It's that time of year: when tech websites post their lists of best apps for the year. Here are some of the lists of best apps for 2013 that you may want to check out. It's a great way to quickly find those that best suit your needs.
Something's going on with Apple TV. After several quiescent years, Apple has been adding a lot of channels in 2013 — 18 so far. And there's evidence they may be preparing a software developers kit to open up development for the platform. On Wednesday Apple quietly added four more channels: Crackle, which offers free movies; Bloomberg TV, which offers a range of news reporting; Watch ABC, which requires that you already have cable TV service; and KORTV, a Korean channel offering paid movies and shows along with some free content (all in Korean). All of this activity suggests Apple is increasing its focus on Apple TV; and there are rumors that the company will be coming out with a new iteration of their Apple TV device in the first half of next year, or eventually even their own HDTV.
Good news for music enthusiasts: Spotify's streaming music service is now free. The Spotify app has always been free, but you had to pay $10 per month for the opportunity to listen to on-demand music. That meant that you could request any particular song from their catalog. This, of course, was different from services such as Pandora and iTunes Radio, which let you indicate your favorite music but then stream similar music rather than the particular favorite you identified. Spotify's new free service for the iPhone falls somewhere in between. You can identify a particular artist, album, or playlist, but then Spotify streams the music in "shuffle mode," meaning that you get your favorite music but not a particular song at a particular time. The playlists available include those you've put together as well as playlists your friends have created.
The Los Angeles Times reported Wednesday that today Walmart would begin offering the iPhone 5c for $27 and the iPhone 5s for $127, with a two-year contract. This is a great price for the 5c, but not actually as good as Walmart's Black Friday offering: $45 plus a $75 gift card. As part of its holiday promotion, Walmart is also offering the 16GB iPad mini (first generation) for $299 plus a $50 gift card, and $30 iTunes Store gift cards for $25. According to the article, the sales started at 8 a.m. this morning and runs through December 24, or as long as supplies last.
Yesterday T-Mobile announced that you can now buy the 16GB iPhone 5s for $0 down and payments of $27 per month for 24 months, and also the 16GB iPhone 5c for $0 down and 24 monthly payments of $22.91. Plus, you don't need to commit to a service contract. Note that since it's a holiday promotion, the offer may not be available after December 25. They're also offering $0 down payment options on the iPad. Monthly payments for the iPad Air are $26.25; $22.08 for the iPad mini with retina display; and $17.91 for the original iPad mini. In the long run, the device ends up costing you about the same as from Apple, so the advantage is not having to plunk down money up front.
You now have yet another option for a low-cost phone and data plan for the iPhone 5s and 5c, thanks to a new offering from TracFone. Their service brands Net10 and Straight Talk will offer the phones at Walmart starting on Friday. As is usual for a no-contract phone, you'll need to buy the phone up front. But in the long run you'll save money, with their plans running between $45 and $65 per month for unlimited U.S. voice minutes, text messages, and data, in addition to unlimited international calling to over 1,000 international destinations. Plus, you get a $50 discount on the phone compared to the price you'd pay Apple, with the iPhone 5s costing $649 and the 5c costing $549. The iPhone 5s is available both online and in Walmart stores, while the 5c is available only online. If you have a Walmart credit card, you can take advantage of interest-free financing for the phones: up to 18 months for the iPhone 5c and 24 months for the 5s.
Apple has now made available its 2013 12 Days of Gifts app for free download in the App Store. In the past Apple has offered this app in other countries, but for the first time this year it's also available for download in the US. From December 26 to January 6, you'll be able to download a free gift each day: songs, apps, books, movies, and more. Each gift will only be available for 24 hours, so you'll want to check the app every day to see what's available.
We have many months to go before a new iPhone launches, and already there are rumors aplenty, a number of which I've reported here. Minyanville has helpfully collected the rumors to date in a single post. The most frequent rumor may be that the iPhone 6 will have a larger screen, with sources saying that Apple is testing iPhones with 4.7-, 4.9-, and 5.5-inch displays. I think it's likely we'll see a larger iPhone next year. All the other rumors seem to have less credibility but aren't without substance. It's been rumored that the iPhone will have a curved display, perhaps similar to the picture of the Samsung Galaxy Round that accompanies this post. See my earlier post for more detail on why such a display may be useful.
A number of days ago, Apple quietly began making a new option available for those interested in purchasing an iPhone 5s. You can now buy an unlocked, SIM-free iPhone 5s. As you likely know, this entails paying the whole price of the phone up front, but you avoid having to commit to a two-year contract. Note though, they're only offering GSM, which limits the phone to being used on AT&T's or T-Mobile's networks. You'll need to get your SIM card directly from one of those carriers. The price is $649 for the 16GB iPhone 5s, $749 for 32GB, and $849 for 64GB.
Today, November 29, only, Apple is offering a $75 gift card if you purchase an iPad Air and a $50 gift card if you purchase an iPad 2 or the first-generation iPad mini. There's no gift card available for the purchase of the iPad mini with Retina display or an iPhone. It's great to see this offer, but one can't help but wish these were discounts rather than gift cards. And one can't help but observe that you'll get a better deal at Target, which is offering a $100 gift card on the purchase of an iPad Air, plus a price of $479 for the 16GB WiFi model, effectively bringing down the price to $379.