App makers have officially shrugged off the holiday lethargy and are updating apps stores with amazing new additions to make all our lives collectively easier. Or at the very least much prettier.
This week, Microsoft is on a crazed app development bender, building more lock screens for Android, buying one of the best calendar apps out there, and helping make its own Windows Phone platform even better. Let's take a look at what Microsoft and other developers are up to.
Picturesque Lock Screen
Microsoft Garage is an amazingly wonderful program—it's like an app developing machine, creating smartphone software across iOS, Android, and Windows Phone. Its latest creation for Android reimagines the lock screen and incorporates some Microsoft services into what is probably your Google-filled smartphone existence. The lock screen pulls images from Bing, displays missed calls and texts, current weather and news, and of course, a Bing search bar. [Free]
If you're lucky enough to live in Boston, Los Angeles, New York, or San Francisco, making a reservation just became waaaay easier. Reserve helps you with your dinner reservation from beginning to end. Pick one of Reserve's partnered restaurants in the app, choose the time of your reservation, and let the app do the rest. You can also set the app to automatically pay for your bill when you're done. Here's a toast to convenience. [Free]
The U.S. is the worst place in the world for finding a deal on flights. That's why we need all the help we can get. With features like "Watch a Trip" and "When to Fly," Hopper tracks the trips and destinations you're looking to visit and sends push notifications when it discovers a significant price decrease. We'll most likely still be paying more than all our international friends, but hey, it's a start. [Free]
This app slipped past me in December, so I'm taking the opportunity with its latest update for some appropriate light-shining. Dull taps into that a very common habit: Using certain apps to fill in the dull (get it?) moments of the day. Dull isn't meant to replace any dedicated news reader, but instead provides a filter for trending topics on a variety of social networks, constantly taking the pulse of the viral internet. With its new update, the app gamifies that reading experience by integrating with Apple's Game Center. Now leaderboards show how much time you spend on the app, which may sound fun for some, but is personally information I probably wouldn't want to know. Smartphone use ignorance is bliss. [Free]
Letterspace for iOS and Mac integrates the Twitter iconography we're all familiar with and bakes it into a well-designed notes app. You can use hashtags to mark important parts of a note and return to it more easily later, as well as @mentioning specific people for similar reasons. The app even improves upon your keyboard by including a blue bar that lets you easily move the cursor through your text. [Free]
My favorite thing about Windows Phone are Live Tiles. They're animated. They're fun. And they can be designed to make your homescreen look pretty damn cool. It's why I picked one such app as one of the best of 2014. But Microsoft Mobile's new #TileArt takes homescreen customization to the next level, giving you access to its own gallery or letting you upload your very own .png images. The best part is that it's all free. Come and get it. [Free]
NPR One is the first app the popular news station has developed with Windows device users in mind. The app channels local, national, and international news all within the same app. You can also listen to all of NPR's podcasts and even see what stories are upcoming. [Free]