Apps are the best last minute Christmas presents. The secret to a memorable gift is to make it something that is feasible and useful for the receiver, says a recent study. That almost sounds like a description for buying apps that your loved one wants or should use, but probably wouldn’t purchase.
2014 ushered in changes to the way apps interact thanks to iOS 8 (which you should install right away), and plenty of awesome updates to old apps that made them must-haves. And of course, there were plenty of fantastic games to play too. Many of these apps are dirt cheap, so why not give a few away and bring a smile this festive season?
How To Gift An App
Gifting an app is super easy. Just open the app on your iPhone or iPad, tap the “Share” button in the top-right corner, and choose “Gift” in the sharing screen options.
Note: Gifts are only redeemable in the same App Store from which they were purchased, so if you would like to gift your US friend an app but you use the Canadian App Store, it’s not going to work. The same is true for gift cards, which is a little more obvious.
iOS 8 finally brought third-party keyboards to the App Store. Sure, you can get SwiftKey, but Swype has its own legion of fans (including this author) and our readers reckon it’s one of the best mobile apps worth paying for. It supports swipe-to-type, it learns from your social networks and other words you type often, it supports multiple languages, and it also prompts you with emoji instead of words!
When it comes to journaling apps, nothing beats Day One. It’s easy to use and prompts you at the right time to chronicle your day, which is a practice several productivity experts recommend. It’s simple for beginners, but offers enough features to keep advanced users happy. It also looks gorgeous.
Meditation helps you deal with stress, makes you more compassionate, and can even improve your health. If you don’t already meditate, you should do so, and Buddhify 2 is the best way to start. The app teaches mindfulness meditation to beginners with guided courses. Pop in your headphones for a calmer mind.
Catch up on the best new songs released in the past week with a digest of hand-picked selections. Every Monday, at noon Pacific Time, a new playlist of songs is created, which features tracks based on recommendations by several music blogs.
Clear is a to-do list app with a focus on easy input and simplicity. Gesture support makes it easy to add and delete tasks, you can set reminders, it has a nifty widget for the notification center, and it syncs with your Mac or other iOS device via iCloud. The colourful, minimalistic interface helps Clear do something so many other apps can’t: making your to-do list seem less daunting.
The scientific seven-minute workout is a great way to stay in shape without spending too much time. Superhero Workout takes that regimen and turns it into a little story to keep you entertained while you exercise. Basically, you’re saving the world in an interactive tale, based on how well you exercise. It’s a lot of fun and very motivating.
The most common problem among all the many time-tracking apps available on iPhones and iPads is that they are bloody difficult to use and maintain. Hours takes the stress out of tracking your time with a visual timeline, colour-coded for quick reference. Its reminder system also prompts you to switch the app on and off at just the right time. If you know an overworked freelancer who is struggling to keep track of this sort of thing, it could make a great gift.
You might think three dollars is a high price for a simple unit and currency converter app, but start using Vert and you’ll see why it’s money well spent. Apart from being ridiculously easy to use, it has over 1000 units spread across 34 categories, 164 currencies, and it works completely offline.
Notability is arguably the best way to record and take notes in class. While the app records audio, you can write and draw anything you want. Later, tap that drawing and Notability will skip ahead to that point of the recording. It finally marries written note-taking and verbal recordings seamlessly.
Store all your receipts, physical notes, business cards and other data safely in the cloud with Scanbot, a nifty app that takes a photo of anything you want and uploads it your preferred cloud storage service as high-quality PDFs or JPEGs. Scanbot Pro even has OCR i.e. the ability to read the text and make it searchable.
Pixelmator has been our pick as the best image editor for Mac, and now it’s hit the iPad as well, along with winning the distinction of being named by Apple as the best iPad app of 2014. When it comes to image editing, you can’t do better than this.
Apple’s Game of the Year for 2014, Threes! is a math-based logic puzzler. A grid of 4×4 squares asks you to stack tiles of similar numbers together, but only by moving all the tiles on the board in one direction simultaneously. It’s challenging, but it’s also incredibly addictive.
While Threes! took the honour of being the best iPhone game of the year, on the iPad, Apple crowned Monument Valley as the king. It’s available on the iPhone too, but this game’s beautiful graphics and art are best enjoyed on the tablet’s larger screen. In a world of Escher-inspired optical illusions, you have to guide a princess on her journey.
Monument Valley was Apple’s choice for the best designed game, but in our books, nothing topped Leo’s Fortune this year. The platform adventure game is amazingly engrossing, especially with its phenomenal touchscreen controls. Varied gameplay, intuitive controls, challenging without being too difficult—this game is as good as it gets.
The Modern Combat franchise has reached that stage where, like Call of Duty, any new game in the series immediately jumps to the top of a gamer’s most-wanted list. The long-awaited fifth title was released in 2014 and it’s bound to resonate well with any fan of the adrenaline-soaked genre.
For those who love word games, Bonza set a new standard this year. You’re given the answers to a crossword puzzle, only the answers are disjointed and floating around. You have to club them together in a way that the words you form match a certain theme. It’s a fantastic original concept, delivered with grace.
If any game in 2014 deserved praise for being innovative, it was Hitman Go. Taking the popular Hitman formula first found in the PC and console franchise, Square Enix have succesfully created a thrilling virtual board game that retains the same stealth and planning as the full-priced titles. The end result is spectacular.
Our gaming editor, Dave LeClair, counts Wayward Souls as one of the best games of the year. Here’s his take: “I love everything about it. It’s built around gameplay first, and it’s just downright fun. Will it make you want to throw your phone in fits of rage when you die? Most definitely, but that’s exactly what a game like this is meant to do.”
This year saw the release of one of the best PC games ported to the iPad, FTL: Faster Than Light. The real-time strategy game puts you in charge of a spaceship, and you have to figure out the most efficient way to manage your assets to get to your destination, even while under attack.
It’s almost mandatory to include Infinity Blade on any “best of” list now, so the hack-and-slash game’s latest sequel might be this year’s ideal gift for the iPhone gamer in your life. The game looks stunning – especially on the new iPads with their advanced graphics processors – and it’s as enjoyable to play as its predecessors.
Tim Schafer, he of Monkey Island and Grim Fandango fame, made another point and click game. It’s an adventurous quest by two protagonists, laced with the humour Schafer is renowned for. You know what? It’s by Tim Schafer, you’d be nuts not to buy it.
What’s on your wishlist?
If you aren’t the one giving gifts, maybe you’re the one hoping to receive some of the above this holiday season. Tell us which apps and games you badly want, even if they’re not in the aforementioned list.
Will you be buying yourself any app presents this year?