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The 25 Best New Apps Of 2017

From all-new upstarts to dramatically improved old favorites, these apps for phones, tablets, PCs, and the web offer something for everyone.

For all the talk of peak app, 2017 was a surprisingly inventive year for makers of apps and software, from the industry’s giants to intrepid startups. Many of this year’s best apps reflect broader trends in technology, including machine learning, augmented reality, cord cutting, and the rise of virtual assistants. Meanwhile, we’ve seen plenty of meaty improvements from apps that have been around for years. Here are the year’s best new apps, new software, and substantial updates.

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Productivity Boosters

Talk to Google. Voice search on Android phones got a major overhaul this year with Google Assistant, but iPhone users needn’t feel left out. The standalone Google Assistant app for iOS has the same conversational skills, smart home controls, and ability to bring up personal info such as flight details and package arrivals. It also integrates with other Google apps such as YouTube and Google Maps, so while it’ll never have the same deep hardware integration as Apple’s Siri assistant, it might still be faster than tapping around on a touch screen. [iOS, Android]

Yoink

Clipboard on steroids. In one of the most clever applications of iOS 11’s new drag-and-drop feature, Yoink provides a central location for links, text snippets, images, and anything else you might want to drag between apps. You can load the app in Split View, as a Slide Over window, or as a “keyboard” along the bottom of the screen, and you can even look up stored items with iOS 11’s Spotlight Search. It’s an invaluable tool for folks who’ve gone all-in on iPad multitasking. [iOS]

Like Files, only better. Although Apple now offers its own Files app for iPhone and iPad, it’s still upstaged by a third-party alternative. Documents 6 by Readdle goes several steps further than the Files app, with a built-in web browser for downloading files, a basic text editor, and the ability to sync cloud storage folders locally. It also supports drag-and-drop in iOS 11, and plays nicely with other Readdle apps such as PDF Converter. Apple has a lot of catching up to do for iOS 12. [iOS]

Firefox 57
Firefox 57

Firefox reborn. Although Firefox is more than 13 years old, Mozilla says version 57 is the most substantial upgrade to date, and it shows. The new Quantum browsing engine eliminates the slowdowns that were once a Firefox staple, and interface overhaul trades Firefox’s previously bubbly aesthetic for sharp edges and solid colors. The result is a more viable alternative to Google’s dominant Chrome browser, and a breath of fresh air in the desktop browser wars. [Windows, Mac, Linux]

Google-ize your keyboard. Google’s Gboard software keyboard expanded far beyond the realm of typing with a slew of updates this year. Android users can now send stickers and Bitmoji into any app that supports image pasting, and can get suggested GIFs and emoji to share while typing. (It even recognizes hand-drawn emoji, in case that’s easier than searching.) On the iOS side, users can share YouTube and Google Maps links directly from the keyboard, and can also send hand-drawn images. If your phone doesn’t ship with Gboard built in, now’s the time to give it a try. [iOS, Android]

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Cintiq without the Cintiq. Astro HQ’s most brilliant new idea for Astropad, which lets you use an iPad as a graphics tablet for a Mac, was to repurpose the iPad’s front-facing camera as a button that provided access to settings without cluttering the screen. Sadly, Apple nixed the concept. Even so, Astropad does something really useful for artists who might otherwise drop a tidy sum for one of Wacom’s Cintiq tablets. And its makers dramatically improved its performance this year. It’s particularly at home on a 12.9-inch iPad Pro with a Pencil. [Astropad]

News without the noise. The news app Nuzzel has been a useful aggregator of links from Facebook and Twitter since 2014, but those networks don’t always provide the most high-quality reads. That’s why Nuzzel added support for LinkedIn this year. The volume of content coming from LinkedIn tends to be lower, but the network’s professional vibe usually sets a higher bar for quality. Nuzzel added a dedicated section for videos to its apps this year as well. [iOS, Android]

Microsoft Launcher

A Microsoft makeover for Android. Microsoft has experimented with alternative Android home screens, or “launchers,” a couple of times in recent years, but Microsoft Launcher is its best and most polished effort. Swipe right from the main screen, and you’ll get quick access to favorite apps, contacts, recent text messages, third-party widgets, and other important info. You can also pin those informational cards anywhere else on the home screen, and get a steady stream of gorgeous wallpapers from the web. Just be sure to dive into Launcher’s settings if you’d rather use another search engine besides Bing. [Android]

Creative Tools

Add pizzazz to iPhone video. Apple’s own video editing app for iOS, Clips, turns out to be one of the best, allowing you to pan, zoom, add stickers, and translate speech to on-screen text. iPhone X users can also create “Selfie Scenes” that swap the background with a canned image in front-facing camera videos. Clips first launched in April, and received a major update in October, adding iCloud sync for edits, new stickers and soundtracks, and “artistic” filters that can make videos look like oil paintings or charcoal sketches. [iOS]

Change your face. Using neural networks, FaceApp can analyze portrait images and change faces from frowning to smiling, young to old, or even man to woman. The fact that it actually works has helped propel FaceApp to more than 45 million downloads since its launch in January, but not without a couple of embarrassing missteps. The makers of Faceapp apologized in April for a “beautifying” filter that made black people’s faces look whiter, and again in August for a short-lived set of “ethnicity filters.” FaceApp encapsulates both the power of AI and the fallibility of the humans programming it. [iOS, Android]

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Industrial-strength phone photography. For a long time, VSCO’s image filters have been a favorite tool among serious smartphone photographers, but this year they became available for video as well. The video editor lets you make fine-grained adjustments to color and lighting, and of course it offers a slew of preset filters. The only catch? Video editing is behind a $20 per year VSCO X paywall. [iOS, Android]

Every tool a cartoonist needs. Creating comics has always been an obvious application for the iPad Pro and Pencil. Weirdly, though, there hasn’t been a powerful app for that purpose until now. Clip Studio Paint EX is the first iPad version of the dominant comics-creation app, and although its creators have done little to rethink it for Apple’s tablet—its menus make it look like PC software—they’ve stuffed it with features, from sketching tools to word-balloon options to animation capabilities. After a free trial, Clip Studio is $9 a month, but it delivers a lot of bang for those nine bucks. [iOS]

Shopping Assistants

Assembly still required. As one of many apps that uses Apple’s ARKit framework, Ikea Place solves the age-old problem of figuring out what a piece of furniture would look like in your abode. Just pick an item from Ikea’s catalog, and the app will map it onto 3D space as you point your iPhone or iPad camera around. Although several other furniture apps also do this, Ikea gets credit for being among the first—and for willingly sparing customers from wandering the endless maze of its stores. [iOS]

Travel agent in your pocket. Most flight search apps follow the same, stale formula: Enter the destination, enter the date, then sift through the results to find the most tolerable option. Hitlist takes a different approach, asking you to pick a destination, and then telling you the best time to travel there. The app also brings weekend getaways and other deals to the surface in case the urge to get out of town strikes. Although Hitlist first launched in 2014, it finally launched on Android this year. [iOS, Android]

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Great Entertainers

A fresh take on TV. It isn’t the first streaming channel bundle to take on cable, but YouTube TV is the most polished of the bunch. The app for iOS and Android is a master class in balancing simplicity and complexity. Recordings, live channels, and suggestions appear up front, while sports teams, genres, channels, and other browsable menus hide behind the search button. Meanwhile, each individual content page provides a wellspring of supplemental details and related content. The $35 per month price tag—lower than other streaming bundles with a similar mix of channels—doesn’t hurt, either. [iOS, Android]

TV Guide for the net. One of several apps that helps you navigate across streaming video services, Reelgood, is the most comprehensive with support for more than 250 video sources. You can create watch lists, get notified when new episodes arrive, filter out services you don’t care about, and browse through a long list of suggestions on what to watch. Once you’ve found something, Reelgood will take you directly to the appropriate streaming app. [iOS]

Not so trivial. On some level, HQ Trivia is an ordinary multiple-choice trivia game, but it has a few standout features that have turned it into a phenomenon. There’s the lure of real money, shared between everyone who answers every question correctly, and the dad-like banter of host Scott Rogowsky, with whom people have become weirdly obsessed. Add in live chat among players and the game’s scheduled nature (3 p.m. and 9 p.m. Eastern weekdays, 9 p.m. weekends), and you have a recipe for over 100,000 players per session. Now all HQ has to do is figure out how to make money—and rein in any future CEO freakouts. [iOS]

Highlights for children. Once exclusive to Amazon’s Fire tablets, Amazon Freetime arrived on Android this year to spare your kids from inappropriate content. The app acts as a portal to age-appropriate videos and websites, largely from established brands like Disney and Nickelodeon. A Freetime Unlimited subscription ($3 per month for Amazon Prime members, $5 per month for non-Prime members) adds even more content, including apps, games, and books. As an electronic babysitter, it beats sending your kids into the wilds of YouTube. [Android]

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Storytelling 3.0. Director Steven Soderbergh indulges his experimental side with Mosaic, a murder mystery in which you choose how the narrative plays out. It’s not exactly a Choose Your Own Adventure—the outcomes stay the same no matter which branch you follow—but it does allow you to decide which plotlines to focus on. Alternatively, you can go the completionist route and watch every video, or wait for Mosaic to appear in miniseries form on HBO next year. [iOS]

Prime for your ears. If you’re an Amazon Prime subscriber, Amazon Music could be the best app you’re not using. It includes 2 million on-demand streaming tracks with no ads, plus the option to add millions more with a $10 per month Music Unlimited subscription. This year, Amazon added a built-in version of its Alexa assistant, letting you queue up music and control playback by voice. The Android version also gained support for Google Chromecast—a surprising addition given the two companies’ ongoing animus. [iOS, Android]

Social Standouts

Know your neighborhood. Whether it’s a genuine threat to Yelp or not, Facebook Local is a fine alternative for finding out what’s happening nearby. Beyond just restaurants and other local businesses, the app lets you browse through nearby events and of course invite your Facebook friends. Keep it in mind next time you’re figuring out what to do on the weekend. [iOS, Android]

Networking without negativity. Unlike other social media apps, TBH set out with the explicit goal of making you feel better. The teen-centric app asks users to poll themselves about one another, but only provides positive questions, such as who’s the most well-rounded, or who is “wild like Tarzan.” Social media could use more good vibes like this, but whether TBH has staying power is another matter: Its App Store rankings have tanked since Facebook acquired the app in October. [iOS]

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The Kitchen Sink

Blackmail yourself. Perhaps the most devious use of Fitbit to date, Lazy Jar asks you to put a “security deposit” on the line as you track weekly fitness goals over six months. Each time you fail, Lazy Jar takes some money out of the deposit, with 80% going to charity and 20% going to the developers. So whether you exercise or not, at least you can feel good about it. [iOS, Android]

Outsmart your insurer. If you’ve ever had to jump through hoops just to have health insurance pay what it’s supposed to, Better might sound too good to be true. Just take a photo of your bill, and Better will go to work on getting you paid back. The company says it’s ideal for out-of-network services including therapy, optometry, and dental care, and while we haven’t tried it ourselves, TechCrunch’s Sarah Buhr reported getting a $1,000 out-of-network bill slashed to a couple hundred dollars through the app. Better takes a 10% cut, which seems like a fair deal, considering how much time health care bureaucracy can chew up. [iOS]

Citizenship in your pocket. One of many apps to help channel outrage in the Trump era, 5 Calls presents a list of pressing political issues on which to call your representatives in Congress, along with direct contact numbers and a suggested script. (The app’s name comes from the idea that if you have five minutes to spare, you can make five phone calls.) So far, 5 Calls has logged nearly 2 million calls to Washington, and while it’s clearly a left-leaning app, TechCrunch notes that the open source code could be adapted by anyone along the political spectrum. [iOS]

About the author

Jared Newman covers apps and technology for Fast Company from his remote outpost in Cincinnati. He also writes for PCWorld and TechHive, and previously wrote for Time.com.

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