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SkyDrive, Google Maps and other iOS app faves of 2012

The top picks from CNET blogger Lance Whitney include games, productivity software, and a couple of navigation apps to help you find your way around.

Angry Birds Star Wars was one of my favs for the year.
Angry Birds Star Wars was one of my favs for the year.
Screenshot by Lance Whitney/CNET

2012 was another year that kept me glued to my iPhone and iPad, checking out the latest batch of iOS games and other apps. So which ones proved to be among my favorites? In alphabetical order...

Angry Birds Star Wars
My wife and I love to play Angry Birds, and the Star Wars edition is a great take on the familiar franchise. This app could've easily taken a turn to the dark side. But Rovio knew just how to pair its birds and piggies with the classic Star Wars characters and settings that fans know and love. The challenging game play, the clever scenarios, and the evocative music all make this app a force to be reckoned with.

Google Maps
Following the debacle of its own maps app, Apple wisely allowed Google Maps back into its App Store. And iOS users are all the better for it.

When I'm in the car without my GPS, this is the app I rely on to get me where I'm going. The on-screen and spoken directions are clear and easy to follow. When I'm traveling by foot and don't quite know where I am, Google Maps points me to the right spot, sometimes with a little Street View thrown in. And when I want directions, reviews, and other details for a local restaurant or business, I know I can get all of those and more from this one app.

MTA Subway Time
Trying to figure out subway arrivals in New York City was always a challenge, at least until this app arrived. Other subways apps and maps are available, but this new one provides up-to-the-minute info on just how close the next train is to your destination. It covers only a smattering of subway lines right now, but it's still a handy app for helping you travel uptown, downtown, or crosstown in Manhattan.

OnLive Desktop
Want to run Windows on your iPad? This app offers a way.

OnLive Desktop provides a virtual Windows 7 environment complete with Microsoft Office 2010, Internet Explorer, and the usual Windows accessories. Some of the features, such as Internet Explorer, require a subscription. But you can freely take advantage of Microsoft Word, Excel, and PowerPoint to create and store your documents in the cloud.

Other apps, such as CloudOn, offer a virtual version of Office. Released in 2011, CloudOn is another one of my favorite apps. And Microsoft may unveil its own Office suite for the iPad next year. But for now, OnLive Desktop is a simple and quick way to create and access documents in the cloud.

Python Bytes
And now for something completely different.

Python Bytes is a fun app for all Monty Python fans. A selection of some of the troupe's funniest sketches are displayed in a TV screen on your iPhone where you can watch them randomly or choose a particular one. Some of the sketches include a commentary by John Cleese, Michael Palin, and other Python members. And in typical Python fashion, navigating beyond the sketches takes you to an area that makes little sense but fits in perfectly with the overall theme.

The app is pricey. Python Bytes actually comes as three separate series, each one costing you $2.99 a piece. Since you can access most of these sketches on YouTube, coughing up the cash may not make sense. But nudge, nudge, wink, wink, it's still a series of apps that any Python fan will love.

Royal Envoy 2
This proved to be a worthy sequel to one of my all-time favorite iPad games. The original Royal Envoy sent you on a journey to cultivate mythical foreign lands by building different types of homes and buildings. A large part of the fun was just watching the tiny characters scurry around the screen to chop wood, trade at the market, and negotiate with pirates, all in an attempt to build a village before the time ran out.

The sequel carries on that tradition with the same spirit of fun and adventure and even more challenging levels to complete. The attention to detail built into the game is amazing to watch. Both versions of Royal Envoy are also welcome changes from the usual shoot-em-up and combat games. I'm definitely addicted here.

I use Microsoft's SkyDrive to back up and sync my local documents and other files. This app gives me the ability to view and manage all of those files from my iPhone or iPad. I can access my Word documents and Excel spreadsheets, view pictures, and play videos. I can also delete, rename, or move files and share them with other people via e-mail. This app is the ideal way to access all of my documents anywhere and anytime I'm away from my PC.