ReadWriteReflect offers a look back at major technology trends, products and companies of the past year.
Pretty much all young adults—and a majority of people living in the U.S.—have a smartphone these days, which means that apps are an increasingly important part of everyday life.
Apple’s 2009 ad slogan, “There’s an app for that,” is dated in only one respect: There’s no longer just one app for weather, or calorie counting, or instant messaging. There are dozens, which makes it harder than ever for new apps to stand out. That makes these apps that either debuted in 2014 or otherwise caught our attention all the more notable: The bar to success is higher than ever.
Available for iOS and Android
Do you like blocks? Boy howdy is this the game for you. This simple game takes place on a 4×4 grid. You start with two blocks. Your goal is to combine blocks, which appear as either a 2 or a 4, into similar blocks. Swipe a 2 into another 2, it becomes a 4. Swipe a 4 into another 4 and it becomes 8. Not hard. What is hard is that your goal is to end up with a block that says 2048 (hence the powers-of-two-inspired name of the game). Try doing that in a small grid as new blocks spawn in random places. It’s an ideal app for passing the time on the train or in a waiting room, since you can pick it up or put it down with ease. Prepare for crushing disappointment, though, when you’ve been playing for 15 minutes and a 2 block spawns in the wrong place and ruins your day.
Available for basically everything
While HBO’s online-streaming app debuted in 2010, it makes this year’s list not for its past, but for its future. After a test of HBO Go subscriptions in some Scandinavian countries, HBO announced in October that HBO Go would soon be available as a standalone app, freed of the bundle of cable channels required to view it.
In the meantime, if you’re an HBO subscriber through the old-fashioned cable-bill method, 2014 was a year when more and more avenues opened up to watching HBO Go, like Microsoft’s Xbox One console, and, for Comcast subscribers, the Roku streaming stick. HBO Go still doesn’t match Netflix in its ubiquity, but that should change as it becomes a solo offering—and cable companies like Charter and Comcast no longer have a say in where and how you stream it.
Storehouse & Steller
The Storehouse app on an iPad.
Available for iOS
Instagram, Snapchat, and Vine are all ways of telling stories with photos and videos—but you already knew that. This year, the storytelling tools to watch were Storehouse and Steller, which let users link text cards, photos, and videos together to tell stories, be it a travelogue or tips on how to host a party. They key attraction of both apps is that they’re easy to use and create polished-looking final products.
Available for iOS, $2.99
Art is really hard, at least for most people. So what if you could turn whatever photos you took into rad-looking watercolor paintings? Waterlogue, by Tinrocket, was released at the very end of 2013 and has consistently been one of the top-grossing and highest-ranking photo and video apps in the iOS App Store, according to App Annie.