep time and more, often along with beautiful photos. A big bonus: You can save recipes from around the web to this app, making it a clearing house for the meals you’d like to cook.
In the seven years that WhatsApp has existed, it’s become one of the most widely used communication tools in the world. The Facebook-owned app initially gained popularity because it works on most smartphones and provides a cheaper alternative to SMS for sending messages around the globe. After conducting a survey this April that included 187 countries, research firm SimilarWeb found that WhatsApp was the messaging app of choice in 55% of the world. Earlier this year, the company announced that it surpassed the one billion user milestone, meaning one in every seven people in the world now use WhatsApp.
The super-powered creatures that triggered a worldwide craze in the 90’s have finally reached the smartphone era. Immediately upon launching in July, Pokémon Go became a massive sensation among seemingly anyone who owned a smartphone. The game tasks players with physically exploring the real world to capture new Pokémon creatures, engaging in battles to claim gyms, and collecting items. It also uses your phone’s camera to make it seem like critters from the game are appearing in your actual surroundings. By cleverly using the technology in our smartphones and tapping into a wildly beloved franchise, game developer Niantic created a smash hit.
Sure, Snapchat first came out in 2011, but it certainly came into its own this year — especially with the app’s “Chat 2.0” revision in March 2016. With that update, the free disappearing video messaging app laid the groundwork for all sorts of killer features, from geofilters to facial lenses. As a result, Snapchat has not only become one of the most fun apps of the year, but it’s turning into a real business, too.
Which messaging app should you use when you really want to make sure your chats stay secret? Try Signal, an encrypted chat app used by politicians, businesspeople and whistleblowers worldwide. Signal offers complete end-to-end encryption, meaning the company behind the app can’t see what you’re sending and receiving. And it works with your existing contact book, so long as both parties have Signal installed.
Why include Apple’s default messaging service in this list? Because Messages got a major overhaul in iOS 10, the company’s new iPhone software update. Messages is now a feature-rich messaging platform, complete with third-party apps, stickers, and fun graphic effects like confetti and laser beams. All the new functionality puts it leagues ahead of regular old SMS texting.
iPhone and Android, Free