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Best of 2012: Mobile apps of the year - iPlayer, Instagram, Sky Sports

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Whether for fitness, cookery, sport or something else entirely, the bite-sized tools better known as 'apps' enrich our lives and often make them a whole lot easier. And if you got a smartphone or tablet for Christmas, you'll want to know which the best are.

Apple's App Store now has more than 700,000 apps on offer and this year passed its 25 billionth download. Google's Android service has a similar number of apps (although fewer built specifically for the tablet) and also passed 25 billion downloads this year.

Then there is Microsoft's Windows Phone operating system that has risen to more than 100,000 apps, and Research in Motion has been cosying up to third-party developers ahead of the launch of BlackBerry 10 next year.

It could be argued that apps and not hardware is now the major growth area in the worldwide technology industry, and this year we have seen some cracking non-gaming services launch on smartphones and tablets. Here are some of them:

BBC iPlayer radio mobile screenshot
BBC iPlayer Radio
What is it?: Radio app
Who made it?: BBC
How much is it?: Free
Platforms: iPhone, iPad
The BBC's hugely successful on-demand portal this year took the bold step of splintering off its radio offering into the rather unimaginatively titled, BBC iPlayer Radio. Users can access live streams of stations such as Radio 1 and Radio 2, or catch up on already aired programming. We really like the old telephone dial design and the integrated alarm clock.

'Summly' screenshot
Summly
What is it?: News aggregator
Who made it?: Summly
How much is it?: Free
Platforms: iPhone
Teenager Nick D'Aloisio, or 'the next Mark Zuckerberg' as some have called him, secured over $1m of funding to launch his news aggregator app Summly this year. Using an Artificial intelligence algorithm, Summly pulls in news articles from hundreds of sources on the internet, and then extracts the key points and provides the user with a 400-character, bite-sized summary.

Sky+ transforms iPhone into a remote control
Sky+
What is it?: TV controller
Who made it?: Sky
How much is it?: Free to download, subscription based
Platforms: iPhone, iPad (Android in the works)
The Sky+ app has been out for a very long time, but this year Sky updated it so that an iPhone or iPad can be used to change channels, as well as play, pause and rewind TV with just a swipe or tap of the finger on screen. Sky customers can also use an Apple iDevice to access their Sky+ planner for adding or deleting recordings.

Instagram for Android screenshot - First Run
Instagram
What is it?: Photo sharing
Who made it?: Instagram
How much is it?: Free
Platforms: iPhone, Android
Yes, of course Instagram has been available on the iPhone for several years. Its huge success prompted Facebook to lavish around $730m to buy the startup this year. But Android users rejoiced when the app came to their platform, enabling them to add filters to photos of their lunch, pets or a lovely sunset and then share them with the world.

Pinterest apps for Android, iPhone and iPad
Pinterest for iPad
What is it?: Social network
Who made it?: Pinterest
How much is it?: Free
Platforms: iPhone, iPad, Android
Pinterest and the iPad; seems a match made in heaven, right? Yes, the fast growing social network - involving users 'pinning' items of interest to online boards - finally launched a dedicated iPad app this year (and arrived on Android). Featuring a waterfall design, the new app really makes the most of larger screen real estate.

Sky Sports iPad App with split screen streaming
Sky Sports for iPad
What is it?: Sports app
Who made it?: Sky
How much is it?: Free to download, subscription based
Platforms: iPad
Coinciding with its debut as a F1 broadcaster this year, Sky totally revamped its Sky Sports for iPad app. The app introduced features to enable a 'second screen' experience. So, you can watch live races on Sky Sports F1, and use the iPad to catch up on highlights or follow different camera angles. This has since expanded to football, and offers a split-screen video stream.

'Clear' app
Clear
What is it?: To-do list app
Who made it?: RealMac Software
How much is it?: £1.49
Platforms: iPhone
This app caused a stir among the tech community in 2012 with its clean and simple design, which ditches buttons for gestures. Users can place 'to-do list' items with their finger, pinch them apart to add another item and then swipe them to one side once the goal is completed. Simple and effective, with fun Nintendo-esque sound effects.

Zombies, Run!
Zombies, run!
What is it?: Fitness
Who made it?: Six to Start
How much is it?: £5.49
Platforms: iOS, Android, Windows Phone
Zombies, run! spices up your fitness regime with oncoming hordes of the undead. Runners are rewarded for their success in missions by getting access to further segments of the fully scripted audio story. Contains more than 30 missions, each lasting 20-30 minutes. Bit on the pricey side, though.

camera awesome, iPhone apps
Camera Awesome
What is it?: Camera App
Who made it?: SmugMug
How much is it?: Free
Platforms: iOS, Android
Camera Awesome helps users to take sharper and better exposed pictures, and then make them "come alive" with professional effects designed by renowned photographer Kevin Kubota. All images can be shared instantly on Facebook, Twitter, YouTube, SmugMug, Picasa, Photobucket and Flickr.

'Evi' screenshot
Evi
What is it?: Voice assistant
Who made it?: True Knowledge Ltd
How much is it?: Free
Platforms: iPhone, Android
This voice activated artificial intelligence aid can help with a number of different tasks, such as web browsing and requests for local information. Evi is a learning engine, meaning it will get better as you use the service. Just don't ask what it thinks of Apple's Siri.

'Highlight' screenshot
Highlight
What is it?: Social networking
Who made it?: Math Camp
How much is it?: Free
Platforms: iPhone, Android
Highlight offers a "simple way to learn more about the people around you". When someone stands near you who also has Highlight, their profile will show on your phone, including their photo, mutual friends and anything else they want to share. This is great for remembering people's names after meeting them, just don't share anything too embarrassing...

'Xbox SmartGlass' app screenshot
Xbox Smartglass
What is it?: Entertainment app
Who made it?: Microsoft
How much is it?: Free
Platforms: Android, iOS, Windows Phone
SmartGlass offers a second screen experience around a range of games, movies and entertainment content on the Xbox 360. It is already compatible with games such as Dance Central 3, Forza Horizon and Halo Waypoint, and the app also enables users to control the console dashboard with a mobile device.

This is a summary of the apps that have rocked our world this year, but please let us know in the comments below what apps have rocked yours.

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