It’s that time of year again, folks, when list posts reign supreme and reflective 2014 musings clog your feeds. Although this post meets that description, rest assured it will provide at least one thing to brighten your day: eye candy.
Here’s our list of the 14 most impressively designed apps — for mobile, desktop, and the web — released or updated this year. From simple utilities to immersive experiences, we’re sure you’ll find something on this list worth downloading on your brand new smartphone, tablet, or [insert hot new gadget here]. Enjoy.
1. Manual: Take charge of your iPhone’s camera
Built for the camera nut (and the hopelessly nostalgic), Manual strikes a balance between the simplicity of your average photo app and the difficulty of traditional photography (think: ISO levels and shutter speed).
Get it: iOS ($0.99)
2. Wire: A visual messenger
3. Yahoo News Digest: Surprisingly good
Get it: iOS / Android (Free)
4. Evernote for the Web: Distraction-free note-taking
Although its desktop and mobile apps lag behind, Evernote’s new web app shows how beautiful the company’s namesake note-taking service can be.
Get it: Web (Free)
5. Monument Valley: It’s a game, but we’re including it anyway
We’re still not sure if games technically count as apps, but Monument Valley is far too beautiful to ignore. And since it ships in Apple’s App Store we’re making an exception.
6. Facebook Paper: A strong attempt to rethink Facebook
Facebook’s Paper didn’t take off, but let’s ignore practicality for a moment. Facebook managed to turn the often clunky experience of its namesake app into a unique and highly editorial experience. Hopefully we’ll see elements of Paper built into the core Facebook app soon.
Get it: iOS (Free)
7. Foursquare: Split in two, and way easier to use
By cutting out the check-ins, Foursquare (controversially) turned its flagship app into a far better restaurant discovery engine (even if we don’t use Swarm all that much). Before the split, Foursquare was bursting with functionality, but all we wanted was a simple recommendation: Where should I brunch? The new Foursquare now spits out recommendations quicker and more elegantly than ever before.
8. Google Inbox: Let’s make Gmail less ugly
In order to understand Inbox, you have to understand Material Design, Google’s new design framework, which mixes simple, bright shapes with shadows and contextual animations. Inbox shows us what happens when an app embraces Google’s design language completely, and the results aren’t half bad. Android, once far uglier than iOS, is clearly heading in the right direction.
9. Acorns: Simplify investing
Acorns aims to significantly lower the barrier to investing. The app lets you “invest spare change automatically from everyday purchases into a diversified portfolio.” It’s a bit like Bank of America’s “keep the change” program, except you’re doing something with your change. Despite its entry-level focus, Acorns gets major points for being the best-designed investing app on the market.
10. Overcast: A smart and simple podcast player
Not everyone loves podcasts, but the genre appears to be more popular now than ever before. In just five months since its release, Overcast has become the definitive iOS podcast app — surely it helped that Overcast creator Marco Arment also created a mega-popular app called Instapaper.
Get it: iOS (Free)
11. Airbnb: Ignore the sexualized logo for a minute, okay?
We get it, you still hate the new logo. Let’s ignore the sexual connotations for a moment. Airbnb, which stuck by its web 2.0 bubble letter logo for years, is finally moving on. And with the new identity came a handsome app refresh.
Get it: iOS / Android
12. Stacks 2: Currency conversion never looked this good
Treat your inner nomad with Stacks 2. Yes, it’s strange that a $2 currency app can leave such a strong impression, but trust us: It’s as thoughtfully designed as it is handy. Technically, the app should lose some usability points for all its hidden gestures, but we’re going to turn a blind eye this time — those gestures are kind of fun to stumble upon anyways.
Get it: iOS ($1.99)
13. Lush: The cocktail lovers’ companion
Although Lush’s large database of drinks is a bit jarring, the app’s whimsical illustrations make it an absolute joy to use. ‘Nuff said.
Get it: iOS ($1.99)
14. Miranda: Somehow tracking time zones just got beautiful
If you work with a distributed team, learning to manage multiple time zones is part of the job. Miranda somehow (with what magic, we don’t know) found a way to build an absolutely beautiful time zone converter, despite the obviously boring subject matter. Bonus: We also recommend Clocks for Mac if you’re time-zone challenged.
Get it: iOS (free)
This unordered list is just a starting point; if we missed one of your favorites, please let us know in the comments below.