The best apps of 2012
APPS: where do you start? Mobile apps for the Android, Apple and Windows Phone platforms have multiplied massively during 2012.
The latest total for iOS, Apple's software for its iPhone, iPod and iPad hardware is over 700,000. But Android has caught up, matching that number last month. Windows Phone is way behind, as is BlackBerry. But the point is every phone and tablet platform has more apps than you can possibly use, even if the very one you have set your heart on isn't always there.
Apple may no longer have a big lead in total numbers, but the company is keen to stress that it has 275,000 apps optimised for iPad, while Android has mostly phone apps which are scaled up for larger screens.
And it's still the case that Android's store, called Google Play, can't match Apple's for consistency of quality - though it's certainly no longer the Wild West it was a few years ago, with untested apps that would work well on one handset and quit on another.
As for Windows, there's a quick way to spot a really good app: anything beginning with Nokia. The Finnish company's adoption of Microsoft's OS brought with it great benefits in terms of mapping, music and other apps designed immaculately by Nokia's engineers.
Read on for our guide to ten of the best apps of the year.
iOS, Android. Free
Apple rarely puts a foot wrong, but it went down a cul-de-sac when it replaced Google's mapping program with its own. Unforgivably, the new app had erroneous information in it. It's not that there was that much, necessarily, but the perception was that you just couldn't trust it. The app is improving on a near daily basis, but if you want maps that are reliably accurate, the free download of Google Maps is the way to go.
Google had held back certain features from its iPhone app - one of the reasons Apple wanted rid. In its Android app it had turn-by-turn navigation, StreetView and more. Now, Google has put them into the iOS version, so iPhone users have them after all. Funny how things work out.
Windows Phone, Symbian. Free
Only available in full form on Nokia handsets, this is a compelling app in one way Google cannot match: overseas use. With Nokia you can download the maps easily in advance, and they're free. One of the bugbears of overseas phone use is the exorbitant level of roaming charges, but Nokia's phones allow you to turn off roaming and still find your way around. Genius.
This is a to-do app that looks gorgeous and works brilliantly. Swipe, pinch and pull to complete, add and delete items easily, complete with cool sound effects. It's easy to navigate, customise and more. You can even save to-do lists remotely so they're updated on multiple iDevices. It's deeply satisfying to use. Note that Android users can turn to Koalcat's Clear which is surprisingly similar.
Where's My Perry?
This is one of the most addictive time wasters to arrive recently. You must help Perry (a platypus secret agent, naturally) to move through a series of underground dungeons. Spray water through channels in the earth to progress. But you need to avoid poisons, freeze or steam the water and direct it with great precision. Oh, and there are three gnomes to be dissolved in each chamber, too. More than 80 puzzles, with more arriving regularly, will keep you hooked.
iOS, Android, Windows Phone.
Once you've paid Netflix's monthly subscription, you get to watch it on a range of devices, from TVs to games consoles to computers. And most phones and tablets. There is a huge catalogue of movies and TV series - Breaking Bad is a very popular Netflix choice - that's growing all the time. True, it doesn't have the latest Hollywood blockbusters, but the selection is vast, and growing.
Angry Birds Star Wars
iOS, Android, Windows Phone. From free
If this sounds like a crass attempt at moneymaking by shoving two big names together, you're wrong. It has the same mechanics as earlier Angry Birds games (catapult different birds at naughty green piggies) but now there are piggies dressed as Darth, familiar vehicles decked out ingeniously and so on. Tremendous fun.
One of the most rewarding apps yet. Scores of big-name actors perform Shakespeare's 154 sonnets. Beautifully. There are notes, facsimile editions and scholarly introductions. But you don't need any of those as you listen to David Tennant, Dominic West, Harriet Walter and Sian Phillips effortlessly make these poems accessible. Check out the lesser known performers, too: Ben Crystal speaks a sonnet in Elizabethan pronunciation. And Cicely Berry, the RSC's doyenne of voice coaches, who is wonderful. Berry has set actors' voices free for decades and her reading of sonnet 129 is glorious, even down to her self-deprecating shrug at the end.
This is a great running app which gives audio directions so you don't need to interrupt your exercise to check your way at the next intersection. Get to the end of your run and you're presented with plenty of statistics, including the distance you've run, the calories you've burned and how long it took you. You can listen to the music on your phone as you're going, of course, and it's easy to personalise routes.
Just as Clear improves on the built-in to-do list on the iPhone, so this upgrades the calendar. It's fast and elegant, making data input simple - you use regular phrases, it turns them into appointments. The interface is exceptionally user-friendly (and that's saying something when we're talking about an Apple device) and it's very quick to get to grips with. You may never use Apple's calendar again.
iOS, Android, Windows Phone, BlackBerry. Free
This is one of the most elegant and simple apps on any platform, and has just been revamped for iOS. You can book flights, check in, display your boarding pass and even check the wi-fi password in the lounge. Passbook integration on an iPhone - where your boarding pass is stored in a different app so it will pop up onscreen automatically when you're approaching the gate - isn't here yet. Virgin Atlantic has this, so surely it's only a matter of time before it arrives.