The stats around mobile apps remain startling. There are now more than 1m apps apiece in both Apple’s App Store and Android’s Google Play, with tech research firm Gartner estimating that 2013 saw 102bn app downloads across the various stores. It’s big business too: the company reckoned that developers would make £15.8bn from their apps this year.
2013 was also a year of strong growth for Android, with Google-powered smartphones flying off the shelves, and tablets starting to challenge Apple’s iPad too. That was reflected in the larger number of apps available for both iOS and Android, with Microsoft’s Windows Phone snagging more of the most popular apps for its own store too – albeit often those that had been out for a year or more on rival platforms.
The biggest app trend of 2013 was the domination of “free-to-play” games: those that are free to download and play, but which make their money from in-app purchases of virtual items or currency. The biggest of the lot was Candy Crush Saga, although its 2012 launch means it’s not included in this roundup. It helped to make mobile gaming more mainstream than it has ever been, as a glance at the touchscreens on any commuter train or bus showed this year.
Parents were spoilt for choice when it came to engaging apps for their kids, although free-to-play games proved more controversial in this market, with several high-profile cases of children blowing their parents’ iTunes budgets on virtual items, and an investigation by the Office of Fair Trading warning dodgy developers to mend their ways. On the plus side, crafting game Minecraft – which is huge among kids – was one of the biggest-selling apps of the year without an in-app purchase in sight.
Also big in 2013: fitness-tracking apps, as part of a trend known as “quantification of the self”. Tracking your steps, calories, workouts and even your sleeping patterns became increasingly common, with a flurry of existing apps tied to external monitors, and some new ones (like Moves in this roundup) which simply used your smartphone’s sensors.
What lies ahead in 2014? Apps will spread on to new kinds of devices, from smart watches to cars. Tablets will be popping up in schools with increasing regularity; 4G mobile networks may spur a new boom in streaming music and video to smartphones and tablets; and the apps world will wait to see what the next big Candy Crush-sized mainstream success is.
Lifestyle and entertainment
GLOW iPhone, free Using what the developers describe as a combination of “magic and science”, this fertility prediction app is for couples who are trying to conceive. It includes charts, health-tracking features and, crucially, daily reminders of when you should hit the sack.
MOVES iPhone/ Android, £1.99 Activity-tracking apps were big in 2013, but often they needed a pedometer-like gadget. Not Moves: this app uses your smartphone’s sensors to track your walking, running and cycling, while also showing you where you went during your day.
HELPOUTS Android, prices vary This app comes from Google: a way to connect to experts in a host of categories for one-to-one help on… well, whatever you want. From computers to cooking, fashion to fitness, the twist is that you talk to the experts via live video chat.
BBC SPORT iPhone/ Android, free The BBC split its sports coverage off into a standalone app this year, drawing on its online, TV and radio coverage. The app offers news stories, stats and tables for a range of sports as well as the ability to watch and listen to events live.
EXPLORE SHAKESPEARE iPad, free This iPad app came from Cambridge University Press: comprehensive versions of Shakespeare’s most famous plays including the text, performance photos, audio versions and interactive features to understand them. Individual plays cost £4.99 via in-app purchase.
THE ELEMENTS IN ACTION iPhone/ iPad, £2.49 The original The Elements was a huge hit on iPad. In 2013, it got a quirky but brilliant follow-up: 79 videos for elements in the periodic table, showing the (often explosive) results when they’re used in real-world experiments. It’s got all the right chemistry.
BOB DYLAN: THE BOOTLEG SERIES iPhone/ iPad, free Bob Dylan’s latest album is a collection of rare bootleg tracks from his past, and it was accompanied by this accomplished app. Timelines, biographies of musicians, photo galleries and video interviews give the stories behind the songs.
DISNEY ANIMATED iPad, £6.99 If you’ve ever loved a Disney movie and own an iPad, this is an essential purchase, exploring the history of the animations with artwork, a timeline of every movie and even the chance to animate a character yourself from Wreck-It Ralph.
IPLAYER RADIO iPhone/ Android, free This year, the BBC created a standalone app for listening live to its radio stations, which also streams on-demand shows and podcasts and helps you add songs to playlists in other services including Spotify and YouTube.
BEETHOVEN’S 9TH SYMPHONY iPhone/ iPad, free A real treat for classical music fans, whatever their level of knowledge. This app offers four famous recordings of Beethoven’s Ninth and lets you switch between them while viewing the score, and hear experts talking about the work and its composer.
BLOOM.FM iPhone/ Android, free One of the most stylish streaming music apps available on smartphones, Bloom.fm streams you radio-style stations based on genres and artists. If you want to store tracks on your phone, you can pay £1, £5 or £10 a month for 20, 200 or as many as you like.
GOOGLE PLAY MUSIC iPhone/ Android, free/£9.99 Google’s music service has many hats. It’ll stream you “custom” radio stations based on songs, artists and albums, as well as your own music collection if you’ve stored it on Google’s servers. And if you pay £9.99 a month, it’s a full, unlimited Spotify rival.
SOUNDWAVE MUSIC DISCOVERY iPhone/ Android, free This app is perfect if you want to discover new music, rather than just listen to the music you know. It tracks the songs you play on streaming services Spotify or Rdio and shows you what your friends are playing – all in a slick, mobile-friendly interface.
TRAKTOR DJ iPhone/ iPad, £2.99/ £13.99 There are quite a few DJing apps for smartphones and tablets, and most ape the turntables used by real-world DJs. This is different: it turns songs into waveforms to be mixed, scratched and warped at home or at a house party…
XBOX ONE SMARTGLASS iPhone/ iPad/ Android/ Windows Phone, free You’ll need an Xbox One games console to use this app, but it’s an essential companion if you do. You can use it to control the or browse the web on TV – and a growing number of games will use it as a second screen too.
TWITTER #MUSIC iPhone, free Twitter’s music discovery app hasn’t been hugely popular, but it’s still a very good way for music fans to keep tabs on up-and-coming artists and songs, filtered through what people are tweeting about most.
ANGRY BIRDS STAR WARS II iPhone/ iPad/ Android/ Windows Phone, up to 79p You can tell from both the Angry Birds Star Wars games that the developers at Rovio have a genuine love for the Star Wars films. This is another round of slinging birds at (evil Empire) pigs, with famous characters aplenty – and even some tie-in toys.
CALL OF DUTY STRIKE TEAM iPhone/ iPad/ Android, up to £4.99 Call of Duty games are big business on consoles, but this year saw a brand new title just for smartphones and tablets. It’s part first-person shooter and part tactical strategy game, as you switch between shooting and controlling your squaddies.
CLASH OF CLANS iPhone / iPad / Android, free Clash of Clans was one of the most popular mobile games in the world in 2013: a characterful strategy game that saw you methodically building up a town and training an entire army to wreak havoc on other players.
CLUMSY NINJA iPhone/ iPad, free Another huge success on the App Store, this is a virtual pet game, except with a wonderfully animated ninja instead of a dog or cat. Your job is to train him up to be less clumsy, including tossing him through basketball hoops like a rag doll.
CUT THE ROPE: TIME TRAVEL iPhone/ iPad/ Android, up to £1.99 A proper sequel to the puzzle game Cut the Rope was due right at the end of 2013, but this intermediate game helped fans while away the year. It sees cute monster Om Nom snipping more ropes in order to feed candy to relatives from down the years, to brain-testing effect.
DESPICABLE ME: MINION RUSH iPhone/ iPad/ Android/ Windows Phone, free 150 million people downloaded the official mobile game for the Despicable Me 2 film in 2013, with its appeal stretching way beyond children. It’s a colourful affair featuring the characters and scenery from the film, with similarly riotous humour.
DOTS: A GAME ABOUT CONNECTING iPhone/ iPad/ Android, free Few mobile games consumed more person-hours than Dots in 2013. An ostensibly simple puzzle game – trace lines and boxes of dots of the same colour on a grid – turned out to have ferociously addictive properties.
FLICK KICK FOOTBALL LEGENDS iPhone / iPad / Android, free This sequel to Flick Kick Football added more depth, putting you in charge of a marvellously retro football team, passing, tackling and shooting your way to success. A system of Panini-style cards to upgrade your squad added to the fun.
FOOTBALL MANAGER HANDHELD 2014 iPhone / iPad / Android More football, but this time you’re the manager, in the annual update to the mobile version of popular PC sim Football Manager. New features this year included a revamped design, more detailed media interaction and the option to create your own club.
FROZEN SYNAPSE iPad/ Android, £1.99/ £2.00 Tablet-owning gamers looking for a strategy game to really get their teeth into won’t have been disappointed by Frozen Synapse. Ditching historical military themes for a Tron-style futuristic look, its 55 solo missions and multiplayer mode had lots of depth.
INFINITY BLADE III iPhone/ iPad, £4.99 The Infinity Blade games have always been a showcase for Apple, and this third incarnation was no different, with graphics tuned to the latest iPhones and iPads. The gameplay was familiarly epic: big monsters, big loot and simple swipe controls.
NIMBLE QUEST iPhone/ iPad/ Android, free Something for nostalgic gamers here: a colourful new take on classic mobile title Snake, except with RPG-style heroes rather than wiggly wildlife. Your “conga line” winds its way round a series of levels attacking monsters, levelling up as they go. Quirkily good fun.
REAL RACING 3 iPhone/ iPad/ Android, free Driving game Real Racing 3 was controversial for its adoption of in-app purchases, but the game itself is very impressive. It looks like a console game, packed with real-world vehicles and tracks to zip around. Regular updates kept players occupied too.
RYMDKAPSEL iPhone / iPad / Android, up to £3.29 Another strategy game with lashings of neon, Rymdkapsel was quietly great. Your job is to build a space base for your minions to scoot around collecting resources and fending off alien attacks. It’s hypnotic, challenging and a gaming treat.
STAR WARS: TINY DEATH STAR iPhone / iPad / Android / Windows Phone, free Star Wars had a good year for mobile games. This second was based on mobile hit Tiny Tower, with the twist that you’re now building a Ttiny Death Star, complete with businesses, accommodation and plenty of familiar characters moving in.
YEAR WALK iPhone/ iPad, £2.49 The most bewitching mobile game of 2013 was Year Walk, a supernatural adventure based on Swedish mythology and full of strange creatures, brain-bending puzzles and beautiful production values. It has a companion app to explain all the myths.
BBM iPhone/ Android, free Smartphone maker BlackBerry had a bad year for selling handsets, but its messaging app BBM had a better one, launching for iPhone and Android and attracting 20 million users in its first week. It faces stiff competition from WhatsApp and Facebook Messenger but remains quick and slick.
TINDER iPhone/ Android, free Mobile dating app Tinder came from nowhere in 2013 to become a UK craze – and not just for single people. The app’s focus on quickly swiping to accept or reject potential matches nearby became a spectator sport, with friends eager to chip in with their views.
LIFT iPhone/ Android, free Lift sounds a bit new-agey with its promises of “daily motivation”, but if you’re trying to achieve a goal – from taking more exercise to eating less chocolate – it’s a very useful smartphone tool to track your progress and keep you on the right track.
IFTTT iPhone, free IFTTT is hard to explain, but really useful once you’ve grasped it. It connects different websites and apps – for example automatically saving your Instagram photos to your Dropbox, or emailing you when a favourite eBay seller has a new item.
BBC CBEEBIES PLAYTIME iPhone/ iPad/ Android/ Windows Phone, free The preschool audience for CBeebies are taking to tablets in their thousands, and they won’t be disappointed with the channel’s first app: fun mini-games for Octonauts, Tree Fu Tom, Something Special and other shows.
THE SNOWMAN AND THE SNOWDOG GAME iPhone/ iPad/ Android, free Another app from a broadcaster, this time Channel 4, which has turned The Snowman and the Snowdog into a Temple Run-style endless runner game. Kids fly and collect snowflakes. It does have optional in-app purchases, but with an upper cap of £20.
JUSTIN’S WORLD: GOLDILOCKS AND THE THREE BEARS iPhone/ iPad, £1.99 Justin Fletcher is one of CBeebies’s biggest stars, and this is his own app: a retelling of the Goldilocks fairytale with Justin dressing up as the main characters. Plenty of silliness, but also a serious focus on reading and accessibility for kids.
LITTLE RED RIDING HOOD BY NOSY CROW iPhone/ iPad, £3.99 Another fairytale, beautifully realised by British publisher Nosy Crow, which has done similar tricks for Cinderella and The Three Little Pigs. The twist here is that children decide what items the heroine picks up en route to grandma’s to help her defeat the wolf.
MR SHINGU’S PAPER ZOO iPhone / iPad / Android, £1.99 Origami and children’s gaming, together at last! This gets kids to fold together a menagerie of colourful animals, then keep them fed and entertained. Virtual coins are used to buy treats, but they’re earned entirely by playing, not by in-app purchases.
TOCA MINI iPhone / iPad, £1.99 Swedish developer Toca Boca hasn’t yet made a bad app, and Toca Mini is one of its most creative yet. Children make a mini-figure: eyes, nose, mouth and clothing, with scope to make anything from superheroes and monsters to real celebrities.
NIGHT ZOOKEEPER TELEPORTING TORCH iPad, £1.99 This creative kids’ app delivers daily drawing activities in the form of missions, asking children to draw specific magical animals or scenes. Parents can take part too, sending their children on missions and checking on their progress.
TOCA BUILDERS iPhone and iPad/ Android, 99p/ £1.99 Another creative Toca Boca app, this time inspired by the popular building game Minecraft. Six robots construct, destroy or paint solid blocks, which can be built into anything the child fancies.
MAILBOX iPhone/ iPad, free For anyone with an overcrowded email inbox in 2013 (ie most people with an email inbox) Mailbox was a gem: an app that helped you swipe through your backlog with merry abandon, even delaying non-urgent emails until a later time or date.
EMBER iPhone/ iPad, free Subtitled “Capture, Organise and Share”, this is a simple but very elegant app for pulling together images around specific topics from a variety of sources, including your iOS device’s camera. It’s like your own personal version of Pinterest.
CAL iPhone/ Android, free Both Apple and Google have their own calendar apps for their smartphones, but Cal made a good pitch this year for replacing both. Pitched as a “smart” calendar, it’s easy to create appointments and events, and ties in neatly with the developer’s separate Any.do to-do lists app.
DUCKDUCKGO SEARCH & STORIES iPhone/ Android, free In a year of big stories about online surveillance, anonymous search engine DuckDuckGo emerged as a private alternative to Google. Its smartphone app took the idea mobile, with an additional focus on news stories with “no depressing news or graphic content”.
QUIP iPhone/ iPad/ Android, free Launched by Facebook’s former tech boss, Quip is a word-processing app designed to help people collaborate on documents with colleagues, family members and friends: synchronising everything across iOS and Android devices to keep it up to date.
BBC WEATHER iPhone/ iPad/ Android, free Weather apps are built in to Android and iPhone smartphones, but the BBC’s official weather app outdoes both with its simple, swipe-centric design, clear layout and comprehensive forecasts. One of the best apps to have handy on your homescreen.
Source : Thanks to TheGuardian