Tuesday, 5 January 2016
2015 has been a spectacular year indeed. This year has been one of the busiest yet for Apple, who have expanded their product reach to a whole new level with the intimate companion the Apple Watch tries to be, as well as relaunching the Apple TV with a promising (yet underdeveloped) focus on apps as the next way of interacting with your TV. iOS 9 builds upon last year’s opportunities for developers to open up their apps to the system with Spotlight Search extensions, as well as adding advanced iPad multitasking, opening the doors for the iPad Pro to become the computer of the future for many of today’s students.
2015 has also been a big year for entertainment. Podcasts are growing in popularity as Serial returns for a second season, and Relay FM concludes its first year as an independent podcast network. Pixar released Inside Out, a film so great I may forgive them for Cars 2, and my all-time favorite sci-fi movie franchise (you can guess which) has returned with a movie so great, I watched it twice, making me forget the crapshoot that were the prequels.
So what did I feel were the most noteworthy in tech, apps, productivity, and entertainment this year?
Best Tech Product
This year was a mostly quiet one for the rest of the tech industry as Apple released new hardware one after the other: the MacBook, Apple Watch, the iPhones 6s, a new Apple TV, 4K iMacs, iPad Pro, and a lot of accessories. While I only purchased one of the above, this did mean a lot of going to the local Apple Store to try out the aforementioned hardware. There was very little I did purchase that wasn’t an Apple product (much less those which I liked).
- Apple Watch: This is one purchase I am really happy with. Having purchased the product rather late (in mid-October), I hadn’t had as long to use it as much as the others, but so far, it has become something I wear everyday, thanks to how much it has changed how I run the day. Third-party complications from my favorite apps help me check my next calendar event (Fantastical), which buses I need to get on to get there (Citymapper) and, when I’m on vacation, which gate my plane is at (App in the Air). Fitness features and health data help give me an overall view of my life right now, and allows me to look at all of this in the Health app on my iPhone. All these reasons make the Apple Watch the best tech product I’ve bought in 2015.
- AirPort Time Capsule: We received a Time Capsule over the holidays, and I’m really happy with it. I’m using it as a Wi-Fi base station, a wireless backup system, and kinda-sorta like a NAS. It’s a great product. Not cheap, but definitely something I recommend.
- Fitbit Charge HR. I’m kind of cheating here, but this was the year of wearables here in Hong Kong. While the Apple Watch did okay, Fitbit products really took off. Now, both my parents have the Charge HR, and it’s a pretty solid product. From what I’ve seen, it’s around or slightly more accurate than the Apple Watch in terms of fitness data, and has a great app that doesn’t play nice with Apple’s own, but displays information in a dashboard much better than the iOS Health app.
Best iOS App
I really went all-in on apps by independent developers this year, especially when it came to iOS. Apps by independent developers tend to be more personal and they respect their users more. Here are the top three iOS apps I’ve used of the year.
- Tweetbot 4. Tapbots have caught some flak for making Tweetbot 4 a new app, which is completely unwarranted for the work Tapbots have put in to version 4 of their now universal iOS app. Tweetbot is something I use everyday, and the changes they’ve made in version 4 most definitely warrant the $10.
- 1Password. I dived into 1Password at the start of the year, and now it’s become and irreplaceable facet of my digital life. The iOS app is not as good as the OS X app, but it’s still worthy of making this list.
- Spark. Spark is the newest email client to come out this year, and is in many ways the spiritual successor of the Mailbox, which was ‘sunsetted’ late last year by Dropbox. It’s a solid email client, but is yet to have an iPad and Mac app.
Best Apple Watch App
I’ve worn my Apple Watch for about three months now, and I only use a handful of third-party apps. These are:
- Citymapper. The hands-down best Apple Watch app yet, Citymapper’s excellent integration with the watch face thanks to third-party complications are a joy to use. I get notifications when I’m approaching my bus stop, an ETA, and what bus to take, where based on my current journey. I wholeheartedly recommend Citymapper if it’s available in your area.
- Fantastical. I mainly use Fantastical through the complication, and it’s so great that Apple ripped off them in watchOS 2 with an update to the Calendar app.
- Overcast. It’s the only podcast app with an Apple Watch extension, but it’s not great, either. It’s only on the list because a) I actually use it, and b) I use it a lot.
Best OS X App
- Fantastical 2. This year, Flexibits released Fantastical 2 for OS X, which I use every day. Read the Yellow Signal review here.
- Reeder. Reeder 3 launched this year, and had a fresh new UI to complement the new look OS X Yosemite introduced to Apple’s desktop operating system. It’s a solid update to the best RSS reader for OS X today, and even supports read-it-later services as a provider.
- 2Do. After Federico Viticci wrote about his newfound love for 2Do in his manifest to the app on MacStories, I new I had to try it. I used OmniFocus prior, but 2Do clicked with me in a way that OmniFocus never had, to my surprise. After migrating all my lists and tasks over, I use it every day.
In 2015, I saw fewer films than ever before, on account of a busier academic year. I did manage to catch up on some of the better films of the year, and even saw Star Wars: The Force Awakens before all of America had (even while having purchased tickets just day before). Having seen fewer films, I probably did well not to waste my time with some of the downright crap that I had watched in theaters last year.
- Star Wars: The Force Awakens, of course. This movie did almost everything right. It captured the nostalgia of the original series perfectly, the cast had great chemistry and had two great lead characters — I had no qualms whatsoever about the casting, and the only flaw was the slightly similar storyline to that of Star Wars (1977).
- The Martian. I was in the midst of the book when the movie came out. I wasn’t too bothered about which one I enjoyed first — the book was pretty great, but from what I could tell, the movie was good too. Matt Damon’s character was perfect for the character he plays in the book, and the movie was a pretty good adaptation of Weir’s novel. It’s my second-favorite film of the year.
- Inside Out. It’s a Pixar movie, and pretty much obligatory viewing for anyone. Initially, I wasn’t as sure how Pixar would pull off such an abstract concept, but I was thrilled when I watched it — it truly wins a place amongst the other Pixar movies I loved (with the exception of Cars 2 and perhaps Brave).
2015 was the year of podcasts for me, as I delved into the diverse and now even more mature world of oral storytelling and discussion. 2015 also brought new podcasts. Here are my favorite:
- Hello Internet. Hands-down the best podcast I’ve ever heard, I’m shocked I’ve only started listening this year. I know I’m cheating since this podcast has been out since 2014, but it’s still too good not to include. Brady Haran and CGP Grey discuss professional (educational) YouTubing, productivity, and by now, everything under the sun, too. Grey has interesting opinions (sorry, language teachers), and Brady asks him tough questions about these opinions. I’m still making my way through it, but this show is awesome.
- Cortex. A podcast with Myke Hurley and CGP Grey? What’s next, gun control?! Cortex discusses Grey’s productivity and work as a professional YouTuber, and has just the right balance of the technology discussion we’re familiar with Relay FM shows, and the invigorating discussions from Hello Internet…
- Ctrl-Walt-Delete. A new show by The Verge, Nilay Patel and the Walt Mossberg team up and discuss technology. Come for the discussions, stay for the throwbacks. Walt has some great experiences he discusses on the show. A great episode is the discussion on Steve Jobs, and the many movies he’s inspired.
These are my top picks for 2015, a great year for tech, apps, entertainment, and podcasts. 2016 looks set to be a bigger year with the advent of VR, perhaps the year podcasts become mainstream (again?), and iOS 10.