Must-have apps: Five that went viral in 2020

1. TikTok

It was Sarah Cooper who finally lured me on to TikTok. The American comedian’s lip-syncing impersonations of President Donald Trump were so good I couldn’t resist downloading the app and following her channel of video updates. That led me down a rabbit hole of weird and wonderful videos, the equivalent of YouTube for those with an attention disorder.

The short-format video app, made by Chinese app developer ByteDance, has been around for a few years now, but came into its own during lockdown. Anyone and everyone was suddenly recording themselves acting out memes to a musical theme and uploading it to TikTok.

Trump wanted to ban the app, worried that it was funnelling users’ info back to Beijing. The reality was that he was just peeved at TikTok’s popularity – 850 million people around the world log into the app every month. Its user-generated pop-culture content is eclectic and random – just what we needed to distract us from the real events of 2020.

iOS and Android devices.

2. Brave

Do we really need another internet browser? If you value your privacy and are frustrated by how some browsers hog your computer’s memory, the answer is a resounding yes. Brave is built on the same core infrastructure as Google’s leading Chrome browser, which also powers the Opera and Edge browsers. Its key point of difference is that, by default, it blocks all efforts to track your movements around the web. That keeps you safe from advertisers trying to grab your attention, but it also means the browser offers faster load times and uses less of your device’s memory.

Brave has the anonymous browsing and encryption features of other browsers, but its ad-blocking feature will suit those who want to stop feeding their data to Google, Facebook and thousands of other third parties. There’s even a built-in system that lets you contribute digital tokens towards websites you love that would struggle to survive without running advertising.

Windows, macOS, Linux, iOS and Android.

3. Apple TV+

Launched last November, Apple’s TV streaming service arrived with a slate of big-budget TV shows and movies that proved it was willing to spend billions to compete with Netflix and Amazon Prime TV in the streaming market. As the app became available on mobile devices and certain smart TVs, it became clear that the slick design and intuitive user interface with Apple Music and the original Apple TV devices would also make TV+ a pleasure to use.

Ultimately, it is the content that sells a streaming service, and Apple has a lot of work to do to broaden its offering. But what it has available is high quality. I was delighted when the Tom Hanks war movie Greyhound appeared on the platform after Covid left the film in limbo. The one downside of AppleTV+ is that it is available only for Apple devices, though you can use it via a web browser.

iOS and Mac devices. Price: $8.99 a month.

4. Sharesies

Hundreds of thousands of Kiwis shrugged off the tumult of 2020 to begin dabbling in the sharemarket, and the key app they used to do so was Sharesies. Immediately, you could deposit some money and start investing in stocks and exchange-traded funds (ETFs) on the NZX and ASX. In August, Sharesies opened up to the US markets, allowing investment in more than 3000 companies and ETFs. That’s been a gamechanger for people who want to balance out their portfolio with some US stocks. The beauty of Sharesies is in how it gives you an immediate overview of your investments and their performance. It can even determine your risk appetite based on your activity. Investing in the sharemarket is always risky, but at least with Sharesies you can go into it with a lot more data at your fingertips.

Available via web browsers.

5. macOS 11 Big Sur

The Mac operating system had a big refresh this year, which served to give macOS a more modern look and feel more reminiscent of Apple’s iOS software for the iPhone and iPad. That was entirely deliberate as Apple seeks to unify the experience of using its devices. Although there is little in the way of whizz-bang new features in Big Sur, the dozens of design tweaks to toolbars and menus are quite striking. There’s now an integrated iOS-like Control Center, an improved Maps app and better security features. This is the first macOS designed for Apple’s new computer chips. As such, Big Sur is a statement of intent for the future of the operating system, and will appeal to those switching between iPhone and MacBook throughout the day.

Available on compatible iMac, Mac mini, MacBook Pro and MacBook Air devices.

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