The 10 Coolest Apps of 2014 (So Far)
There never seems to be a shortage of cool apps for smartphones and tablets. And we couldn't think of a better time to cover the year's best so far than just before summer break, when there's plenty of time to try some of them out. So here are the 10 coolest apps of 2014 so far.
We think 3-D printing is one of the coolest things to come along in a while. And a new app called MakerBot PrintShop places the power in the hands of anyone with an iPad. This free app comes with basic designs for creating bracelets, rings and simple text. And when the novelty of those items wear off, there's an option to select from the bizarre shapes offered in its "Thingiverse." Lacking the ability to customize output, Makerbot Printshop is not for the pro. Think of it as a Lego starter set for learning to use more sophisticated solutions. It also requires the $2,900 MakerBot Replicator 3-D Printer.
For being productive the old-fashioned way, nothing beats tapping the keys to document your thoughts. Google Keep for Android and for iOS offers a minimalist approach that's simple, useful and not overly bloated with features. It presents an interface akin to a bunch of colored Post-it notes, and each can include a picture with searchable notes, a to-do list or just some thoughts. Voice memos can be automatically transcribed and saved too. It links with Google Calendar and even with GPS sensors for setting location-based reminders. How cool is that?
An update in May brought us Fantastical 2 for iPhone, an iOS-savvy version of this terrific calendar and reminder app. For $9.99, the new version moves dated reminders and events into the main list and lets you add reminders from either the reminders list or from a new event screen with a toggle to switch back and forth. New events can be typed or spoken. A new parser understands spoken commands that begin with terms like "reminder," "to-do," "task," "on the third Thursday of every month" and "remind me tomorrow at two p.m." Events are presented in daily, weekly or monthly views. A new day ticker scrolls the day's events like the crawl of a newscast.
Borrowing its name from the programming phrase "if this then that," IFTTT for Android and for iOS ties internet events to your mobile device. The user first indicates which web sites, apps or other devices they'd like to monitor. These so-called "channels" are then tied to local tasks, alerts or reminders using what it calls "recipes." For example, one recipe might monitor espn.com and send an alert whenever a World Cup game concludes, showing the winning and losing teams and the final score. Another might watch your online calendar and send an alert whenever someone books time with you.
BeyondPod for Android is simply the best podcast player we've ever seen, and recent updates make it cooler than ever. This app is so loaded with features that it's impossible to scratch the surface here. One, some, just the latest or all podcasts can be scheduled to download at a specific time each day. There's even an option to automatically toggle Wi-Fi. Episodes can be locked or starred, and publishers can include a description of each program for easy reference.
Lift your spirits and your confidence that device data's safe with Helium App Sync and Backup for Android, a free app that backs up application data and installation packages to a desktop computer without needing access to the root file system. Helium, formerly known as Carbon, uses the application backup transport mechanism added with Ice Cream Sandwich and together, with a Tether app, sends data for all or selected apps over USB to any computer running Linux, Mac OS or Windows.
Track and forecast spending as easily as adding events to a calendar with Dollarbird for Android and for iOS. This free app reports where money is spent, helps you plan for how to spend in the future and provides reminders for monthly expenses. It also automatically calculates remaining balances on accounts and handles recurring transactions.
Managing multiple social networks can be a real time drain, unless you have Cloze for iOS and in preview stage for Android. This free app combines feeds from all the major social networks, including Facebook, LinkedIn and Twitter along with even Gmail, Outlook and iCloud clients, funneling all messages into a single inbox. Filters permit you to hide less important messages or sources and highlight the important ones. Bookmarks allow some messages to be tagged for later reference. It even has tools for tracking mentions, retweeting and single-swipe triage for sharing and discussion with teams.
For Gmail or iCloud users in search of a better client, there's Mailbox for Android and for iOS. Developed by Dropbox, Mailbox is a faster, lighter alternative to default clients that deploys archive and delete functions in the form of a swipe. A snooze function allows some messages to be temporarily hidden. For example, you can put off personal emails until after business hours. A mute feature lets you opt-out of a thread you no longer care about. Built-in intelligence learns your swiping and snoozing patterns and helps automate some functions. A recent update adds a swipe-and-hold function for manually creating an auto-swipe rule. Clients for other email systems are in development.
If iPhone messaging is as vital to your life as a heartbeat, then Notifyr for iPhone is for you. This free app, for iPhone 4S or later (and compatible only with certain Macs), pairs over Bluetooth and sends notifications that come to your iPhone or your Mac. On Mavericks, notifications can be muted for selected apps. For Android users, the same functionality is available with an app called Pushbullet and an extension for Chrome, for Firefox or for Windows.