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The 25 best new apps of 2018

Just when you thought there weren’t any more apps worth downloading, along comes 2018 with plenty of fresh ideas. Some of these apps first appeared this year, while others are significant upgrades. Either way, they’ll all help you make better use of your phone, tablet, or computer.

[Animation: courtesy of Google]
Gmail gets with the times
Sweeping product redesigns are always polarizing, but the new Gmail, the first overhaul in five years, weathered the storm by packing in loads of new features. Now you can manage emails and view attachments with one click from the inbox, and there’s a universal “snooze” function that works across desktop and mobile. You can also send self-destructing or password-protected emails in “Confidential Mode,” and can have Google do the hard work of writing your actual emails with Smart Reply. The only downer? Inbox, the beloved Gmail alternative where Google experimented on many of those new features, will shut down by the end of March. [iOS, Android, web]

Unlocking iOS’s potential
Eighteen months after acquiring the iPhone/iPad automation app Workflow, Apple launched a beefed-up version called Shortcuts, which lets you set up multi-step routines to get things done faster. The best way to get started is to activate some ready-made Shortcuts, such as the YouTube video downloader and instant collage creator, but digging into the app on your own can be even more rewarding. [iOS]

The master planner
If you’ve ever wished for one app to handle all your to-do lists, planning boards, and notes, Notion might be just what you need. Notion’s neatest trick is how it lets you view the same data in different ways. You can create a checklist with due dates, then use a calendar view to glance at all your upcoming deadlines. Or write detailed project notes in Markdown, then drop them into a Kanban board to track their progress. Notion first launched in 2016, but got a major overhaul and Android support this year. It’s free for basic personal use, and has several subscription tiers for individuals and teams. [iOS, Android, desktop]

Transcription without the busywork
Next time you need to transcribe a meeting, give Otter a try. The app uses speech recognition to create transcripts automatically, even identifying multiple speakers and picking out keywords. Those transcriptions are then stored online so you can access them from anywhere. Otter is free for up to 10 hours of recordings per month, and then costs $10 per month or $80 per year. [iOS, Android, web]

The educational browser
While DuckDuckGo is best-known for its anti-tracking search engine, its mobile web browser and desktop browser extension is even more useful. For every website you visit, DuckDuckGo provides a letter grade based on the site’s tracker use, encryption practices, and privacy policies. Over time it will even name and shame the top tracking network offenders. Of course, it also blocks trackers by default and lets you erase your browsing history with just a couple taps. You can’t set Google as the default search engine, but that’s by design. [iOS, Android, Chrome, Firefox]

Anti-snooping made simple
Thanks to the U.S. Congress, internet users’ online activity is now fair game for tracking and monetization by internet providers. One way to fight back is with Cloudflare, a free app that sets you up with Cloudflare’s encrypted DNS resolver. DNS is sort of like the internet’s phone book, connecting common website addresses (such as to the numerical IP addresses that those websites actually use. Cloudflare’s DNS service prevents internet providers from easily collecting info about your web activity, and the free app takes all the hassle out of setting this up. [iOS, Android]

Password protection
While any decent password manager will help break your worst login habits (like using the same password everywhere), 1Password now goes a step further. A new feature called Watchtower monitors for stolen passwords, calls out your weakest and most reused passwords, and even lists sites where you can activate two-factor authentication. Watchtower is part of 1Password 7, which also includes a fresh design, rich notes, Mac app integration, and safer storage of its encryption key in the Secure Enclave of Macs with Touch ID. [Mac, Windows, Linux, iOS, Android, Chrome OS]

[Photo: courtesy of Cowlines]
Transportation for the carless: Google Maps is great for getting directions with a single mode of travel, but what if you want to mix and match? Cowlines is designed specifically for folks who don’t have their own car, and combines public transit, ride shares, bike shares, and walking to find the fastest and cheapest routes. It’s currently available in 62 North American cities. [iOS]

DNA tests for music
For the last six years, WhoSampled has allowed music fans to trace samples and cover songs back to the original artists. A major app update this year added Shazam-like music recognition, so you can grab that sample data when you’re out at the bar. The app is free on Android and $4 on iOS, and the recognition feature costs $10 per year. [iOS, Android]

Who’s got the game?
While plenty of streaming video search engines already exist (one example, Reelgood, made our list last year), B/R Live searches specifically for sports. For any upcoming game, you can see where to watch it on TV, through streaming services, on the radio, and even at nearby bars. It even covers niche streaming services such as ESPN+, and occasionally offers some sporting events for free. [iOS, Android]

Virtual tape measure
Even if it can’t match the accuracy of a ruler, Apple’s Measure app is great for sizing up boxes, furniture, and other flat surfaces in a pinch. Just use your iPhone or iPad camera to find an object, hit the + button while pointing at the edges, and let Apple’s augmented reality tech handle the measurements. [iOS]

Text from your laptop
Cross-device messaging is finally a standard Android feature with Android Messages for the Web. Head to on a computer or tablet, then scan the QR code in Android’s Messages app (found behind the menu button, under “Messages for web”). Now you can dish out texts on a real keyboard without having to install any third-party apps. [web]

Fast photo transfers
It’s still an “experimental” app, but Microsoft’s Photos Companion app is already a fast and easy way to send pictures to your PC over Wi-Fi. Just follow the instructions under “How do I use this app,” then use the Import button in the Windows 10 Photos app to start grabbing images from your camera roll. It beats waiting for your cloud storage service to finish syncing. [iOS, Android]

Mobile editing studio
Who says an iPad can’t replace your laptop? For video editing, at least, LumaFusion might be all you need, offering multi-track support, dozens of effects, and pro tools such as anchoring and slip editing. A pair of meaty updates this year brought even more features, including network storage drive support and a huge library of royalty-free media. The $20 asking price is on the high end for an iOS app, but it beats paying hundreds for Final Cut. [iOS]

Because the world needs more podcasts
After a foray into short-form audio didn’t pan out, Anchor pivoted this year to become a simple podcast creation app. You can start recording by holding the phone up to your ear, and invite other folks to participate remotely. Once you’ve recorded some segments, you can shuffle them around, edit individual audio files, and publish the finished work to major podcasting platforms. You can even opt into sponsorships and start getting paid—assuming anyone wants to hear what you have to say. [iOS, Android]

On-the-go artistry
Procreate has long been an essential tool for iPad artists. This year, its developers completely rewrote its iPhone counterpart, Procreate Pocket. Version 2.0 has a new interface that keeps menu bars to a minimum, and it achieves near feature parity with the iPad edition with 136 brushes and the same drawing engine. It can also export time-lapse videos of your creations, and—since iPhones don’t support Apple’s Pencil—uses 3D Touch for pressure-sensitive sketching. [iOS]

A camera with depth
Nothing beats the convenience of Apple’s built-in iOS camera, but Obscura 2 is great for those times when you want more control. Manual focus and exposure control are just a tap away, and a scrollable menu lets you quickly switch image formats, adjust white balance, and access a leveling tool, among other options. Several shortcut buttons are customizable as well, and the app comes with 19 filters. For all that, $5 doesn’t seem like a lot to ask. [iOS]

Game changer
It feels like ages since Fortnite landed on the iPhone, even though it was just nine months ago. It isn’t just an addictive game, but a social experience that’s always evolving with new features and special events. And by allowing virtually anyone to see what the fuss is about, developer Epic Games turned an already-popular PC and console game into a worldwide phenomenon. Meanwhile, Epic continues to use Fortnite to uproot industry norms: It distributed the Android version directly, thereby denying Google a revenue cut; goaded Sony into embracing cross-platform play; and is now trying to take on Valve’s Steam with a new PC game store. [iOS, Android, desktop]

Social media’s silly side
Feeling burned out by the heaviness of Facebook and Twitter? TikTok is a welcome relief, with short-form videos that are a mix of dumb humor, cringe-inducing karaoke, and occasional raw talent. Best of all, you can start watching without having to sign into anything. TikTok has technically been around since 2016, but took off this year as its parent company, ByteDance, bought and absorbed a popular similar app called As of July, TikTok—known as Douyin in its home market of China—had more than 500 million monthly active users. [iOS, Android]

That’s one way to play Solitaire
It’s not exactly new, but you can now install a self-contained version of Windows 95 on modern Windows, Mac, or Linux computers. That lets you write something in Wordpad, install a free trial of AOL, or just play the good version of Solitaire from before Microsoft ruined it with ads. It’s the best nostalgia hit you’ll get this year. [desktop]

Podcasts, radio-style
If you’ve been sleeping through the podcast craze, figuring out where to start can be tough. Scout FM does the legwork for you, picking podcasts automatically based on whatever interests you flag during setup. Once a podcast starts playing, you can mark it as a favorite, bookmark it for later listening, or swipe through to other suggestions. You can also use Scout’s Alexa skill to pick up where you left off. [iOS, Android]

Step your game up
One of the neater uses of Apple’s ARKit framework, HomeCourt is a virtual basketball trainer that watches you shoot hoops through the iPhone or iPad camera. Beyond just detecting makes and misses, the app breaks down stats such as release angle and jump height, then provides advice on how to improve. HomeCourt is free to try, but you’ll need a subscription (starting at $5 per month) to track more than 300 shots per month. [iOS]

Coding made fun
While plenty of apps will teach you to code, Grasshopper frames its lessons as a series of puzzles to solve, making it a bit more enjoyable and less intimidating than your average lesson. You can either start with some coding fundamentals, or dive right into JavaScript, one of the most popular ways to build interactive websites. This is one of several projects to arise from Area 120, Google’s two-year-old, in-house incubator. [iOS, Android]

Software-enhanced friendship
Relationship management software is already essential in the business world, but Ryze takes that idea and applies it to your personal life. For any contact, you can set up periodic reminders to get in touch, and attach notes to help you remember past conversations. It even takes a page from Snapchat and creates “streaks” for all the times you’ve successfully stayed in touch. Several apps with this kind of functionality have launched this year, but Ryze is the most fleshed out. [iOS]

Spend wisely
Finance management app Qapital became a subscription service this year, and also began to act more like a bank, FDIC insurance and all. Customers can now get a debit card, set aside a portion of paychecks for expenses, and even invest some savings into a stock portfolio. Plans range from $3 per month to $12 per month, depending on which features you want. That might be a small price to pay, with Qapital claiming to save users $1,500 per year on average. [iOS, Android]