So, you just unboxed a brand new smartphone. Merry Christmas, lucky! Whether you’re a first-time smartphone owner (say goodbye to your attention span) or a migrant to a new platform, a freshly opened phone is an exciting new frontier. With millions of apps available, this little gadget will undoubtedly become an indispensable part of your day-to-day life. But where to start?
The first apps anyone crams onto a new phone are pretty obvious: what are the services, social networks and games you already use? Most people go straight for Facebook (and its various offshoots, like Instagram and WhatsApp), YouTube, Snapchat, Netflix, Pandora, and the like. But there are millions of developers around the world toiling away on inventive and useful mobile apps that aren’t necessarily household names. Often, they creep up the top charts in the app stores, but not always.
Here’s a field guide to some of the less obvious, but still must-download apps for your shiny and deeply addictive new device.
Facebook. Twitter. Instagram. Snapchat. Of course you’re going to scurry through the app store and and nab the most popular social networking apps first. But once you’ve done that, go ahead and download Periscope. It may not be as much of as household name as Twitter, its parent company, but the live broadcasting video app is already having an impact. Periscope is used by over 10 million people to view live broadcasts of breaking news events or the microwaving of macaroni and cheese. Launched by Twitter in March 2015, Periscope has raised concerns about piracy and sparked debates about the ethics of live-streaming as tragedy unfolds. Most of the videos are much more mundane than that. But there’s something fascinating about getting a little real-time window into somebody else’s world, and then having that window shut after 24 hours (that’s when Periscope videos disappear). Even if you’re not ready to live-stream your Christmas dinner to the world, go ahead and download Periscope to see what kind of random, weird, potentially riveting stuff is happening around the world right now. Download Periscope here.
It may have taken over a decade, but podcasts are officially all the rage. Thanks to the rise of Serial and other hits, the once-geeky mass medium is something you can chat about with the whole family during the holidays. But first, you need to spend the afternoon binge listening. There are a bunch of podcasting apps out there, including ones that come pre-installed on many devices. Stitcher has been around for a few years now, but it’s still hard to beat. Its design encourages discovery and listening without the user getting lost in choices (or distracted from driving, for that matter). Playlists, offline listening, and a priceless “listen later” button make collecting and hearing your favorite podcasts easier than most other apps allow. Download Stitcher here.
(Overcast is another widely recommended podcasting app, although unlike Stitcher, it’s only available for iOS)
Here’s a sentence I didn’t envision saying when I bought my first smartphone in 2008: Man, the app this newspaper company built is really awesome. But alas, here I am—and I mean it. There are countless apps that let you read the news and other articles on your phone (I still jump between Flipboard, Feedly, Longform, and Instapaper on the regular), but NYT Now is special. It takes the venerable brand and journalism of the nation’s “paper of record” and puts it in a well-designed, smartly curated, and easily digestible app that feels like it came from a stealthy startup. NYT Now is respectful of your time, offering bullet point summaries and reading time estimates beneath headlines. At the same time, it offers opportunities to delve into longform articles and read select pieces from other publishers, curated by the app’s editorial team. Somehow, NYT Now scratches both the itch to skim the news on the subway and dive deep on the sofa. Download NYT Now here.
Despite being introduced nearly 30 years ago, the GIF (particularly the animated variety) is just now becoming a mainstay of modern communication. GIFs fill Tumblr, illustrate major news events on Twitter, and enhance our one-on-one communication via chat or IM. The team at Giphy is obviously well aware of just how indispensable these little animations have become in online life. That’s why the newest version of their Giphy Cam app makes it even easier to create, edit, and share GIFs. The app lets you select from a range of effects filters and superimposed graphics and text. Unlike the previous version of Giphy Cam, this one lets you grab images and videos from your phone’s camera roll, so you can make GIFs out of just about anything. More than just a holiday time waster, Giphy Cam will help you delight and entertain your friends and loved ones. Download Giphy Cam
One of the best apps to land on iOS this year is Workflow, a tool for automating tasks between the various apps on your phone. If you’re familiar with IFTTT (whose app, unlike Workflow, is available for Android too), you get the idea: You can define a series of actions in a simple, drag-and-drop interface and enable different services to talk to each other and unlock new possibilities.
Popular workflows include the ability to automatically pull up Google Maps directions for the next event on your calendar, tweet the song you’re listening to (or instantly find the lyrics online), or turn Live Photos and videos into GIFs. Workflow doesn’t have quite as many options as IFTTT (or “recipes” as that service calls them), but its interface is foolproof and its tight integration with iOS is a big plus. Download Workflow here.
The weather on the East Coast has been freakishly warm and rainy this holiday season. In fact, another drizzle is about to start in a few minutes. How do I know? I found out the same way I find out about missed calls, Slack mentions, Tinder matches, and horrifying current events: I got a push notification. Thanks to Dark Sky, the innovative weather app, I can get real-time notifications about changes in the conditions outside. Dark Sky takes the standard day-by-day (and hour-by-hour) weather forecasts up a notch with sleek, minimal elegance, subtle animations, and maps showing precipitation and temperatures shift around the globe.
But what makes Dark Sky the best weather app I’ve ever used is its timeliness. In addition to what the day (and subsequent days) are going to look like outside, Dark Sky spells out for users what is going to happen in the next several minutes. Download Dark Sky here.
Your new smartphone can have the most advanced camera specs out there, but that doesn’t mean your photos will all magically turn out looking frame-worthy. Even the best shots could benefit from a quick tune-up before you Instagram them. Afterlight is one of countless photo-editing apps available for Android and iOS, but having taken many of them for a spin, I find I keep returning to this one (VSCO Cam is a close second). Afterlight offers all of the standard photo-editing options (adjusting clarity, saturation, contrast, brightness, shadows and the like), but packs them into a pleasant, intuitive interface and layers on Instagram-style filters and retro effects that recall the light leaks and artsy discoloration of film photography. You can also crop, add borders, and layer on other images to mimic multiple exposure photos. Download Afterlight here.
P.S. — Don’t forget to download Fast Company‘s app, too!