Tech by VICE

Here Are the Apps We Actually Used This Year

Motherboard staff lay their home screens bare.

by Motherboard Staff
Dec 23 2015, 8:56pm


You probably have a lot of apps, but how many of those do you actually use? When you really think about it, probably not many! And that's okay. Some apps are only for occasional use, a specific time or place. But the apps you use the most often say a lot about you and your phone.

Rather than put together a roundup of best apps, or new apps, or apps in a hyper-specific category, we figured, why not just round up the apps we actually use? We're talking about the tried-and-true apps we went back to on a near-daily basis this year—the apps that may not be new, or particularly sexy, but have held a place on our home screens for the past few months.

In that spirit, here are the apps that some of Motherboard's staff found most useful or used the most in 2015 (obvious contenders, like Twitter or Facebook aside).

Nicholas Deleon, Short Circuit Editor (iPhone)

As of December 18 I've got 92 apps taking up space on my iPhone 6, but truth be told there's only a handful that I regularly use.

Excluding apps that came pre-installed with iOS, I most frequently use the following: Citymapper, Instapaper, MyFitnessPal, Pocket Casts, and Sunny and Windy (these last two are basically the same app).

None of these are too difficult to explain. Citymapper, for example, is a mapping app that excels at providing mass transit directions for a number of different cities, including Motherboard's home base of New York City. Any time I have to take a meeting somewhere in the bowels of Manhattan, I simply open the app, input the address, and it tells me exactly what subway station I need to ride to, and which car on the train is the optimal one for me to get on so I can exit nearest my destination. The app also comes in handy when I need to take a bus, since it shows the exact location of the nearest bus on a map alongside an estimate of when it will arrive. In short, think of Citymapper like Google Maps, but fine-tuned for people navigating byzantine mass transportation systems.

Instapaper and Pocket Casts also require little explanation. With Instapaper, I can save articles from my computer's web browser to the cloud, which lets me retrieve them later on my iPhone or iPad when I actually have time to read. Pocket Casts is my podcast apps of choice, which I use to listen to shows like 8-4 Play, The Guardian's Football Weekly, Retronauts, PC Perspective, and just about every podcast in Leo Laporte's network.

I use MyFitnessPal to periodically remind myself that I should probably be eating healthier. Even if I don't actively launch the app, its blue icon sits on my home screen, gently reminding me that while Dos Torros may be tasty, a homemade salad may be the better bet.

Lastly, Sunny and Windy are two apps from the same independent developer that I use when I want to drown out the sounds of the city but don't necessarily want to listen to a podcast. Both apps provide different nature sounds (sounds from the beach in the case of Sunny, and sounds, well, of the wind with Windy) that are designed to soothe and relax. I downloaded these apps because I cancelled my Rdio subscription earlier this year and needed something to replace the "Nature Sounds" playlist that I had on constant rotation.

Matthew Braga, Canada Editor (iPhone)

This was the year my girlfriend and I moved in together, and we quickly realized we needed a way to track our shared expenses. A friend turned us onto an app called Splitwise, and it's easily the best cost-splitting app that I've ever used. Granted, it's also the only cost-splitting I've used, but it's been pretty indispensable this year thus far, and I don't have much of a reason to try anything else. Groceries? Furniture? Christmas tree lights? It all gets put into Splitwise, which keeps a running tally of who owes who what.

At this point my mobile photo editing workflow is pretty set in stone—a simple combination of Instagram and VSCO Cam, if you're curious—but the one app I did add to my arsenal this year was Glitché. It's a curious little app that can warp, distort and filter your photos in various digital ways. Basically, if you want an app that can spit out photos that look like corrupted JPEGs or fuzzed out stills from VHS tapes, Glitché is it. I don't often post the photos I run through Glitché, but I like playing with the possibilities, just to see what if.

On the other hand, my note taking workflow is perpetually fucked, and I'm constantly trying to find a note taking app that is fast and simple but also syncs with Dropbox and the notes on my laptop. Over the past few months I've settled on 1Writer, which works fine enough and I use every day. But I'm open to new suggestions for 2016.

Finally, these two apps are pretty well known, but I'd be remiss not to mention them, given how often I use them both: Overcast and Pocket. The former is podcast app that blows Apple's own app out of the water, and I use pretty much every week to catch-up on episodes new and old (which, by the way, have you been listening to Radio Motherboard?). The latter is like a library of online articles that I've saved for later reading; everything I don't have time to read in my browsers gets pulled down to phone for offline consumption while, say, riding the subway.

Otherwise, all apps are terrible, and I can't wait for the day we all move back to dumbphones.

Sarah Emerson, Social Media Editor (iPhone)

I hate the idea that anyone could be dependent on technology to solve their problems, but making a list of my most-used apps forced me to realize how much I rely on them. Oh, well.

DogVacay, which is basically Airbnb for dog-sitters (ughhh), has been an absolute lifesaver. Finding someone to watch our dog, Bruna, was always a terrifying prospect in a city where pet services are stupidly expensive (I love you, dog, but not enough to put you up in a literal hotel for animals). Most people are probably a little paranoid about who they leave their pets with, and DogVacay removes almost all of that anxiety by having a rating and reviews system.

Instacart has been especially helpful because I live in a neighborhood that doesn't really have a ton of grocery and produce options aside from bodegas. Being able to shop online and schedule deliveries around my work schedule prevents me from having to haul four to five grocery bags on the subway. Are delivery fees way too expensive to use this more than once per week? Yes. Do I have mixed feelings about the ethical quandaries presented by sharing economy services? Extremely yes. But until I move to a different 'hood, Instacart will continue to save me a whole lot of time and energy.

Shyp is also handy because it does a thing that pretty much everyone hates doing—going to the Post Office. I'm always sending packages to my parents in Hawaii and Australia, but I don't live very close to a Post Office. With Shyp, someone arrives to collect the items you want to mail and then does the legwork for you. There's nothing more to it, really. It's so easy, I always end up feeling incredibly guilty and tip heavily.

Lastly, no explanation needed for why Venmo and Square Cash are helpful. Unless you carry wads of cash on your person at all times, you'll probably find yourself using or being asked to use one of these apps at some point in the near future. (Canadian editor's note: We don't get these in Canada. We never get the good apps in Canada.)

Derek Mead, Editor in Chief (Android)

I'm a boring app person because I am actively trying to use my phone less, not more.

Probably my most important app remains Pocket, but how I used it really evolved last year. It used to be that I'd just save articles for situations when I needed to read them offline, like being on a plane or train. But now Pocket mostly serves as a place to store articles that have been sitting in an open tab for weeks. For a perpetually scattered person, Pocket has now become a place where I can dump things I don't want to forget while clearing up some RAM—mostly of the mental variety—in the process.

Anything that works with Chromecast is crucial. Netflix, WatchESPN and HBO Go are all key, and recently I downloaded Popcorn Time after learning it too works with Chromecast.

I've tried to stop using Seamless because it is a money pit based on laziness—I try to waste my money on things that involve not sitting at home—but I have used it to send emergency pizzas, juice, and soups to other people. Basically Seamless is best suited for making random acts of kindness as easy as possible.

Aix Weather Widget remains the best Android weather tool in my opinion, large because it's simple and just gives raw data. All other weather apps try too hard.

Rachel Pick, Contributing Writer (iPhone)

Timehop is an app that shows you what you've posted on social media on that specific date in previous years. As a mild egomaniac who is very active on Twitter, I get a kick out of seeing my old tweets. It's fun to see what I was doing on Halloween (for example) each of the past eight years, and it's made for some very eerie deja vu moments where I was doing the same thing, or running into the same problem, on the same day two years running.

If This Then That (IFTT) is one of the coolest things. Seriously. It's both an app and web application, where you can set certain events to trigger various types of notifications. I have mine set to email me every time the RSS on major tech companies' blogs updates, to notify me on my phone with the final score of all Washington Wizards games, and to warn me when the forecast predicts rain.

Jason Koebler, Staff Writer (iPhone)

I don't like to think too much about what I'm doing on my phone, so I use either stock or widely acclaimed apps almost exclusively. I switched from Android to iPhone this year, and I'm generally just enjoying how everything seems to play nicely together without me putting any brain power into what's happening.

As everyone else said, Pocket is great, Pocket Casts is great, Spotify is great, and, frankly, iMessage is great. I nominally have "best in class" apps like Sunrise, Yahoo Weather, and Outlook installed on my phone, but let's face it: I don't actually use a calendar, I'm probably not packing an umbrella regardless of what the weather app says, and every email app I've used is roughly the same. My big addition to this list is probably Bloons Monkey City, because I need a tower defense game to be obsessed with on subway rides. It is very fun.

Kari Paul, Contributing Writer (iPhone)

When I moved to New York about a year and a half ago, I was overwhelmed with the bars, cafes, and stores I wanted to check out. I scribbled down recommendations from friends and various Gothamist listicles on scraps of paper and in my phone notes, but my methods were not very effective, and when it came time to pick a happy hour bar in Williamsburg or a cheap lunch spot in the Lower East Side, I'd be at a loss. Enter Mapstr, a hybrid of a map and note taking app, allowing you to easily bookmark places you love and places you want to try. The app comes with a variety of built-in tags like 'resto,' 'cafe,' and 'nightlife' and you can create your own to sort by, like 'dive bar' or 'BYOB.' The app also lets you easily sync with friends to share your lists, and best of all, it's free.

I get pitched a surprising number of period apps and startups created by men, so it is refreshing to see a feminist-leaning period tracker founded by women, like Clue. Perhaps the only period-tracking app that doesn't pretend your monthly cycle is fluffy and cute, Clue ditches the pink flowers and hearts of most tools in this sphere for a sleek blue and red design with easy-to-navigate components like mood and diet trackers, which is great because something women use this often should be simple.

TaskRabbit: Because sometimes your sanity is more valuable than saving money by putting IKEA furniture together yourself. This year, I used TaskRabbit to set up my furniture, install my shelves, and even move my stuff to a new apartment. It also has a great warranty policy: When the movers I hired through the app broke some of my furniture, TaskRabbit reimbursed me in full. This app can be used to do just about anything you'd rather not, and is free to download.

Instead of leaving work early to travel to the dermatologist, you can send a selfie to doctors in participating states through Spruce and have prescriptions sent to your nearest pharmacy in less than 24 hours for a flat fee of $40. I will be happy when more doctor appointments can be replaced this easily by my phone.