Software

The year's best apps and operating systems

A Broadcast Network Of Your Own

Periscope: A Broadcast Network Of Your Own

Periscope

The cameras in our pockets have granted amateurs all sorts of powers to reinvent themselves—first, as photographers and then as YouTube stars. Now with Periscope, anyone can become a broadcaster as well. The app makes live streaming events like the Black Lives Matter protests, raging wildfires, or even office antics as simple as pressing a button. The stream is accessible to anyone who also has the app installed on their mobile device. In the hands of journalists, Periscope has broadcast videos from the Syrian refugee crisis, putting a human face on a global crisis that for many is happening out of sight. Inevitably, it has also prompted privacy concerns and put more than one business model in jeopardy: Periscope was a popular way to illegally broadcast this year's expensive pay-per-view boxing match between Floyd Mayweather Jr. and Manny Pacquiao. Free.Jonathon Kambouris

The Windows We've Been Waiting For

Windows 10

Windows 10

"Easy" and "operating system" don't tend to inhabit the same sentence, but Windows 10 could change that. The OS comes with face-scanning and fingerprint authentication for quick, secure logins. It also has Cortana, Microsoft's virtual assistant (think Siri for the Windows set), which can schedule meetings, check weather, or do Web searches all with a simple voice command. The OS runs on desktops, laptops, touchscreen tablets, and phones—making it even easier to switch between devices or use tablet-laptop hybrids. Free Upgrade.Jonathon Kambouris

A Smartphone App That Gives The Gift Of Sight

Be My Eyes

Be My Eyes

Phone cameras aren't all that useful to someone who's blind—not, at least, until Be My Eyes. The app, developed by the Danish Blind Society, connects visually impaired users to sighted ones. Through a live video feed, sighted users can decrypt unfamiliar street signs, expiration dates on food packages, or anything else that needs a quick visual assist. Since it launched in January, the app has helped 23,000 users over 100,000 times. Free.Courtesy Be My Eyes

Adding Google Smarts To Your Photo App

Google Photos

Google Photos

No longer must you endlessly scroll through digital photo albums: Google integrated search into its Photos app. Query France, and you'll soon have every photo you ever took on that trip to Provence. You can do the same for your son. For his lifetime. Google's assistant will then organize those photos for you. It will even turn them into animated gifs or correct lighting or contrast flaws automatically. Plus, the perks of the old version are still there: simple back-up, mega storage, and easy editing. Free.Courtesy Google

Team Up With A Supercomputer

IBM Watson

IBM Watson

The supercomputer that won Jeopardy! is now available to anyone. IBM expanded its developer ecosystem for Watson by adding advanced language, speech, and vision capabilities, making it easier for partners to tap into Watson's cognitive-computing abilities to solve problems.Wikimedia User Clockready

Nimble-Minded Digital Assistant

Hound

Hound

Instead of waiting to process a request or query until after you ask it, SoundHound's Hound app sniffs out the results in real time. Thanks to natural language processing, it can also understand complex queries ("Show me four- or five-star hotels in Miami for two nights, starting on Friday, between $150 and $200 a night"), and it can build upon those results to more finely hone the answers you're seeking. Free.Courtesy SoundHound

Create Your Own Toy Story For Family And Friends

Pixar RenderMan

Pixar RenderMan

Pixar's in-house 3D-rendering engine—used to create movies such as Toy Story and Up—was the first piece of software ever to earn an Oscar. More recently, the studio noticed there was a significant technology gap between public and professional software, so it released a consumer-friendly version of Render­Man. Intended for educational and personal use, the app is strictly prohibited for commercial purposes. Free.Courtesy Everett Collection/Pixar