I'm really excited about this week's apps. SwiftKey is trying to make its already great (and smart) keyboard smarter. The Podcasting app Overcast is now completely free, plus it's been updated. And the Truecaller app finally gave its Windows Phone community some much needed attention. There's also a pretty awesome calendar app that visualizes your schedule, a sweet app for making vectors and...well, Halo.
The makers of the smart keyboard SwiftKey are testing another type of smart keyboard that's supposed to be better at finishing your sentences. The name's SwiftKey Neural Alpha.
It's not that the original SwiftKey Keyboard isn't good — it's that it lacks that contextual understanding that a keyboard with neural network-based intelligence would have, as Chris Mills explained recently. So, instead of the keyboard filling in any logical next word, Neural Alpha uses machine learning to analyse the context of each sentence and — after a while — know the typer well enough to make correct word predictions. Building this type of relationship with a keyboard takes time though, so if you try it out don't be surprised if it takes a while to work well. [Free]
CloudCal is a unique calendar app because it visualizes your day with what are called "Magic Circles," and they actually do a pretty solid job of quickly informing you of what's on the docket. At the same time, the app is simple looking and very user friendly. There are a few gestures to learn ("Swipe horizontally to change your month view. Swipe vertically to move forwards and backwards through time, and get a quick look at your schedule for the week or month.") But — again — these gestures make sense, and I actually discovered a few on accident. Another big plus: CloudCal syncs with Google Calendar and Microsoft Exchange. There's also a partner app for all you task list junkies called CloudTasks, which apparently syncs flawlessly. [Free, in app features $2.99 each]
If you like podcasts, get excited — because one the best apps for listening to podcasts is now free. A recent update to the already-impressive app also added the ability to stream an episode without downloading it first, and a feature that ups the sound quality of a podcast will work on streamed or downloaded files. The 2.0 version of the app also supports chapters and pulls in recommendations from real people.
The app's creator had a change of heart and wrote in his blog that, "I'd rather have you using Overcast for free than not using it at all." Apparently only about 20 per cent of people had opted to pay for the app's better features. So, rather than charging money, the app's creator is now accepting donations ($US1 a month), which will hopefully cover continued updates. [Free]
This has long been a popular vector creation app for the iPad, but now it's being offered for the iPhone too. Yeah, it's a smaller-sized screen and drawing on it might feel a little cramped — but that doesn't mean the iPhone app itself is any less powerful (just maybe use a stylus).
You can use a brush, pencil or any number of shape tools to draw. The app also has preloaded libraries, layer support, canvas styles, text styles, and more — the list just keeps going (it is a "fully featured" vector creator, after all). The recent update also beefed up the iPad version of the app and it will support multitasking features in iOS9. [$4.49]
In it's most simple form, Truecaller is a call-blocking app. Normally that's nothing special, but this app brings with it a network of users on Windows Phone, Android and iOS. And all of the more than 150 million users (globally) hate obnoxious phone calls, which means their community-based spam list is pretty darn good. Some of the updates include more advanced blocking features, auto-populated Truecaller info in your call history, the caller ID now pulls in carrier and location data, and the design even got a slight facelift. [Free]
Finally. Yes, finally: Halo fans hauling around Cortana in their pockets will get access to the Halo Channel app on their phones (running Windows Phone 8.1). The channel, which has already launched pretty much everywhere else, is an interactive network of Halo programming (like Halo:Nightfall). There's also community content, and users get access to the Halo Encyclopedia. Oh — yeah — and there's full Twitch integration so you can broadcast your gameplay, watch others play, catch competitive matches and more. [Free]