The 10 Best Apps of 2018, According to Google

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iStock.com/hocus-focus

One common complaint about the YouTube app is that you need a premium membership to keep listening to audio after you've closed out of the app. Despite this inconvenience, the free version of the YouTube app is still wildly popular. After all, it’s the most downloaded iPhone app of 2018, according to CNN’s analysis of Apple data, and the company’s cable-free YouTube TV app is also this year’s “fan favorite” among Android users.

Apple’s list of the most downloaded apps of the year and Google’s picks for the best Android apps of 2018 paint a pretty clear picture of how we’ve been spending (or wasting) our time. And it’s clear that we can’t get enough of social media. After YouTube, the top downloaded free iPhone apps are Instagram, Snapchat, Messenger, and Facebook.

Avatar-creating app Bitmoji, which was the most downloaded app last year, dropped to sixth place in the latest ranking. Snapchat, which owns Bitmoji, also dropped one spot from last year. The social media app reportedly lost 3 million users last summer after an unpopular redesign.

Two photo editing tools—Facetune and Kirakira+—are this year’s most popular paid apps, while Fortnite is the most popular game.

Some of Google’s picks for the best Android apps, on the other hand, are less widely known. Take, for instance, the language-learning app Drops—its top recommendation. The Duolingo competitor offers lessons in 31 languages, including two Spanish variations (Castilian and Latin-American), Cantonese, Arabic, and even native Hawaiian.

Here are a few other apps that Google recommends, many of which are also available for iOS:

1. Vimage: Add animations to photos
2. Scout FM: Listen to podcasts
3. Slowly: Send “snail mail” to pen pals around the world
4. Luci: Keep track of lucid dreams
5. Mimo: Learn to write code
6. MasterClass: Learn how to cook, act, and more
7. Just a Line: Draw with augmented reality
8. 10% Happier: Learn to meditate
9. Notion: Track your productivity
10. Sift: Shop smarter and get refunds when prices drop

[h/t CNN]

Yes, You Have Too Many Tabs Open on Your Computer—and Your Brain is Probably to Blame

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iStock.com/baona

If you’re anything like me, you likely have dozens of tabs open at this very moment. Whether it’s news stories you mean to read later, podcast episodes you want to listen to when you have a chance, or just various email and social media accounts, your browser is probably cluttered with numerous, often unnecessary tabs—and your computer is working slower as a result. So, why do we leave so many tabs open? Metro recently provided some answers to this question, which we spotted via Travel + Leisure.

The key phrase to know, according to the Metro's Ellen Scott, is “task switching,” which is what our brains are really doing when we think we're multitasking. Research has found that humans can't really efficiently multitask at all—instead, our brains hop rapidly from one task to another, losing concentration every time we shift our attention. Opening a million tabs, it turns out, is often just a digital form of task switching.

It isn't just about feeling like we're getting things done. Keeping various tabs open also works as a protection against boredom, according to Metro. Having dozens of tabs open allows us to pretend we’re always doing something, or at least that we always have something available to do.

A screenshot of many tabs in a browser screen
This is too many tabs.
Screenshot, Shaunacy Ferro

It may also be driven by a fear of missing information—a kind of “Internet FOMO,” as Travel + Leisure explains it. We fear that we might miss an important update if we close out of our social media feed or email account or that news article, so we just never close anything.

But this can lead to information overload. Even when you think you're only focused on whatever you're doing in a single window, seeing all those open tabs in the corner of your eye takes up mental energy, distracting you from the task at hand. Based on studies of multitasking, this tendency to keep an overwhelming number of tabs open may actually be altering your brain. Some studies have found that "heavy media multitaskers"—like tab power users—may perform worse on various cognitive tests than people who don't try to consume media at such a frenzied pace.

More simply, it just might not be worth the bandwidth. Just like your brain, your browser and your computer can only handle so much information at a time. To optimize your browser's performance, Lifehacker suggests keeping only nine tabs open—at most—at one time. With nine or fewer tabs, you're able to see everything that's open at a glance, and you can use keyboard shortcuts to navigate between them. (On a Mac, you can press Command + No. 1 through No. 9 to switch between tabs; on a PC, it's Control + the number.)

Nine open tabs on a desktop browser
With nine or fewer tabs open, you can actually tell what each page is.
Screenshot, Shaunacy Ferro

That said, there are, obviously, situations in which one might need many tabs open at one time. Daria Kuss, a senior lecturer specializing in cyberpsychology at Nottingham Trent University, tells Metro that “there are two opposing reasons we keep loads of tabs open: to be efficient and ‘create a multi-source and multi-topic context for the task at hand.’” Right now, for example, I have six tabs open to refer to for the purposes of writing this story. Sometimes, there's just no avoiding tabs.

In the end, it's all about accepting our (and our computers') limitations. When in doubt, there’s no shame in shutting down those windows. If you really want to get back to them, they're all saved in your browser history. If you're a relentless tab-opener, there are also browser extensions like OneTab, which collapses all of your open tabs into a single window of links for you to return to later.

[h/t Travel + Leisure]

New Software is Looking to Crack Down on Netflix and Hulu Password Sharing

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iStock.com/wutwhanfoto

Not everyone who binge-watches Stranger Things is paying for the privilege. In 2017, a Reuters/Ipsos poll found that 21 percent of streaming service viewers aged 18 to 24 accessed a service like Netflix, Hulu, or HBO Go using someone else’s account and password.

Thanks to a combination of technology and an appetite for subscriber growth, you might be forced into a Netflix password reset.

At the Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas this week, UK-based technology company Synamedia announced a software program that uses artificial intelligence to track account activity for streaming subscriptions. If login behavior is atypical—for example, an account sign-in at another home with substantially different tastes in content—the account can be flagged for review. The content provider would then have the choice of offering the user an account upgrade allowing for multiple users or disallowing the sharing activity.

Synamedia is banking on the idea that popular streaming services like Netflix and Amazon Prime might be interested in the technology, though past comments by executives have indicated the opposite—the companies find account sharing, even outside the household, to be an effective form of advertising.

“We love people sharing Netflix,” CEO Reed Hastings said in 2017. “That’s a positive thing, not a negative thing.”

What could change their tune? If new subscriber growth slows down. Industry analysts believe any significant drop in new account sign-ups could prompt investors to urge streaming companies to curtail sharing. That may become more of an issue as more of these content providers crop up, inching closer toward a monthly billing amount that users may compare unfavorably to expensive cable packages. If you pay for three services, you might be more tempted to borrow the password for the fourth.

Netflix has yet to comment on Synamedia’s efforts.

[h/t WTOC]

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