5 iOS Apps I’m Thankful for in 2020

As I stated in my 5 Mac apps of 2020, there’s a lot that we can still be thankful for in 2020, despite all the things we wish to leave behind about this year. It’s important to remember to count our blessings and thank those that have helped us through this year. So in the same vein as before, here are 5 iOS apps I’m thankful for in 2020.

1: Overcast

Image of one of my Overcast playlists

I admit, I’m a bit of a podcast junkie. I have a backlog of podcast despite listening to them almost every day. Whether it’s doing chores around the house, driving around, doing certain repair jobs at work, it’s a way for me to learn or laugh while doing less than exciting tasks or things that don’t require my full attention. And since it came out, I’ve been a fan of Overcast. It’s smart speed that can automatically speed up and slow down based on whether it detects gaps in speech or when people begin talking works flawlessly. That even is on top of the per-podcast speed settings. While Overcast is only an iOS app, unless you have an M1 Mac where you can now download the cross-platform version on those machines. It integrates well with many of iOS’s functionality like Siri Shortcuts (so I can play it on my HomePod and control other aspects of the app with my voice), as well as on the Watch. The developer, the renowned Marco Arment, is also very adamant about privacy controls and the openness of podcasts, which I very much appreciate. You don’t have to create an account to use the app, but if you do you can use the web app to listen to podcasts on any device. Settings can be backed up to iCloud if you choose as well so you can sync them across your iDevices.

Overcast is free to download from the iOS App Store with ads, but you can pay for a $9.99/year subscription to remove the ads, upload your own files to the app, and change the icon.

2: Among Us

Among Us icon

So if you haven’t heard of Among Us by now, we run in very different crowds. It’s likely going to up there with Animal Crossing as one of the most memorable games of 2020. This group game of task-solving astronauts trying to fix their ships and bases while trying to avoid being killed by imposters easily turns your friends against you in a frustrating and loving way that few games can (looking at you Mario Kart and Uno). The game is inexpensive on PC and Switch, (only $4.99) has helped a lot, but it’s availability for free with ads and in-app purchases on iOS and Android has been a boon to getting other people to try it out that might normally have. Neither the ads nor the in-game purchases are invasive or annoying, nor do they affect game play much at all. While some of the tasks are not super obvious and need some explanation, it’s still a delight to play. Now I just need to get rid of the “Self-reporter” stigma I have on me…

The game is free with ads and in-app purchases in the App Store.

3: GroupMe

Image of GroupMe running on an older iPhone.  Image courtesy of GroupMe
Image courtesy of GroupMe

Honestly there are a number of chat apps I could put on here because they all took on a whole new prominence this year. However I decided on GroupMe because it helped make group chatting a lot easier since (much like Zoom) you didn’t necessarily need everyone to have an account. Of course doing so gave you a lot more features, GroupMe can work either in app or over regular SMS for those without accounts. It really did a great job of helping me stay connected with some remote teams and some groups of people I’d otherwise have a hard time keeping in contact with since we couldn’t meet in person. I can’t say it’s perfect, the fact that all calling has to be setup as a Skype meeting in the app and routed through that rather than in the app is super frustrating. But just for chatting and sending gifs, pictures, and videos to each other.

GroupMe is a free app available in the iOS App Store.

4: Apple Pay

Image of the Apple Wallet screen on a modern iPhone.  Image courtesy of Apple
Image courtesy of Apple

Like Overcast, Apple Pay is something I’ve been happy to use even before the pandemic, but like GroupMe it took on a little extra meaning. While we understand the virus a little more now, in the beginning there were a lot of questions about how long the virus could live on various surfaces. This made going to the store and sharing things like carts and baskets a little worrying, and that included things like payment terminals. While there were times where it was easier to order from a store and get either a delivery or pickup, sometimes that just wasn’t an option. One thing that made it easier was the tap-to-pay function of Apple Pay with my Watch. It meant one less thing to touch (be it the terminal, card, or cash). Just going into the grocery store, being able to bring my watch into range gave me at least a little more peace of mind that before I never would have even considered. And of course being able to text money to people is helpful as well when needed. Of course there are plenty of other systems to do either one of these. Google Pay exists on Android, Samsung Pay on their phones, and even some credit cards have a built-in tap-to-pay function, and I imagine some of those users might feel the same as well. Hopefully we’ll start seeing more and more stores turning on those tap-to-pay functions on their terminals.

5: Plex

Plex for Mac icon

There was a lot more streaming being done with people being stuck at home, so many of those apps could have filled this spot. YouTube served that very well for me, and I came close to adding that to this list. But I chose Plex instead. If you’re not aware, Plex is a streaming app that serves a lot of niches. It’s essentially a one stop media shop if you’re willing to put in the work to set it up. I have a little computer setup that hosts the TV shows and movies I own and can stream them to any device in my house or even outside of the house through the web. It’s my own personal streaming collection. It can also do pictures and music, and they have a separate, dedicated music app that I can use just like the built-in Music app on my phone, but all my media’s streaming from my home. But Plex also has a free-with-ads streaming service built-in, a podcast library, and now a cable-like set of channels. All this stuff is free! Yeah, you read that right, free. Of course to stream the media you own, you’ll need to have a computer host it, though that server functionality can run on Windows, Mac, Linux, a NAS, and even the NVIDIA Shield! Their streaming apps, meanwhile, run on those platforms as well as the web, iOS, iPad, Android, Apple TV, Roku, Amazon Fire TV, Android TV, webOS TV’s, various VR platforms, the list goes on. On their paid tier, which you can choose a monthly, yearly, or even lifetime subscription, you can get access to 4K streaming, downloading your media to other devices from the server, and will let you watch your live, over-the-air channels and record them (with a compatible converter box and TV antenna).

I admittedly paid for the lifetime pass several years ago because of how much I use this thing. While I don’t use everything (such as the cable-like service or the podcasts), it really is an app for everything. One memory this year, a fairly recent one, made it stick out in my mind though. This year, for Thanksgiving, I was helping my girlfriend prepare for the Thanksgiving dinner, and we had the idea to have the traditional Macy’s Thanksgiving Day parade on in the background. We tried finding a good stream on YouTube of it, but even the official Verizon one wasn’t really giving us what we wanted. Then I had the idea! I pulled up Plex, found parade on one of our local channels, and started playing it from my phone to her TV via the Lightning to HDMI adapter I had in my bag. It worked like a charm and pleased her immensely. Plex has a lot of nifty features, especially if you’re a media geek, and even for groups of people like the “Watch Together” feature they introduced similar to Disney +’s similar feature or the Netflix Party extension. But for being able to let me stream the local over-the-air channels from my home to my girlfriend’s home in HD quality, and seeing her light up when I got it up. I’m giving it to Plex. It’s a little self-serving, but it’s my top-5 thankful list after all.

Those are the top 5 apps I wanted to thank for this year. Of course there are many others, including the iOS 14 upgrade this year, so tell me in the comments or on social media what apps and services you would like to thank in 2020.

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