With the majority of the world at least strongly encouraged to stay inside due to the COVID-19 pandemic, our phones became our lifelines, even more than usual. Whether you used your iPhone or Android phone to watch movies, video chat with friends, or make the hours evaporate with addictive games, you couldn’t have done any of that without glorious apps.
So while 2020 didn’t give us much to celebrate, we can at least give props to the apps that kept us going during these difficult times. Here are the apps we loved the most this year:
Wakeout has proven more useful than ever during this time when many are avoiding gyms either due to temporary closures or simply because they are arguably unsafe. The app offers short workouts you can do in places like your kitchen, bedroom… or even on an airplane. Instead of workout equipment, the app recommends you use common household items like pillows and cans of food.
It’s a clever idea and one you’ll have to pay $4.99 per month to access, but if you’ve been feeling a little too inactive lately, Wakeout might be worth checking out.
HBO Max’s mobile app (available on and ) isn’t especially remarkable relative to other streaming service apps. It has all the basic features you could want like the ability to watch the service’s entire catalogue on your phone, as well as 30-day downloads for those who are doing a lot of traveling right now for some reason.
It makes this list mostly because of its , which costs $15 per month to access. Let me put it in simpler terms: It’s the only mobile app that lets you legally stream Studio Ghibli movies and Friends. That’s enough, right? The best part is that you can access it with the same login info you’ve been using to watch HBO Go or Now for years, so you may not necessarily need to spend $14.99 per month on a new subscription.
Mobile gaming offers way more variety now than at any point in its relatively short history, and Apple’s 2020 iPhone game of the year is a great example of that. Genshin Impact blew up over the summer when it launched simultaneously on Android, iOS, PC, and PS4. It delivers something most mobile games don’t, which is a massive (and growing) open world to run, jump, and climb all over for the low price of free.
Genshin handles surprisingly well on a phone screen, with an active combat system based around switching between characters on the fly to maximize their different elemental abilities. If you really want to unlock new characters, you can spend money, but if not, Genshin is fairly generous with free stuff. There are at least a few dozen hours worth of questlines to follow even if you don’t pony up any cash.
We know you’ve got lots of free time right now and there are worse ways to spend it than in the world of Genshin Impact.
Adobe’s new Photoshop Camera app for and soft launched for some users in November of 2019, but it didn’t get a full, wide release until June 2020. It’s not the most mind-blowing app in the world, but Photoshop Camera is a nice way to make your phone photos look neat without doing any actual work.
Photoshop Camera is a camera app with a bunch of cool filters that can turn any old photo into a pop art or glitch aesthetic masterpiece in just a couple of seconds. (There’s also a sponsored Billie Eilish filter for some reason.) Want to add a blue sky to an existing photo or maybe use a custom Pride-themed lens complete with rainbows aplenty? You can do that with this app and the filters available from its lens marketplace.
If you’re tired of the generic filters you find on Instagram or Snapchat, Photoshop Camera can unlock a whole new and enhanced world of selfies and food pics.
And now for a camera app with significantly more real-world utility. Anonymous Camera came out on in the midst of nationwide protests after the police killing of George Floyd in Minneapolis with the simple goal of . It can blur or cover up faces with solid colors using on-device machine learning. You don’t need to do anything other than snap a photo within the app.
If you have an iPhone XS or newer, you can block out entire bodies. There are also easy ways to erase metadata from photos within the app so they can’t be traced if you post them on social media. The best part is that all of this is free. You can throw down a $1.99 one-time fee to remove the Anonymous Camera watermark from your photos or only block out parts of the photo, but that’s optional.
Rounding out our list is an app that’s more useful for kids than adults. Pokémon Smile on and is a free app that leverages the magnetizing power of Nintendo’s iconic pocket monsters to make sure you (or ideally your kids) brush your dang teeth correctly.
This app basically turns brushing your teeth into a game. It works like this: You point the selfie camera at yourself while you brush and a classic Pokémon character like Pikachu or Squirtle will appear telling you which quadrant to brush and for how long. By doing so, you clear your teeth of virtual critters who would seek to do them harm. At the end of the process, you get to throw a Poké Ball at your attackers with a chance of catching them.
It’s real silly and hopefully most adults can brush their own teeth without cartoon animals telling them how to do it. If not, though, this is a great way to figure it out.
Best updates of the year: PlayStation App and Facebook Messenger Rooms
This list has largely revolved around new apps, but let’s finish by giving some credit to a couple of apps that got major, necessary updates. First up is Facebook Messenger, which got the addition of Rooms for those much-needed video calls we’ve all been doing for the past several months.
We understand if you’re hesitant to use Facebook for anything, but it’s very easy to create a video call for up to 50 people from the main screen of the Messenger app now. Other participants don’t even need to have Facebook accounts; just send ’em the link and they’ll be able to join in. As long as you don’t mind that it’s Facebook, there are much worse ways to see people face-to-face right now.
Sony’s recently overhauled PlayStation app (on Android and iOS) also deserves some love. It’s borderline essential for PS4 and PS5 owners now, as opposed to the clunky, confusing version that had languished for years before its PS5-inspired revamp. With the new app, it’s super easy to buy games, download them to your console, get push notifications on download progress, and even join voice chats with your friends from your phone. It’s faster, cleaner, and deserving of praise even if it’s not a new app.
Honorable mention: Quibi
Let’s pour one out for the other mobile streaming app from 2020, Quibi.
Sure, Quibi used genuinely interesting tech that allowed viewers to switch between widescreen and vertical aspect ratios on the fly, but that potential was squandered by a library of bizarre content that wasn’t appealing enough to keep the business afloat. By both launching and getting shut down during the COVID-19 pandemic, Quibi will live on forever as an answer at bar trivia.