In the early days of TechCrunch, Mike Arrington used to share a list of his favorite products â" those he couldnât live without â" which he had used over the course of the year. Want to flashback? Check out 2007. 2008.Â 2009. 2010. But given that one of the biggest themes in 2012 was mobile, I thought it would be nice to take a moment here at the end of the year to talk about some of my favorite apps of the year, as well as how I use them.
This isÂ notÂ a definitive list of âeveryoneâsâ must-haves. The apps we use and adopt and love are very personal. That being said, while my phone is bogged down with hundreds of apps Iâve used, tested, and keep track of, there are only a handful that are in what I would refer to as in âextremely regular rotation.â
Letâs compare notes, shall we?
The Google Suite: My Overall Most-Used Apps
First, we need to get the obvious out of the way: Google. I happen to use an iPhone, but even while I was on Android, it goes without saying that Googleâs suite of apps are among the most-used on any device I own. This year, Google updated its Gmail application, and itâs finally a fairly solid product. That being said, I still often find myself returning to Appleâs default Mail.app, because itâs native and Iâve grown comfortable with the experience over the years. Itâs almost like a bad habit that I have to break, and so far, Iâm failing to fully make the switch (even with new apps like Mailbox on the horizon). But having Gmailâs notifications via the iOS app is incredibly useful, and Iâd install it just for that.
Google Maps is another no-brainer, of course. Googleâs Maps are the best in the business, and I love the care that has gone into the new Maps app, especially the use of gestures. But I have to admit that in the time between the launch of iOS 6 and the arrival of Google Maps in the App Store, Wazeâs excellent maps app inched its way back to my homescreen, where I was reminded of its active, engaged community of drivers looking out for traffic jams, accidents and speed traps. The Apple Maps debacle gave me a chance to re-engage with Waze, but I donât know how long that will last in 2013, now that Google has returned.
Other Google musts for me are pretty obvious, and I donât think we need to spend a lot of time discussing why: Search, YouTube, Reader, Voice, Local, Latitude (yes, I use it, but only with family as a free family locator service), Drive and Chrome. Google+âs iOS app is well-built, but I still do most of my socializing on Facebook, which isâ¦
The Runner-Up For Most-Used App Suite?
Facebook, of course, including Facebook Camera and Messenger. Also, Instagram, if youâre counting it. Iâm not sure what will come of Facebookâs newest app Poke.
Letâs move on to something more interesting.
I use it daily to track down contact info and emails, for the most part. When you have a bogged-down inbox, itâs actually easier to query for the email you need like this, rather than scroll through a message list. Thatâs not all the app does, but itâs one of my top use cases for it, which is why itâs one of the few apps from a startup thatâs actually on my homescreen.
Despite the companyâs recent bungled attempts at updating its Terms of Service (Weâll sell your photos! Just kidding!), I still enjoy using this app â" but for me itâs not only about sharing my photos â" which arenât really that interesting â" itâs about browsing through those shared by others, and seeing slices of other cities and other lives. Itâs a transporting experience.
There are those out there who are falling out of love with the service, but itâs hard for me to abandon something which is a touchstone of todayâs Internet culture. Weâre just now starting to see the shift in photo-sharing that comes from an audience of newly-turned adults who grew up smartphone in hand. This space isnât dead. Itâs not boring, either, with apps like Cinemagram and SnapchatÂ proving that tech reporters and bloggersÂ may not always be clued into trends, but that doesnât mean photo-sharing innovation is over. (In fact, it might just mean youâre getting old.)
Which leads me to another photo-sharing favorite in 2012â¦
Iâve been sufficiently intrigued enough byÂ this appÂ to go around installing it on family membersâ phones and evangelizing it to others. The app, which lets users share photos in private groups, automatically organized by time and location, is not perfect â" thereâs still too much manual labor involved in sharing. But itâs the closest one to really nail the overall experience, in terms of design, user interface, flow, and feature set. (Well, at least on iOS â" Iâm less impressed with the Android version.)
The app actually keeps things fairly simple and straightforward, which is why Iâve even managed to get my in-laws on it. (Yes, grandparents!). But it needs a âtrusted friendsâ feature which would allow the option ofÂ realÂ automatic photo-sharingÂ with select friends. That way I wouldnât have to continue to tap people on the shoulder and remind them to please share their photos. Because really, if I have to do that, I may as well ask for photos via email or text.
Sharing & Discovery: Tumblr
Tumblrâs iOS app has also been improved over the course 2012, and its updated layout and user interface has made the app a great tool for mobile blogging, but also exploring online communities, tags, photos (gifs!), and other surprising, funny, and shareable content. Iâm not bored a lot, but when I am, Tumblr is often a better place to waste time than Facebook is because itâs not about your friends, who can be really annoying, itâs about interesting things.
Twitter tries to claim the interest graph, but Twitter these days is more about tracking the news for me (I follow news sources and techie folks, not celebs and bffs, so that doesnât help). That being said, Twitterâs experience lends itself to âthis just happened,â not the more personal sharing and creativity found on Tumblr. Twitter can claim my interest graph all it likes, but it falls short.
In all fairness, Iâm sure I actually launch Twitter on mobile more than I launch Tumblr, but if you added up the time spent in each app afterwards, I think Tumblr had the edge. I might not visit daily, but each trip is fairly long.
I know Pinterest made a strong showing this year, but in terms of mobile, its app doesnât do it for me. I prefer Pinterestâs online experience â" big, browseable, clickable imagery. On mobile, it tries to reproduce that pinboard feel with two columns, but this makes images hard to see. For shared infographics, comics, and quotes, itâs nearly impossible to read them without tapping through. I donât like the disappearing navigation, either, or the fact that it puts a camera button front-and-center. Look around Pinterest and youâll see that people arenât sharing their personal photos there â" theyâre re-sharing from the web. The camera option just doesnât make sense as being the key feature for Pinterest mobile.
Music: Um, All Of Them?
This category is tough for me. A lot of people would say Spotify is the hands down winner of the year. In terms of sheer user numbers, itâs there already, I suppose, when compared with its closest competition. But Iâve switched from music app to music app throughout the year, including MOG, Spotify, Rdio, Pandora, SoundCloud, and others. I donât feel a particular affinity for any of them, if Iâm being honest. Spotify has successfully leveraged social, which put it ahead. When youâre young and/or super-interested in the newest, hottest bands, the social angle matters, which is why Spotify getting it right on Facebook means it can win.
But like I said, this is a personal list. I donât do the Open Graph on Spotify â" our family shares a music account (as we do on iTunesâ¦shhh). Maybe thatâs naughty, but it also means that the husbandâs classic rock and dubstep preferences (ugh, I know, right?) as well as the toddlerâs Sesame Street jams would be attributed to me. On Facebook. Where I have an image to maintain. The horror! That being said, I want to take more advantage of Spotifyâs social features in terms of music discovery, which means I need to make a decision this year: continue to bounce around services, or go all in on one? (See also: my 2013 New Yearâs Resolutions).
I have to add one more thing here: I think 2013 might have a surprise in store, too. Do you know where the kids are stillÂ sharing their music these days? Dropbox. I think itâs going to be very interesting to watch what Dropbox is up to this year, considering its acquisitions of other music and photo-sharing startups in 2012. Also, donât count out AppleÂ - it might show up late, but it could easily win streaming users back if it doesnât screw up like it did with Ping.
Shopping: Amazon (Obviously!), But Also Poshmark & ThredUP
The truth is, I really do love what Fabâs doing on mobile, but buying from Fab is more of a luxury for me, which means Fab is not a most-used app, itâs just a favorite. Today, the majority of my online shopping is the day-to-day stuff, and there, Amazon is still the one to beat. Huge inventory, fast shipping, one-click impuse buys, wish lists, Kindle books, andÂ you can even auto-schedule purchases of regularly used items. Like tampons. Seriously. This is handy. But Amazon is a no-brainer choice, soâ¦
For me, 2012 has been the year of really starting to use online consignment. There are a few companies operating in this space, but Poshmark and ThredUP were those I used the most, the former for shopping in the closetsâ of others, and the latter for both selling and buying kidsâ clothes. ThredUP will be moving into other verticals (teens, adults, etc.) in the months ahead, so itâs possible that it could one day become even a more go-to service for me. (If it makes it.)
News: Alien Blue (A Reddit App)
Anyway, Reddit in 2012Â really proved itself as a good filter for real-time news, especially when the news outlets, in a rush to be first, get things wrong. One of the more remarkable things, though, about reading news on Reddit is the community. No matter the topic, someone there eventually chimes in with their personal experience â" I know that guy, thatâs my hometown, I saw this too. Itâs the citizen journalism that the news orgs wish was happening on their own websites. Reddit played a major role in the election cycle as well, as even President Obama (or rather, his social team) acknowledged by hosting a Q&A on the site.
There are a few Reddit apps out there on iTunes, but I prefer Alien Blue, which I happily upgraded to Pro.
I know, another obvious choice, but itâs accurate. NetflixÂ made some big mistakes in 2011, in attempting to split its DVD business and its streaming business, but that didnât impact our usage patterns at home. We didnât get angry and cancel our service, though some others did. Nothing changed for us between the Qwikster PR disaster of 2011 and the recovery periodÂ in 2012.
Netflix is still used nearly daily here, if you count the kidâs usage in our familyâs totals, which you may as well. The streaming library still isnât on par with the DVD selection, which is one of the reasons why it was premature to try to separate the two businesses. But Netflixâs move into original content is promising â" one day, hopefully, you wonât need to have access to the DVD library in order to have something of quality to watch in your downtime. Is the quality there today? No, far from it. Netflixâs original series Lilyhammer wasÂ OK, but not HBO-level great. But itâs only a matter of time before the content selection improves. Arrested Development, the world awaits. I plan to watch.
Work: Skype, Evernote And Dropbox
Skype, now Microsoft-owned, is a utility. I couldnât give upÂ Skype any more than I could not have a cell phone or an Internet connection. But again, this is another obvious choice.
The more interesting selection in this work-related category is Dropbox. And itâs not even that I personally turn to Dropbox for my own work, so much that Dropbox is thrust upon me. Since Iâm more often theÂ recipientÂ of files than I am their creator, itâs interesting to see the transition from .zip files and email attachments to Dropbox at the companies I communicate with. Towards the beginning of the year, it was business as usual â" emails with files attached. But by the end of 2012, it seemed like every other email included a Dropbox link pointing instead to an online collection of files. (Anecdotal evidence of Dropboxâs growing influence? Sure, but this whole list isÂ anecdotal, folks.)
Meanwhile, Evernote remains my preferred note-taking and clipping solution over Office/iWork/Notepad/OneNote, etc. Since Iâm usually online, I just use the web app. I donât think Iâve launched the desktop version but a handful of times, if Iâm being honest.
Because I use all three of the services so much for work purposes on the web, they have, by extension, become must-have downloads on mobile, too. Thatâs interesting when you stop and think about it â" in these cases, itâs not about being mobile-first or mobile-only â" itâs about wrapping in mobile as an important part of an overall, cross-platform strategy.
Iâm skipping games here, as well as the travel category, the latter of which doesnât include most-used apps, but rather apps that are heavily used in spurts, then abandoned until the next trip. The one exception to that may be TripIt, since itâs also the app people use when sharing their travel plans with me.
There are plenty of other apps that should be on a year-end list, and are likely on many othersâ lists. I canât say that these were my most-used apps, but these are either: a) too important to skip b) borderline most-used or c) saw increased usage in 2012.
LinkedIn, Uber, Airbnb, Flipboard, Sincerely (app suite), flickr, Tango, HBOGO, SoundCloud, Square, PayPal, Fab, OpenTable, Yelp, Quora, BuzzFeed, Cobook, Cinemagram, SnapChat, Pic Stich, Twitter (which was sort of mentioned above), Kindle, Starbucks, Shazam, Groupon, LivingSocial, Camera+, iMovie, Amazon Instant, Pandora, NYT, WSJ, Paper, Hulu, Plus, Flixster, Fantastical, WhatsApp, Flashlight, Summly, Craigslist, Pocket, The Weather Channel
What Does This Tell Me?
Maybe my most-used list is a little boring? A number of the companies I use the most on mobile are those Iâve used the most on the web for many years. Shouldnât mobile open up the door to a whole new breed of innovators to come in with their mobile-first experiences? Yes, it should. But becoming an Instagram-level hit on mobile is clearly easier said than done. (See also:Â Path, Foursquare.)
Now, I could have gone out of my way to find an early stage startup to feature in each category, but Iâm trying to be honest here. Many of the apps I use the most arenât the unknowns, but rather the big-name web brands that have managed to become a part of my daily life. Thatâs why todayâs top headlines are all about the big coâs â" the news is simply mirroring real-world adoption trends.
Still, looking back at the list, Iâm a little disappointed that there werenât more surprises in there. I hope that changes in 2013.