From ride-hailing to photo sharing, here are a few up-and-coming apps and startups to watch in 2015. Which will be the breakout hit of the new year?
TELL A STORY
Instagram, which is owned by Facebook, now has 300 million users - more than Twitter. Scrolling through its snapshot feeds gives users a quick glimpse into the lives of friends and strangers. (At least the parts that include empty beaches, cappuccinos with perfect foam hearts and smiling babies in clean clothes.) Its simplicity is part of its appeal. But what if you want to tell a longer story?
Enter Storehouse, a mobile app that promises to let you share "your stories, as they happen". Instead of sharing one-off photos, Storehouse lets users combine photos, videos and words to share anything from a detailed recipe, to travel memories or a first-person documentary on the Yakuza. Storehouse was founded by Mark Kawano, who previously worked at Apple as a User Experience Evangelist, helping developers design iOS and Mac apps.
HAIL A RIDE
If you haven't heard of Uber, you must never leave your house or watch the news. Many people also are familiar with Uber's smaller rival Lyft, which burnishes its kinder, gentler image by slapping huge pink moustaches on the front of its cars. But more companies are queuing up to squire you around town.
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In 10 cities in the US, including San Francisco, Seattle, Chicago and Los Angeles, you can order up a Sidecar. The service differentiates itself by letting passengers input their destinations when they book rides and sort drivers based on price, shortest ETA and favourites. In Los Angeles, there's also Opoli, which lets drivers bid for your ride so you can decide which one to go with. You can pick your vehicle too, and make a reservation. Unlike many other app-based car services, Opoli also allows its drivers to work for competitors. Opoli doesn't take a commission on a fare; its drivers pay a subscription fee to use the service.
You've heard of WhatsApp, the nearly-free messaging app that Facebook paid US$22 billion for. And there's Facebook's own messaging tool, which was the year's most-downloaded app (likely because you had to download it if you wanted to message people using Facebook).
That's all so 2014. Why message people you know when you could instead check out Ethan, a messaging app that lets you do just one thing - message a guy named Ethan. He "may message you time to time" but cautions that he "can't respond when he's asleep". Nothing if not honest, Ethan doesn't want you to message him in an emergency, and will advise you not to fall in love with him. But want to plan a dinner-and-movie night? No problem. "Should I get Italian or Chinese for dinner?" (Answer: Italian) and "Gonna watch a movie on Netflix, what should I go for?" (Answer: "The Room.")
PUT THAT PHONE DOWN
If your New Year's resolution is to stop being so rude with your phone and talk to your friends face-to-face every once in a while, there's an app for you, too. It's called Moment, and it tracks how much you use your iPhone and iPad each day (sorry, no Android version yet).
If you are trying to cut back on your screen habit, you can set daily limits and the app will notify you when you exceed them. Moment Family, meanwhile, lets you monitor your whole family's phone use - by looking at your phone.