There are new apps coming out every day and though I try a few new ones each month, I keep coming back to a few, at most 20, that I use on a regular basis. While some are amazing, some seem to be coasting on their existing reputation and the knowledge that we’ve come to rely on them. This year I also started using two apps more frequently, after realizing that they were just better than the competition.
Here, in no particular order, are my 2017 app awards:
Best time-saver: driving with Waze. I used to think Google Maps was just as good as Waze but as I started driving longer drives in rush hour, I realized just how much of a difference Waze makes. Just this week I was able to test this with a friend when we ended up needing to travel the same 5.5 mile trip. I used Waze, which ended up taking me through a few side streets to the relatively clear highway while my friend was routed through a non-highway main street. For me, the journey took 15 minutes. My friend arrived 6 minutes later, which is an incredible difference for such a short journey. Is this because Waze is constantly optimizing the route while Google Maps picks the shortest one at the getgo and sticks with it? Either way, when road conditions are tough, i.e. every commute in the Bay Area, Waze is the better choice.
Caveat: there some situations where Waze isn’t great. First, in emergency situations. Take Take this month’s fast spreading Southern California fires. When Waze noticed that some highways in the usually busy LA area were empty, they decided to route drivers through them. This doesn’t seem like an unsolvable problem but it is one that should be addressed soon. Second, as we reach peak highway congestion, with backups lasting for hours, it makes sense that Waze route traffic to city streets. That said, it doesn’t make residents of those streets happy and they’ve fought back by adding barricades and creating false reports. It will be interesting to see how this conflict plays out in the next year.
Finally, Waze launched support for car pool lanes earlier this month, but I haven’t yet had a chance to try it during rush hour. This feature can be great if Waze can now create a route based where the lanes exist and what times they operate.
Best use of machine learning to make me happy: Spotify Music. I first realized that music recommendations made it to “good” from “tolerable” was with Pandora a few years ago, but was loathe to give up my entire music collection, painstakingly collected on Google Music. Now, Google Music isn’t bad: it has mood playlists based on Songza as well as playlists based on popular music in different genres. I was also super impressed by its ability to create a really good playlist based on a single, selected song.
Yet, switching to Spotify opened a brand new world of recommendations and listening to new music that I don’t think I would have been exposed to otherwise. Their curated playlists are good but their personalized discovery playlists are incredible. I’ve had a chance to listen to and like music that wasn’t even on my listening radar. Within only a few months, Spotify knows my feels.
Extra bonus points: Spotify works well with Waze on iOS, with both respecting each other’s audio needs. This doesn’t work well with every audio – navigation combination so it’s commendable.
Finally, I’d love to see more voice-driven commands for both Spotify and Waze as I use them while driving. I’d rather not look at my phone screen for any reason, even if it’s just to glance at a map. It would be much better to ask for the information I need.
Most wow while getting the job done: Google Maps. Maybe not my winner for navigation, but certainly a boon both for saving local favorites and exploring a new city in preparation for a visit. Maps’ offline mode is also a great help, especially when traveling abroad without mobile data. I was also extremely impressed with the new ways Maps has been building layers of data to find new areas of interest. This blog post is worth your while on how Maps is getting better all the time.
Most unnecessary anxiety: all the messaging apps. Also, app problem I most wish solved in 2018. Today I have direct messaging set up on no less than 6 apps: Facebook Messenger, Google Hangouts, Google Voice for text, Slack DMs with different groups, WhatsApp with (mostly) international contacts, and, for extra fun, Twitter DMs. That’s way, way too many messaging apps yet there isn’t one I can turn off without losing important contacts which aren’t on any other service or without missing out important messages from less important people. Maybe we could all just go back to text messaging? Yes?
Most meh but used every day: Google Calendar. For the life of me, I couldn’t survive without calendar on my phone but it’s just standing still in terms of new feature development. How about smarter integration with mobile scheduling apps like Meetup and Eventbrite? How about helping set up meetings with several participants? How about smarter search of events, future and past? Better understanding of what events are important and what aren’t? Let’s add more smarts to Calendar this year, or please, can someone build a better Sunrise?
That’s it for me for 2017. May 2018 bring us the apps we need in this world.