Posts tagged 2015

Best Apps of 2015 – Top 5

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Today is the first day of 2016, but before embracing the New Year here at Fast Forward, it’s time to look back upon the past year in smartphone innovation with our third annual App of the Year award. Without further adieu, I present to you the top 5 apps of 2015:

#1. Drafts

Without a doubt, Drafts is one of the most useful, if not the most useful, apps on my phone right now. I’ve used Drafts for a couple of years now and it’s still one of my most used productivity tools on the iPhone. Like a notes app on steroids, Drafts allows you to easily and quickly write down notes and share the with a click of a button. With customizable options, you can share your note to any one of Drafts’ long list of options, from Twitter to Evernote to Dropbox to Email to Reminders et cetera, et cetera. You get my point. Drafts has become my personal hub for ideas, notes, and frankly writing anything that I happen to want to write down: phone numbers, article ideas, shopping lists, and more. Plus, with a new design and an update that includes some very helpful shortcuts using Apple’s new force touch, Drafts is becoming faster and better with developer updates that leverage Apple’s new features. At least for me, the usefulness of the app is incredible; while I often simply send myself emails with reminders and notes, in Drafts this task is simple while also offering the option to share or save my notes however I like.

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#2. Casts

Although podcasting has been around since the 1980s, then known as “audioblogging”, podcasts only really started to pick up steam in the last 5 years. With the first season of the hit podcast Serial in 2014, the medium finally became a large part of modern culture, as Serial’s influence was comparable to a popular weekly TV series. In fact, in it’s first season, Serial was averaging an incredible 1.5 million downloads per episode, a number certainly qualifying the show as significant. Podcasting in general has grown as well, studies showing that approximately 39 million Americans have listened to a podcast over the last month. So if you aren’t already listening to a bunch of podcasts, as I am, it might be time to start. There are podcasts for everyone, in topics ranging from tech to comedy to sports, and Casts is a great app to help you find new podcasts and listen to your favorites.

While other podcast apps dominate the market, including Apple’s own version, I personally use Casts for its simplicity and aesthetically pleasing design. Once you’ve found your favorite podcasts, which you “subscribe” to, the icons of all your podcasts will show up in a nice, tiled design on your homepage, making it easy for you to navigate and download the ones you want to listen to. With helpful navigation bars and intuitive design elements, Casts is, in my opinion, the best podcasting app out there.

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#3. Instagram

2015 has been another great year for the social media giant Instagram. With over 400 million active users, 20% of the users of the Internet in general, Instagram has grown from a small trendy platform to the ubiquitous giant social media app it is today. In the past year, besides continuing to be the favorite social media of many youth around the world, Instagram has made many interesting and, in my opinion, good changes. First of all, they dropped the “square only” rule, adding functionality to post photos of all sizes. This allowed people much more freedom in what they post, as often regularly proportioned images wouldn’t fit in Instagram’s odd square constraint. Along with that, Instagram, like Drafts, is easily one of the apps that has best used the iPhone 6S’ new feature, “Force Touch.” Just by force touching on usernames, photos, and other parts of the interface, you can easily get a preview of whatever you touch on, which can actually save a lot of time when browsing the new explore section or sliding through your feed. In sum, while Instagram has stayed primarily the same, a couple of changes made during 2015 made the app that much better than it already was, which was pretty dang good.

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#4. Periscope

Periscope was, in my view, the breakout app of the year. First being bought by Twitter, then winning Apple’s App of the Year award, Periscope emerged as the clear winner in the tough rivalry that emerged with competitor Meerkat. Both live video streaming apps, Periscope triumphed as the leading app in that space, with more users (10 million to Meerkat’s 2 million), a better design, at least in my opinion, and the backing and integration with Twitter. In the app, you can watch live streams from all over the world, and even only about 10 months since it’s launch, people have already started using the platform in a wide variety of interesting and fun-to-watch ways. (Here’s one of my favorite examples) I’m sure that over the next couple years streaming apps will grow into a whole new medium, and Periscope will be leading that charge. 

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#5. Runkeeper

Fitness has always been a large part of the smartphone/wearables market. Exercise is just something that everyone knows they should do, and Runkeeper helps us stick to our goals by track our runs, bike rides, and other activities with the iPhone’s GPS. Exercise apps should compile a host of stats, have an intuitive design, be easily navigable (as you don’t want to be fumbling around with your phone while you are running or biking), and just be fun and enjoyable to use. Runkeeper is all of that and more. The main screen is very easy to use, which helps when exercising, and once you’re done the app will give you your time, calories burned, distance traveled, average speed, and more. You can set goals, connect with friends, play music, and pretty much everything your would want out of a running app. With almost 5 stars on the app store, Runkeeper has risen to prominence in the fitness section over the last year.

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What To Expect In 2015 For Wearables

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2014 finished with a bang, at least if you call USA and North Korea bickering over a Seth Rogen satire movie a bang. Besides that, 2014 was a year of smartwatches, bigger phones, and flat design at its finest. The new line of iPhones was released, with the iPhone 6 and 6 Plus making headlines for their giant size (by Apple’s standards).  iOS 8 was released on September 17th, and Android even hopped on the software wave when they announced Android Lollipop at their recent Google I/O conference. The internet suffered many different hacks, leaks and viruses starting with Heartbleed and the NSA leak, and finishing with the Sony Playstation and Xbox hacks.  And offsetting the ever-growing smartphone size, smaller smartwatches are starting to take off in popularity, with Android Wear OS released alongside many new Android smartwatches from a variety of manufacturers.

The Smartwatches Of 2015

And that leads me to the biggest smartwatch announcement: Apple Watch. Last year I said Apple Watch would be a big highlight for this year, and it was. Well, at least the announcement was. Set to be designed in three styles, Apple Watch Sport, Apple Watch, and Apple Watch Edition, the Apple Watch wasn’t actually released, despite all the press and hype even from a year back. The only promise Apple gave us was a public release of “Early 2015”, which promises to be a big event whenever it happens. As great as the release of the smartwatch will be, the first time Apple will be branching into a new vertical since Steve Jobs’ death, there will be some unavoidable consequences. For instance, there have been many smaller smartwatches makers, most prominently the “Kickstarted” Pebble, along Samsung and the Android gang’s watches. Some of the less well-funded makers will likely need to sell or potentially go out of business.

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The fact is that consumers tend to favor sticking with their native tech ecosystem, , just as the product companies desire. It’s just easier. But also, with so much more money and development resources, Apple is hard to beat in terms of quality of hardware and software. It’s a little sad, as some of these startups and smaller watches were actually not that bad, but will still likely fall prey to Apple’s enormity.

More Wearables

So far in the progression of wearables, smartwatches have been the only successful niche. Smart glasses, such as Google Glass, were a lot like the segway. There was a lot of hype, but no actual use in daily life. For instance, Google Glass was a highlight of Google’s I/O conference, a special restricted public testing called the Explorer Program. With the I/O announcement, and the Explorer Program, the excitement level was high for the public release in the beginning of 2014. Unfortunately, when the public release did come, nothing really happened. Partly, this was because of all the controversy of Glass’ pretty much secret filming capability, leading to it being banned in many places. But also, the whole concept was to make a device that can seamlessly let you access the internet without pulling out your phone, but the execution of that idea lacked. First of all, the glasses looked geeky. I can’t lie, when you wear something like that you’re kind of throwing your  style out the window for technology. Also, the main control of the device is speaking, which doesn’t really work when in public, not because of the sound quality, but because you just look weird talking to no one, while staring blankly into space.

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So, what comes next? As I’ve argued, smartwatches will become big whether the product is significantly useful out of the gate or not.  As the line of products grows, just as it did with iPhones way back when, their usefulness and quality will increase dramatically.  The key to a successful wearable is that it’s both novel and useful. Most wearables that have failed to succeed lost their battles because they weren’t useful enough, such as (most notably) Google Glass, some Kickstarter gadgets, and early smartwatches. Many concepts simply didn’t have enough features and interaction with the outside world to make a dent in our daily lives.  So it’s pretty hard to predict exactly what type of wearable will find the most success this year, though CES featured a few “out of the box” products that start to hint at what types of products might come out of blue in 2015: for example, mind reading.

Mind Reading

Ok, ok, maybe not exactly mind reading, but products like Thync, a small device you wear on your head that changes your mood using electrical pulses, and Mellow Mind, another headpiece that measures your state of relaxation and with music teaches you to relax, hint at a new branch of technologies working to understand, read, and even manipulate your mind. However whimsical, the popular neural-controlled cat-eared Necomimi may show a direction that consumer and lifestyle products are headed. As much of human existence has been focused on interacting with the world through our fingers, direct interaction via the brain is quite exciting. Not just for consumers, to see what will be made from them to use and marvel over, but also for entrepreneurs, companies and scientists, as a world of possibilities opens up. We often see technologies interacting with brains in sci-fi, whether it’s operating your home, high-tech simulated worlds, or much more, it really is amazing that we are already staring to go in that direction with CES 2015.  As scientists and engineers become more adept in their understanding of direct interaction via neurons and electrical pulses, we will hopefully reach a stage where all this practical interaction with technology will be possible, and sci-fi will become real once again.

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