8 apps that made us go 'wow' in 2020


Well-known member
  • Aug 2, 2020
    The year 2020 saw most of us spending more time at home than ever before. Fortunately, there were plenty of new apps to help pass the days couped up inside. From exciting new tools for creatives to VR workouts and surreal AR fun that hit the mark during global lockdowns, the past 12 months left us with some fantastic new gems on our devices. But which were the apps that most impressed us?

    We’ve selected seven apps that made a memorable impression over the past year be it for mobile, desktop, tablet or VR headsets. There are apps that helped us to work, apps that helped us play, and others that were simply well-made and stunning to look at.

    01. Artleap


    Artleap offered more creative power than most mobile photo editing apps for novices (Image credit: Lightricks)
    • Price: Free. From $5.99 per month/$59.99 one-off purchase
    • Platform: iPhone
    Just when it seemed there couldn’t possibly be space for yet another photo editing app, along came Artleap from Lightricks, the developer behind Facetune. Initially named Quickart when it launched in July, this impressive app managed to stand out in a crowded market by offering something more than the usual image touch-ups.

    The adventurous filter options include some with impressive 3D effects. The one that really made us go “wow” was the dispersion filter, which allows the creation of powerful creative effects with no knowledge of editing.

    02. Illustrator on iPad


    The long-awaited Illustrator for iPad arrived in October (Image credit: Adobe)
    • Price: From £19.99 per month
    • Platform: iPad
    Another app that made us say wow is one that kept us waiting. Designers’ favourite vectors tool finally arrived for the iPad in October 2020 and it didn’t disappoint. Illustrator for the iPad reimagines the original software's core design capabilities for the iPad and the Apple Pencil. While there are some omissions in the range of tools available at the moment, the app is clean, powerful and intuitive.

    The app can sync with the main Illustrator software, so sending files between Illustrator on the iPad and your desktop is effortless. Best of all, the Apple Pencil integration works wonderfully and the app offers perhaps the best granular typography control for working on the move.

    03. Universe in a Nutshell


    Hold the entire observable universe in the palm of your hand (Image credit: Wait But Why & Kurzgesagt)
    • Price: £2.99
    • Platform: Android/iPhone
    Inspired by Stephen Hawking’s book of the same name, Universe in a Nutshell is a beautifully executed educational game that offers fascinating insights into the universe’s scale and sophistication by comparing the sizes of different natural and man-made objects.

    Opening the app, you meet a cartoonish animated giraffe, an elephant, a human and other animals. The app lists their size and you can tap on them to bring up a range of interesting facts. But pinch the screen to zoom in or out and it gets truly epic as you discover layers of larger or smaller objects, from microscopic particles to machines, countries, planets, stars and beyond. Zoom out as far as you go and you reach the entire known universe on the screen of your smartphone.

    04. Super You


    The ability to turn friends into surreal AR creatures offered socially distanced fun in 2020 (Image credit: Universal Everything)
    • Price: Free
    • Platform: iPhone
    Virtual reality and augmented reality-based apps multiplied in 2020. Many have aimed to push the envelope with increasingly convincing realism, but it was refreshing to find a proposition that aims for the surreal instead. Super You, described by its developer Universal Everything as a "costume arts experiment", employs Apple ARKit 3 body tracking technology to let you film your mates in a range of bizarre costumes.

    Open the app, aim your phone’s camera at a friend, swipe to choose a costume of abstract shapes (blobs, spikes, flowers, leaves, etc.) then film your target move around as they’re transformed into a fantasy creature. The result is a fresh, slightly bonkers app that made socialising at a distance that little bit more fun. Who knows?

    05. Adobe Fresco for iPhone


    Rather than producing a watered-down app for the smaller screen, Adobe Fresco for iPhone threw in new features. (Image credit: Adobe/JinJin Sun)
    • Price: Free. Premium from $9.99 per month
    • Platform: iPhone
    Less than a year after it was launched for the iPad, the popular painting and drawing app Adobe Fresco made it to the iPhone, making it even more portable. Artists were delighted to discover the app hadn't been watered down for the smaller device. Instead, we got the same engine, cloud libraries, UI and array of brushes as on the iPad version reconfigured for the smaller screen.

    On top of that, Fresco introduced new features such as Smudge brushes, which can be used to soften strokes, blend edges and blur linework, and Ribbon brushes, which allow the user to paint with textures and materials by turning photos into organic brushes. It’s also possible to change how the stylus responds under different degrees of pressure, making it feel even more like real drawing.

    Having such a powerful app on the one device we're rarely without offered the potential to transform the creative process. Rather than draw in a sketchbook when inspiration strikes and then copy the idea into a digital form, ideas can now be begun directly in the iPhone app and then filled in on the iPad.

    06. Google Look to Speak


    Google’s Look to Speak is a leap forward in accessibility (Image credit: Google)
    • Price: Free
    • Platform: Android
    Look to Speak is an app that shows how technological advances can be truly life-changing for people with disabilities. For people who have both speech and motor impairments, the ability to communicate is severely limited without special hardware or software, but Google’s experimental app released in December allows communication using only an Android smartphone and a phone stand or arm to hold it in place.

    Using the phone’s front-facing camera to track eye movements, the app allows the user to communicate by selecting preset words and phrases from two lists by looking at them. The number of words and phrases is narrowed down after each selection and the final word is read out loud. That sounds like a long, laborious process, but it’s surprising how quickly the desired phrase can be reached. Similar technology already existed on specialist devices, but Look to Speak is a breakthrough in terms of cost and practicality, allowing communication in situations where more cumbersome devices would be difficult to use.

    07. Supernatural


    Supernatural allowed us to both travel and workout while in lockdown (Image credit: Within)
    • Price: $19 per month
    • Platform: Oculus Quest, with Android and iPhone companion apps
    Home fitness regimes were big during global lockdowns, and Apple recognised this by choosing Wakeout as its iPhone App of the Year. However, Supernatural from Within solved not one, but two consequences of the Covid-19 pandemic: increased sedentarism due to working from home and the closure of gyms and the scuppering of travel plans.

    While exercising in the same room every day following Instagram tutorials can soon get boring, Supernatural uses virtual reality to turn home workouts into adventures visiting some of the world’s most stunning isolated places. You put on the headset, choose from a range of locations such as the Galapagos Islands, Machu Picchu or Ethiopia’s Erta Ale volcano, then swing at attacking objects and duck under others as the tempo of the music picks up.
    Last edited: