November 30, 2023
This Week in Apps: Apple's iPhone app of the year finalists, plus 7 hidden gems


Is the App Store still a source for new technology innovations or has AI development become the hotter new tech to build for these days? We pondered this question this week when Apple unveiled its iPhone App of the Year finalists, which surprisingly included a trio of longtime favorites — hiking app AllTrails, language learning app Duolingo, and travel app Flighty. Instead of highlighting new releases that caught fire in the year, as it did last year with winner BeReal or in 2021 with Toca Life World, for example, Apple has selected several high-quality apps that have been around for some time and have built a following.

But Apple’s selection, which ignores the AI app boom for some reason, may lead you to believe there aren’t many new and interesting gems to be found on today’s App Store — a place where apps like TikTok, Temu, and those from Meta and Google often dominate the top charts.

As it turns out, that’s far from true. However, great new apps can be harder to find these days unless they go viral on TikTok by paying influencers to market their way into the top charts. Meanwhile, the App Store’s editorial collections have gotten a little stale. On the Apps tab, for instance, there are collections like “best dating apps,” “best audio apps,” and “best streaming apps” — none of which tend to include any surprises.

Seeking out App Store gems, as well as those on Google Play, now requires more digging, it seems.

Having done a little of that digging ourselves, we wanted to highlight some of the more interesting and (relatively) new releases we’ve come across in recent days. We’ll bet you’ll find at least one app on this list that you haven’t heard of yet or that sparks your interest.

What new apps are you trying? Send me your TestFlights! sarahp@techcrunch.com or @sarahprz on Threads; @Sarahp on Mastodon. 

Blank Spaces

Image Credits: Blank Spaces/Jeffrey Waters

Blank Spaces is a minimalist home screen “launcher” of sorts for iOS users. Though the iPhone doesn’t support true launchers, as Android does, this app offers a Home Screen widget that provides tappable access to your most-used apps without the distraction or clutter. If you’re trying to un-addict yourself from your apps and your phone, the app could be a useful tool in screen time management. I’m considering making a “downtime” Focus mode where this widget is the only option.

Subscription: $3.99 per month, $13.99 per year, or $22.99 for Lifetime access.

Break the Web

If you’re looking to stay tuned into the latest news and happenings, Break the Web is definitely an interesting way to do so. The app offers real-time, AI-powered summaries of online trends and news, ranked by virality. It also shows different viewpoints (think: left and right swing sentiments) for stories to give you more perspectives on the news. Other features include trending alerts to keep you up-to-date on breaking news and a daily AI-generated newsletter that recaps the day’s events. Be cautioned, however: The app warns that its content is generated by AI, which is not perfect. It may come up with inaccurate, awkward, or even offensive material at times, the app states. Still, it’s an interesting experiment in AI-powered news summaries — and with its bright, bold colors and vertical scroll, it feels as familiar as TikTok from the start.

Price: Free

Swipewipe

We heard about this one from a Gen Z teen: Swipewipe is a Camera Roll cleaning app that makes clearing out your unwanted photos more fun. The app uses a simple Tinder-like swipe mechanism to either keep (swipe right) or delete (swipe left) your photos. And if you accidentally swipe, you can still go back with a tap. You can also tap and hold to see a photo’s metadata if that helps you make your decision. The app has you complete one month at a time and, when you finish, it’s crossed out. A progress wheel also keeps track of your progress on the main screen, so you can see how far you have left to go.

Subscription: $4.99 per week, $9.99 per month, or $29.99 per year, and 3-day free trial.

Corner

The personalized map and social app Corner is a new way to curate places you love or want to try as well as share them with friends. As you travel, you can add places from around the world that you’ve enjoyed, or you can share links to places from websites and apps like Instagram, TikTok, and Maps. Corner uses AI to then find the place in the shared link and save it to your Corner as you build out your bucket list. Based on your usage of Corner, the app will also provide personalized recommendations as it learns more about your tastes and interests.

feeeed

Feeeed — that’s “feed” with four e’s — is a new kind of RSS reader that lets you follow any website that supports RSS, as well as YouTube channels, TikTok profiles, Reddit communities (subreddits), and even email newsletters. But unlike traditional news readers, feeeed lets you do more, like adding flashcards to help you learn something as you scroll or reminders about something you need to do. You can also track the weather, create a reading list that reminds you to read your saved items, or turn websites — like those with stock prices — into live “cards.” Built by a designer at The Browser Company (makers of Arc), feeeed is a fresh take on a personalized news reader experience.

Price: Free

Bandto

An app that feels a bit ahead of its time, Bandto uses AI to drive introductions between professionals for networking purposes. To use the app, you link to your résumé such as your LinkedIn profile, and fill out details about your industry, profession, and digital footprint. You can then add objectives to your status like “Networking,” “Work with me,” “Looking for,” “Interested in,” and others to tune the algorithm that matches you with others. As you travel, you can discover others in your industry in any city, and connect with people via the app’s OpenAI-powered suggestions. You can also join professional networks around your industry, field or interests.

Price: Free

Hardcover

Goodreads alternative Hardcover is a new social network for book lovers that lets you track what you’re reading and what you want to read, while also connecting with other readers and friends. In addition to rating and reviewing books, the app also helps you find new books to read via lists, trending titles, friends’ bookshelves, or books by genre and mood. As you use the app, Hardcover will offer a personalized Match Score that helps you decide if you’ll like a book. We also appreciated that onboarding allowed us to import our data from Goodreads, though it’s a technical process of downloading and uploading a .csv file. A couple of quibbles: The app doesn’t offer sign-in with Apple ID and was loading slowly when we tried it. We hope that’s just because it’s getting popular!

Price: Free with supporter options of $4.99 per month or $49.99 per year.





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