It's been a busy year for smartphones. And whether it's an iPhone, an Android device, a BlackBerry or Windows Phone 7, it's all about the apps. Apps for business and pleasure, useful and frivolous; apps that come at a price or cost nothing but the price of the bandwidth to download them – they've hit the market in their thousands. And some have done very, very well.
Here's a look, in no particular order, at eight of the top apps of 2011. Most are cross-platform, though we’ve included one hugely popular iOS-only app.
Everybody has a Facebook app, it seems, and given the importance of the social network, it has to have a place in this list. With these apps, you can post updates, chat with friends, respond to notifications, and generally interact with your friends, colleagues and customers. You’ll find native apps for Android, BlackBerry and iOS. The Windows Phone 7 app takes things up a notch and integrates Facebook into its every function, if you choose to allow it.
Still on the social networking front, Twitter also has a home on every major smartphone platform. You can tweet, retweet, and DM to your heart's content, update status, use hashtags and add photos through the official Twitter apps.
If you get lost and want to find your way home (or anywhere else), Google Maps for Mobile, for iPhone, Android, BlackBerry or Windows Phone gives you driving directions, Street View, or satellite view, just as it does on the desktop. If you're using it on Android, it will also provide audio turn-by-turn navigation using the GPS.
Topping the iTunes list as app of the year is Instagram, a free photo-sharing app for the iPhone that lets users apply filters to their pictures before uploading to a variety of social networking sites such as Flickr, Facebook, Twitter or Foursquare. Version 2.0 added features such as additional filters and one-click rotation. There’s now an Android version under development.
Skype has been saving computer users big bucks on Voice Over IP telephony and video calling for several years, and now it also works on smartphones (the feature set depends on the carrier). There’s Skype for Android, iPhone, Symbian, and BlackBerry. It’s number five on the iTunes top downloads chart for 2011.
When you’re working from multiple devices, an app like Evernote can be a lifesaver. Available for iOS, Android, BlackBerry, Windows Phone 7 and even WebOS, as well as Windows and Mac computers, it lets you pass notes, Web pages, or anything else you fancy from device to device by stashing them in the cloud. For example, notes to self about a customer issue can be entered on a smartphone while on the road, then picked up for action on a computer at the office.
Another popular file-shuffling app for iPhone, Android and BlackBerry is Dropbox (Windows Phone uses Microsoft’s SkyDrive storage for the same purpose). A basic, free account provides 2 GB of online storage, or if you need extra space, you can buy either 50 GB or 100 GB plans.
Dropbox also works with Windows, Mac and Linux; what makes it especially nice for file movement to and from mobile devices is its ability to just transfer the parts of a file that have changed, rather than the whole thing. Users can control its bandwidth usage, too, so it won’t choke connections with excess traffic.
Finally, whether you call it a time-waster, or therapy when your nerves are a bit frayed, Angry Birds has got to be the app of the year. Play it on iPhone, Android, Windows or BlackBerry, and make those pigs pay!
Now, over to you: what are your picks for apps of the year? Tell us in the comments section.