App

Five quality releases that made us ‘appy’ over the past 12 months

For all Apple’s great hardware, what sets the iPhone and iPad apart from Android is apps. Specifically, the ambition and quality found in the App Store, which is leagues ahead of what the ‘other side’ gets.

Every year, Apple celebrates the best apps in its annual awards. This year, we’re doing our own – and our choices are very different from Apple’s! So join us as we dig into five truly standout apps that arrived during 2022.

Winner: Affinity Publisher 2 for iPad ($19.99/£17.99)

Affinity Publisher 2

In our introduction, we talked about ambition – and few apps are more ambitious than Serif’s. Affinity Photo took on Photoshop, bringing full-fat photo editing to iPad. Designer followed suit for vector design. And in November, Publisher did the same for desktop publishing.

It’s another counterpoint to the notion the iPad is a mere consumption device. Here is a desktop-grade layout design tool for everything from posters to magazines, right on Apple’s tablet. And Affinity Publisher doesn’t forget it’s on a tablet either, marrying a rich feature set with a touchscreen interface optimized for iPad.

Is it niche? Sure. This isn’t an app with the mainstream appeal of an Instagram or a Snapseed. But we’re thrilled companies like Serif create products like this, because it raises the bar for everyone. So we reckon Publisher is a worthy winner – doubly so if you’re a layout designer keen to work on projects away from the confines of a traditional PC.

Get Affinity Publisher 2 for iPad

Runner-up: Spark Mail (free + IAP)

Spark

Apple’s lack of interest in email meant Mail stagnated for a long time. But with iOS 16 finally adding new features like send later and message reminders, companies who’d been rethinking email for years needed to step up – again.

Spark Mail’s response was to upend your inbox. That might sound terrifying to anyone wedded to chronological sort orders, but Spark smartly organizes things to help you focus on what’s important. Wisely, the app’s very specific ideas of what you should and shouldn’t see can be manually tweaked. For example, you can opt to mute noisy threads, and permanently filter – or prioritize – specific contacts.

The app isn’t new for 2022, but given the scope of the version 3 update, it may as well be. To that end, it’s a worthy runner-up and well worth checking out if you want your email client to work for you, rather than it forcing you to do all the work to keep on top of your mountainous inbox.

Get Spark Mail

Also commended

Three more apps we thought stood out during the past 12 months.

Ableton Note ($5.99/£4.99)

Ableton Note

More a music creation sketchpad than a full-fledged songwriting tool, Ableton Note nonetheless excels. It draws from desktop app Ableton Live, giving you a range of superb sounds to experiment with, and an interface that makes it easy to quickly work up loops and experiment with arrangements.

It is opinionated in terms of how it works. Also, integration with the desktop app is one way. Nonetheless, Note is an excellent option for iPhone/iPad musicians, whether or not they’re already immersed in the Ableton ecosystem.

Get Ableton Note

Chantlings ($2.99/£2.49)

Chantlings

This sweet-natured app gives you a little choir of forest creatures to accompany – and harmonize with – your own singing. You need to be wearing headphones – otherwise the app works in a ‘call and response’ fashion. But assuming that’s the case, sing a note and any Chantling you tap will join in.

There’s nothing more to it than that, but sometimes the simplest apps are the ones that win our hearts. And Chantlings is easily the most charming app experience we had during the entirety of 2022.

Get Chantlings

Barcodes (free or $9.99/£8.99)

barcodes

Wallets are increasingly packed with plastic cards. This app lets you ditch physical cards and put them on your iPhone instead. You get up to ten for free – which feels generous. Cards sync across iCloud and can even be accessed from your Apple Watch.

For a one-off fee, you can unlock unlimited cards and Apple Wallet support. Moreover, you’ll be supporting an app creator who made an app with a simple idea that nonetheless makes everyday life that little bit better.

Get Barcodes