The Beautiful Pixels Editor’s Choice of 2012
So far, as a part of our ‘Best of 2012‘ series, we’ve already shown you our picks for the Best App Icons, Best UI Animations, the Best apps to replace the default/stock apps on iOS. So today, to conclude the series and the year, we thought we’d pick the absolute best apps of 2012. Mikhail and Preshit have put together a list of their favorite apps for iPhone, iPad, Mac, Android and Mikhail has curated a list of his favorite Games. Note that we’ve decided to leave out Twitter apps from the list below. Most of our readers have already settled onto their favorite twitter app, so including one in the list doesn’t really make sense. So here’s our list, in no particular order.
If you’ve been following our site for the last few week, Fantastical being on this list shouldn’t come as a surprise to you. The iPhone app, which was released just last month has already gone onto become one of the best iPhone apps to come out this year. Everything about the app — the icon, the gorgeous UI, the brilliantly implemented transitions and it’s natural language parsing and other core features are nothing short of excellent. Fantastical on the Mac and now on the iPhone is single-handedly responsible for making me use calendar scheduling productively this year. It’s easily one of my favorite apps on my Homescreen and I often find my eyes staring at the stunningly designed icon. At just $3.99 on the App Store, Fantastical is beyond doubt a fantastic app for your iPhone.
Day One is another app that led me to take up something that I didn’t think I’d ever do — maintaining a journal. Even though Day One for iPhone came out in 2011, 2012 is when it was updated with some of its best features. iCloud sync, the beautiful new app icon, fonts and new sounds were added to the app this year. Version 1.8 of the app brought along one of its most amazing features, the ability to add Photos to the library & automatic weather based on the location. The latest major update introduced Search, Tagging and Multimarkdown footnotes, arguably making it the best journaling app the App Store. In spite of all these features being added to the app, Day One has consistently maintained a gorgeous UI and simple interactions in the app. It’s a Universal app and costs just $4.99 on the App Store.
Reeder has been my goto RSS app for a long time now. The app offered the perfect combination of a good looking UI and a superb feature-set for me to go through my RSS Feeds. It was is excellent little app to have installed on the iPhone. Reeder then went from being a ‘great’ app to being a ‘remarkable’ app when it was updated to version 3.0 this year. The update brought a completely re-written app from the ground up and an abundance of new features. Most importantly, it introduced support for Shaun Inman’s Fever along with multiple Google Reader accounts. It also introduced some lovely gestures to navigate in the app. Reeder is one of the first apps I install on my new iOS device and is also the second app I open every morning next to my coffee. It costs $2.99 on the App Store and I’m hoping the developer is working on bringing these features to the iPad version of the app as well.
I wasn’t a big fan of Read it Later back in the day. While it was a good app, I just preferred using Instapaper instead. However, in April this year, Read it Later was rebranded as Pocket and it totally blew me away with what it had to offer. The app now sported a stunning new UI that was cleaner, lighter, more “minimal” and looked great. The team had done a remarkable job with this new app and I was instantly sold. Since then, the app has continued to be updated with some great features and has become my default ‘Read Later’ app. Pocket also has a great Mac app now and the service is completely free to use. The iPhone app is Universal and Free on the App Store.
Poster has become one of the most important apps on my iPhone today. It’s where 95% of everything that is published on Beautiful Pixels and Nuclear Bits is written and edited in, including what you’re reading right now. It sports a clear, light UI with only the essential UI elements. Poster is many times better than the official WordPress app for iOS and offers a much better experience to write in. I’ve been testing a major update to the app that the developer has been working on and it’s bound to make an already great app even better. If you own or write on a WordPress blog, give Poster a try. You won’t be disappointed. It’s $2.99 on the App Store and a Universal App.
Paper by FiftyThree was an incredible app to come out for the iPad early this year. The app managed to win everyone with its minimal, almost-inexistent UI chrome and its ability to wonderfully register touch events into ink. The app is an absolute delight to use and takes just a few minutes of playing around to know everything about the app. It’s great to quickly jot down ideas, paint your thought or pretty much anything you’d want to use it for — it works for any case or scenario. There’s no wonder it won the Apple Design Award for 2012. Paper is now a must-install recommendation from me for on any iPad. It’s Free on the App Store, with IAP for its tools.
Diet Coda by Panic is another app on my iPad that I really love to use. It has a beautiful icon and the UI isn’t any short of wonderful. Unlike its big brother Coda 2, Diet Coda does not allow you to do any local development. The app is only designed to let you work on remote sites and is a great way to quickly make any changes when you’re on the move. Diet Coda has a much better implementation of the magnifying glass that pops up when you try to move your cursor on iOS. Instead of being just a circular magnifying glass, Diet Coda puts it for the entire horizontal line so it becomes super easy to move your cursor exactly where you want it to be. It’s brilliant. The text too looks stunning on the Retina iPad screen. Diet Coda is the perfect little companion for any developer to have on his iPad. It costs $19.99 on the App Store, awesome app name included.
National Parks by National Geographic
The National Parks app by National Geographic was a pleasant surprise when Mikhail sent me a link to it. The app brings a collection of some stunning photos from all the major national parks in the US and boy are they some amazing photos. The app is full of delightful animations and transitions and the the guides through those National Parks are brilliant presented to us users. There is a metric frickton of data available via the app and the developers have done a remarkable job of displaying it in the app. The app is a great example of how modern app UIs should be. The app manages to give you a surreal insight into the beauty of the nature surrounding us. It’s a Universal app and Free on the App Store.
Just as Loren made Game Center useful, Marco Arment has made that otherwise mostly useless app newsstand, homescreen worthy. The Magazine is nearly the opposite of Instapaper. Marco chooses the content here. The content is presented to you with lovely magazine covers for newsstand done by Pacific Helm and a night and dark theme with serif typography make The Magazine a visual treat. The actual content is the best part. Don’t expect the typical posts about the operating system wars or holiday quarters here. The Magazine is for people who love technology by people who love technology. Each issue is delivered straight to Newsstand every two weeks with 4 to 5 articles. You will find articles about Apple, Coffee, Shaving and even Magicians in The Magazine. It has a 7 day free trial with access to every back issue. The subscription is $1.99 a month.
Track 8 has come a long way since it released as just an iPad app a few months ago. It is a metro styled music player for iOS. The app is now universal with support for both orientations on the iPad. It also has great AirPlay Mirroring support with a nice slideshow with artist images in the background and the track title and artwork at the bottom left. The app looks stunning on the iPad and it has great sharing options along with custom links to preview songs on track8.fm. Track 8 was our replacement music player in our post about stock apps and it makes music on the iPad fun. Track 8 is available on the App Store for $1.99 and it is more than worth it.
iA Writer was the first app I listed when I set off too make a list of all the apps that we’d be possibly talking about in this post. iA Writer handles all my raw thoughts & ideas for posts and does a wonderful job at it. It feels great to focus on your writing using iA Writer. While the app doesn’t really have its own UI elements that we could call as beautiful, it still manages to win us over with its simplicity and effectiveness. The most recent update to the app introduced the responsiveness feature, wherein the font changes as you resize the window. It supports Auto Markdown, word and character count and syncing via iCloud, so your documents are readily available via iA Writer on your iPad or iPhone. The app is currently on a 50% off sale at $4.99 on the App Store.
The folks are Panic are one of our favorite Mac developer houses today. We’ve spoken about their love for pixels and attention to detail before, back when they launched Transmit 4.0. The team continues to blow us away even today. Their most recent release was Coda 2 and of course, Diet Coda. Coda 2, similar to Diet Coda is a wonderful app for developers. It is phenomenally better than its predecessor and introduces a plethora of new features. I’ve tried many different code editors in the last few years, but Coda just feels like the perfect fit for me. All my websites are coded in and handled using Coda 2 on my Mac along with Diet Coda on my iPad. It’s $74.99 on the App Store and knowing what the app is capable of, the price is a steal.
Pixa is lesser know, but brilliant image organizer app for the Mac. The app is developed by Shiny Frog, more popularly known for apps like Delibar & 1TapAlarm and more recently, collaborating on StatNut app. If you handle a lot of images in your day-to-day tasks, Pixa is designed to make handing them easier and it does a bag up job at it. It’s like a central repository to hold all your images and neatly categorize and tag them. The app features ‘Live Folders’ so your files are always up-to-date in the app. For me, Pixa does a wonderful job of handling all the screenshots and images that are created everyday. It has a little menubar utility to quickly let you snap screenshots on your desktop. It has a modern Mac UI and a pretty swell website as well. It’s currently available on the Mac App Store for $23.99.
Press for Android is the best looking google reader app on the platform. While it lacks a few features we want in Google Reader apps, the experience of using it more than makes up for that. We absolutely love the app and it deserves to be in your dock if you use Google Reader or generally like your content delivered via RSS. While it is influenced by Reeder visually, it conforms to the holo guidelines and has some great font options to choose from. TwentyFive Squares have really set the bar immensely high with Press for Android. It works great on phones and tablets and feels like it was made for the Nexus 7. Press is available on Google Play for $1.99.
While most launchers on Android basically do similar things and aim to speed up your device with a few other features, Chameleon Launcher is uniquely brilliant. It is widget driven with its own set of absolutely epic widgets and support for any third party widgets in its latest iteration. The launcher gets its name from the fact that it can change depending on certain conditions like time of the day and wifi network. You can set up different homescreens for work and home. The app drawer is very similar to the iOS homescreen app grid and it even has the bounce back animation. Chameleon Launcher is available only for Android tablets right now on Google Play for $3.99.
Eye In Sky Weather
While most people seem to be using Beautiful Widgets and HD Widgets for weather, Eye In Sky (previously Weather Eye) often goes unnoticed. We spoke about how much we love it before and it is the only weather app and widget you need on your Android device. It has 12 of the best icon sets available for use within the app and as widgets. The widgets are fully customizable. The actual app supports multiple locations and has the 15 day and 48 hour detailed forecasts available by swiping to the left or right on the main screen. Eye In Sky Weather is available on Google Play for free with ads along with a pro key to remove ads for $1.99.
Timer by Opoloo
While most popular apps on the platform have still not updated their app UI to comply with the holo guidelines, Opoloo have created one of the best looking timers you will ever use. Jellybean rich notifications are amazing. Timer by Opoloo fully supports the rich notifications with the ability to pause or stop the timer from the notification pulldown. It also has an animated icon that shows you the timer progress. The app has some nice holo themes as well. Opoloo timer is available on Google Play for $0.99.
Games (All Platforms)
Superbrothers: Sword & Sworcery EP
Superbrothers: Sword & Sworcery EP is one of the greatest gaming experiences ever. After releasing on iOS last year, #sworcery has received tons of accolades and was finally available on PC and Mac in June. #sworcery is pixel art perfection coupled with some of the best music you will ever experience. #sworcery is a point and click adventure where you play as the scythian in a stunning world trying to retrieve The Megatome and fight a 3 eyed wolf all depending on what phase the moon is in at the time. The game cannot be played in one sitting because many things need the moon to have a certain phase. We were surprised when we saw it in the last Humble Android Bundle and are glad that it is now available on Google Play. Do yourself a favour and experience #sworcery. #sworcery is available on the App Store as a Universal game, iPhone only as a micro edition, Google Play, Steam and the Mac App Store
After being delayed over and over again, the much hyped Fez by Polytron finally released on Xbox Live Arcade this year. Fez is an indie platformer with retro visuals that isn’t like every other platformer out there. You play as Gomez who lives in a gorgeoues 2D world. He soon gets a magical fez that allows him to turn the 2D world into a 3D one. The physics in Fez make it really unique and fun. When you spin the world, everything flattens into 2D so objects which were once far away may be closer now allowing you to access otherwise impossible areas. As with most great indie games, the soundtrack is spectacular. Disasterpeace has done a brilliant job with the Fez soundtrack. Fez released as an Xbox exclusive at launch but it will be making its way to PC and Mac as well. Fez is available on XBLA for 800 points.
We love everything about Letterpress (barring the icon). Letterpress is a unique game center turn based word game with amazing animations and sounds (all made by Loren’s mouth). Letterpress made everyone use Game Center. The app is free and has an in app purchase that unlocks more themes and allows more than 1 game to go on at once. You should definitely download Letterpress on the App Store.
SpellTower by Zach Gage is a drool-worthy word game with addictive gameplay. Swiping across tiles to form words and have tiles pop out and fall down along with some of the best sounds you’ll ever hear in a word game make SpellTower an essential game on iOS and Mac. Along with Bluetooth multiplayer in the latest update and a jaw droppingly awesome website, Zach Gage keeps winning us over. EA and Zynga could learn a thing or two from him. SpellTower is available on the App Store for $1.99 and the Mac App Store for $3.99. It is worth checking the website out as well.
We hope you’ve enjoyed these Best of 2012 posts. This was the first time we decided to try something new and move away from our usual post format to end the year. Looking at the response on Twitter, it seems we were able to pull this off. But we’d still love to hear your thoughts about the series. How did we do? Did we miss anything? Do you think we should do this again next year? What should we change next year? We’d love to hear any feedback you may have, or just want to say hi. Send us an email.