This year saw Android Market rebranded as the snappier-sounding Google Play. But it wasn't just a cosmetic change. Here are the apps that made Google's download store such a vibrant place over the last 12 months.
1 Swiftkey 3
This Swype-alike improves on its predecessors in the alt-virtual keyboard category by adding contextual intelligence. That means that it ‘learns’ your typing patterns and your lexical tics to predict what you’ll input next. It also autocorrects errors and lets you sync it with your written correspondence via SMS, Facebook, Gmail and more to get the best idea possible of how and what you type.
2 Google Chrome
Chrome is fast as mobile browsers go and offers unlimited tabs, which you can flick through like a deck of cards in a UI touch that’s more than a little reminiscent of the much lamented webOS. The real boon for us, though, is that signing in to Chrome means you can sync open tabs and bookmarks across from your desktop, laptop and/or tablet.
3 Google Now
Billed as a challenger to Siri, Google Now features the same voice commands functionality of Apple’s iOS personal assistant. But it ups the ante by intelligently learning from users’ behavioural patterns and serving up reminders according to their location, the time of day and previous search habits. Our advice is: don’t fret about the potential privacy infringements. Just enjoy an app that’s the closest thing so far to a robot concierge.
Weather apps are pretty unlovely things most of the time. This great title from OneLouder (we love the Spinal Tap reference) is the exception. It’s exceptionally pretty, with a clean, modern look and some unobtrusive and attractive animations.
It’s great on the function front too, serving up real-time information, as well as oodles of handy gen for forecasts, alerts for extreme weather sent to the notifications bar, as well as sunrise and sundown times. The Radar map that shows weather in your locality and updates as you use it is also a bit of a boon.
Seemingly aeons after it landed on iOS devices, Flipboard hit Android. Better late than never.
As reading apps go, it doesn’t get too much better, thanks mostly to a smartly laid-out user interface that makes this supremely simple to use. Naturally, you can also tailor the news and articles it serves up to your preference and check out pieces your friends are recommending too.
6 TED Talks
This is a brilliant repository of talks from the fields of technology, entertainment and design. New speakers are added weekly and there are already thousands to get through. If you’re in the market for something a bit more edifying than a turn on an endless running games, this is just the ticket.
Like Flipboard, this also took its time coming to Android. But it’s a neat app that was worth the wait. And also like Flipboard, it’s easy to get to grips with. And because it’s nigh-on identical in terms of form and function to the website, you probably know how to use it already.
8 Google Drive
Somewhere between Google Docs and Dropbox, this teams word processing smarts, so you can create new docs on the go, and spreadsheets to work on numbers and whathaveyou, with 5GB of free cloud storage and the option to add more for a smallish charge. Automatic synching across all devices helps offset some of the frustration that movement of files within the app is severely constrained.
Another impressive cloud storage solution, this time courtesy of Microsoft which has implemented a lovely UI that takes more than a few cues from the live tiles of Windows Phone. Hotmail account holders get 7GB of free storage.
Photo filters with similar functionality are ten-a-penny on Android. But none have the same hugely engaged user community as Instagram, with whom you’re able to share your snaps instantly.