Apps have changed the way we communicate, stream TV and play games.
Alison DeNisco RayomeManaging Editor
Managing Editor Alison DeNisco Rayome joined CNET in 2019, and is a member of the Home team. She is a co-lead of the CNET Tips and We Do the Math series, and manages the Home Tips series, testing out new hacks for cooking, cleaning and tinkering with all of the gadgets and appliances in your house. Alison was previously an editor at TechRepublic.
ExpertiseHome Tips, including cooking, cleaning and appliances hacksCredentials
National Silver Azbee Award for Impact/Investigative Journalism; National Gold Azbee Award for Online Single Topic Coverage by a Team; National Bronze Azbee Award for Web Feature Series
Shelby Brown (she/her/hers) is an editor for CNET's services team. She covers tips and tricks for apps, operating systems and devices, as well as mobile gaming and Apple Arcade news. Shelby also oversees Tech Tips coverage. Before joining CNET, she covered app news for Download.com and served as a freelancer for Louisville.com.
She received the Renau Writing Scholarship in 2016 from the University of Louisville's communication department.
Apps have become a staple in our lives over the past decade. In the wake of the coronavirus pandemic that struck in 2020, many apps saw an install spike as people readjusted to a more digital method of communication, learning, travel, watching TV and playing. In addition, the introduction of Apple's iPhone 13 and new iOS 15 software made our favorite apps perform better and is paving the way for developers to think bigger when building new apps.
These iPhone apps were either introduced in the past year, got a major update or gained a cultural currency that we hadn't seen previously (even The Washington Post has a TikTok channel with hundreds of thousands of followers now), and the CNET staff believed they deserved recognition. Without further ado, here are the seven best iPhone apps of the year.
The AI photography app Spectre Camera uses machine learning to take simulated long-exposure photos on your iPhone -- an effect that previously required a DSLR or mirrorless camera. So far, the app includes support for the ultrawide camera on the iPhone 12 Pro Max, but no word yet on support for the iPhone 13 Pro or 13 Pro Max. You can download Spectre in the App Store on iOS 13 or later for $4.
TikTok is a social video app that lets you create videos lip-syncing, dancing to songs or creating short videos on something you're excited about. The app's popularity surged during the early months of the pandemic in 2020, amassing more than 2 billion downloads globally across the App Store and Google Play. In the first quarter of 2020, TikTok generated 315 million installs -- the most downloads for any app ever in a quarter, according to Sensor Tower data.
We're listing Apple Arcade as one app because Apple's gaming subscription service houses more than 200 games in one subscription. The games are available as downloadable apps for most iOS devices from the service in the App Store. Titles are organized in categories like original and exclusive games, as well as remastered favorites and classics already available in the App Store. You can check out nostalgic favorites like Pac-Man, Party Royale and Frogger in Toy Town or puzzle games, mystery games and kid-friendly games.
Apple TV Plus is Apple's $5-a-month TV streaming service. The streaming platform is home to the Emmy-winning Ted Lasso and a number of other original shows, all accessible through the Apple TV app, which offers a clean, easy-to-navigate interface.
Harry Potter: Wizards Unite pits players against dark wizards and magical beasts to save characters from the Harry Potter books. You play by walking around the real world, following the game's map through the app on your phone. Though it had some security flaws, Wizards Unite showed us that Pokemon Go wasn't just a fluke, and AR games are here to stay. It also brought in $1.1 million on its launch weekend, according to Sensor Tower.
Online classified ads site Craigslist has been around since 1995, but weirdly, it didn't get an iOS app until December 2019. The app has a simple, non-fussy interface that's reminiscent of the website version, where you can search for everything from jobs to furniture to cars to purchase. The app currently has a 4.8 out of 5 star rating and almost 150,000 reviews in the App Store.
Duolingo is a fun way to learn a language, whether it's Italian to make your nonna proud, or Klingon so you can ask where the bathroom is at the next Comic-Con without breaking character. The app offers 39 languages, and lessons include reading, writing, speaking and listening in your chosen language. The lessons get increasingly more difficult, but if you feel like you're rusty you can always go back and retake a lesson before you advance.
You can download Duolingo for free in the App Store, or you can subscribe to Duolingo Plus for $13 a month or $84 annually.