App

Great App Store titles we think deserve a little more attention

We aim to bring you the very best of the App Store, recommending amazing apps and games to use with your iPhone and iPad. But the App Store is massive – to the point we can’t hope to cover everything.

This is why at the end of the year, we take the opportunity to highlight a selection of new and updated apps from 2018 that we reckon deserve some extra attention – and a place on your Home screen.

We have a varied bunch of apps and games this year – everything from a virtual gallery exhibition in your iPhone to a new take on Tetris. But all these entries have one thing in common: every one of them is great.

Shepard Fairey AR – Damaged

$5/£5 • v1.338 • 568.9 MB • By Vrt Ventures, LLC • iPhone/iPad

A decade ago, Shepard Fairey wowed with his iconic Hope image, created for Barack Obama. Last year, his latest solo exhibition debuted in Los Angeles. Now Damaged comes in its entirety to your iPhone and iPad.

We mean that broadly literally. This isn’t a gallery of stills you swipe through, but an augmented reality take on a warehouse-sized installation. You explore by walking around in real life; alternatively, you can swipe and tap to, respectively, adjust the viewport and zoom.

Fairey is on-hand to talk about his work; and when he’s silenced with the pause button, you get atmospherics from the original warehouse, such as the distant buzz of a neon sign. It’s intriguing stuff – thought-provoking art combined with cutting-edge tech that creates an exciting, accessible means for anyone to access and experience art they’d otherwise never get to see.

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nception

$2/£2 • v1.2 • 87.4 MB • By Hugekids AB • iPhone

This app is like shoving everything your iPhone’s camera sees through a kaleidoscope. You can switch live between basic single-pane reflections, or more complex efforts that make even the most mundane of subject matter suddenly seem interesting.

Should that not be enough of an abstraction from the real world for you, nception offers additional tools. There are 36 color filters to apply, and videos can be shot in slow-motion. All the effects you apply can be previewed and shot in real-time, and you can import existing content from Photos.

Without doubt, nception falls into the novelty category when it comes to filter apps – but if you’re the kind of person who’s fascinated by reflections, this is a must-have download.

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BFT – Bear Focus Timer

$1/49p • v2.6 • 63 MB • By IDEAMP Co.,Ltd. • iPhone

A big problem with the iPhone is that it always wants your attention. That’s not great when you’re trying to concentrate on work. Bear Focus Timer is an app with one truly brilliant feature that’s designed to help you avoid the screen and focus on what you’re supposed to be doing.

The timer component is loosely based on Pomodoro work/break sprints. You (by default) work for 25 minutes, and then take a break for five; after four work sprints, you take a longer break. But the genius bit is Bear Focus Timer only working when you place your iPhone face down.

This act literally puts your screen out of sight – and psychologically puts your phone out of reach. It works very well – and the cute bear drawings that reward successful periods of focusing don’t hurt either.

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Affinity Designer

$20/£20 • v1.6.4 • 907.3 MB • By Serif Labs • iPad only

Last year’s Affinity Photo blew any remaining arguments about the iPad not being suitable for ‘real work’ out of the water. This year, Serif followed up on that astonishing photo editor with Affinity Designer – a pro-level tool for illustrators.

This is the real deal – a full-fat app for crafting precise vector-based visuals, such as illustrations, T-shirt designs, icons, and logos. It’s packed with tools, fully optimized for iPad, and works wonderfully with Apple Pencil. It even shares a file format with Affinity Photo, so you can switch between the two apps with no loss of fidelity and settings.

Naturally, this app isn’t for everyone, and will be overkill if you merely dabble in sketching. But if you’re serious about illustration on an iPad, Affinity Designer is the best you can get.

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Retrospecs

Free or $2/£2 • v2.7 • 22.5 MB • By John Parker • iPhone/iPad

We enthused about a previous iteration of Retrospecs way back in 2014. To a great extent, the core of the app remains much the same – applying filters to images that make them look like the output of an ancient home computer or games console.

Retrospecs 2, though, this year greatly expanded the app in key ways. It introduces video support, so you can make your video selfie look like it was churned out of a Commodore 64 or SNES. There are animated glitch effects for stills, levels tools, corruption options, and an even bigger range of custom palettes.

Geeky? Absolutely. Niche? Possibly. But even if you didn’t once breathe ZX Spectrum or NES, this one’s worth picking up anyway, to do excitingly oddball things with your photos and videos.

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AudioKit Synth One Synthesizer

Free • v0.9.2.1 • 54.2 MB • By AudioKit Pro • iPad

The iPad isn’t hard-up for amazing synths, but AudioKit Synth One is different. And that’s because it’s entirely free, through being a hugely ambitious open source project going toe-to-toe with Moog and Korg.

If you just like making a noise, AudioKit Synth One comes pre-loaded with a slew of ear-smashing presets, and a touchscreen keyboard, so you can pretend to be Jean Michel Jarre or Daft Punk into the wee small hours.

Jobbing musicians will find loads to like, too, with dials and panes aplenty enabling sounds to be shaped, reworked, and augmented with a step-sequencer and arpeggiator. The lack of AU support is a pity, but you can at least connect the app to others using Audiobus or IAA.

Whether a beginner or pro, then, AudioKit might just be the best music app of 2018.

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LastPass Password Manager

Free • v4.4.8 • 137.5 MB • By LogMeIn, Inc. • iPhone/iPad

This password manager is by no means new to iOS, and it wasn’t even significantly updated during 2018. Also, in terms of features, it’s a more basic effort than the likes of 1Password. All of which might have you question why it’s been included in our list.

First, iOS 12 gave LastPass (and other third-party password managers) newfound relevancy on the platform. Now, they are equal partners, deeply integrating into Safari and other apps. Secondly, LastPass is entirely free – and that includes unlimited cross-device sync.

This means whatever combination of platforms you use along with iOS – Android; Windows; macOS – you can keep your login and payment details safe and yet readily accessible, create complex unbreakable new passwords with a single tap, and explore existing login/payment details in a user-friendly manner.

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Slydris 2

Free or $3/£3 • v1.05 • 121.2 MB • By Radiangames • iPhone/iPad

Block puzzler Tetris is rightly considered a gaming classic. Blocks fall into a well, and must be positioned to create solid lines that disappear, leaving more space. Repeat until the well is full. Simple – and brilliant.

Except on mobile, Tetris is routinely awful, because you need physical controls to respond in time to what’s going on. Fortunately, Slydris 2 builds on the good bits of Tetris, but subverts the basic form, turning it into a turn-based strategy effort.

During each go, you slide just one piece that’s ready to fall or already in the well. Success hinges on you thinking ahead and taking advantage of ways to shatter pieces, creating chain reactions that clear multiple lines in a single turn. It’s fabulous stuff – and stands shoulder to shoulder with the game that inspired it.

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A Way To Slay

Free • v2.01 • 239.5 MB • By Vladislav Vasilev • iPhone/iPad

The set-up for A Way To Slay – a single hero armed with a massive blade, surrounded by a gang of enemies eager to get a bit stabby – might put you in mind of a high-octane fighting game. But although A Way To Slay does have the odd burst of speed, it’s actually a turn-based puzzler.

Using iOS gestures to zoom and tilt the battlefield, you must ascertain the optimum order in which to off enemies. Double-tap one and you zip over and slice them up, at which point your surviving opponents get to move. If one gets too close, your innards end up decorating the ground.

The game doesn’t feel quite like anything else on iOS. And for those who hanker for an extra challenge, every level is timed – and only the speediest of sword get three stars.

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Super Cat Tales 2

Free • v1.1.4 • 93.4 MB • By Gionathan Pesaresi • iPhone/iPad

An army of tin soldiers has invaded, and it’s up to resident cats to see them off. In classic platforming fashion, you bound about, grab coins, and wonder why cats are dealing with this incursion rather than the army.

It’s fun stuff. The controls are cleverly designed for the touchscreen, merely requiring two thumbs for everything from dashes to wall jumps. Levels are designed around these limitations, testing your ability to nail the correct choreography.

Super Cat Tales 2 is packed full of great design, plentiful secrets, and new cats to discover and unlock – each with its own special power. And when your foes begin to frustrate, don’t despair: it’s only a matter of time before you’ll chance across a massive yellow tank you can temporarily use to blast them into their component parts. Cat-tharsis!

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