Games are the most downloaded apps for smartphones and tablets, but there are thousands of entertaining, educational and informative programs that can become indispensable tools to improve your life. These four programs were chosen as the top nongame apps of 2014 by editors of iTunes App Store.
(iOS, Android; free)
Picked as the App of the Year by iTunes, Elevate is a brain-training program that uses games and puzzles to boost memory and cognitive skills. Users get individual training regimens that adjust over time based on how they score on various tracking programs. iTunes editors picked Elevate as 2014's best because they were "hooked on its fascinating stats, colorful visuals and personalized workouts."
Runner-up on iTunes' best apps list is this utility from Instagram that allows users of the popular photo- and video-sharing social network to create professionally looking time-lapse videos. The app smooths out the otherwise herky-jerky nature of time-lapse videos, so users can shoot footage while they're walking, running or riding in car. The app condenses minutes or hours of video into seconds of time-lapse footage. Instagram says it is working on an Android version.
Yahoo News Digest
(iOS, Android; free)
And speaking of condensing, iTunes' No. 3 best app takes a day's worth of news and delivers it in about a dozen easy-to-read summaries. Yahoo's editors "curate" the most important or most interesting news stories and, in an electronic version of the long-ago days when there were morning and evening newspapers, send out two summaries a day, one in the morning and one at night.
This offbeat app evokes one of the oldest human customs -- crafting and telling stories -- and gives it a sparkling 21st century glow. With Storehouse, users combine text, photos and videos to create scrolling pages of stories. Use existing images on your phone or import photos and videos from third-party programs such as Instagram, Dropbox and Flickr. You can post your books online for others in the Storehouse community to enjoy. The app, No. 4 on iTunes best of the year, also won Apple's 2014 Design Award.
Cadillac will introduce a rearview mirror in 2015 that displays streaming video from a camera mounted on the car's rear. General Motors says the video will improve field of vision by 300 percent, "allowing the driver an unimpeded view of the lanes behind and traditional blind spots." If the video stream is turned off, the device reverts to a traditional rearview mirror. -- PETER KING
Overtime for Santa
While most brick-and-mortar stores were closed for Christmas Day, online stores were doing a brisk business. IBM Digital Analytics says online Christmas Day sales were up 8 percent compared to Christmas Day 2013. Mobile devices were used for 35 percent of the sales, up 20 percent from 2013. IBM didn't report total sales or number of shoppers, but the average order for those who shopped online was $100.33. -- PETER KING
Google is testing a service called Contributor that will eliminate ads from selected websites. The catch: A user must pay a fee of $1 to $3 a month to "support the websites." Initial partners, which share revenue with Google, include technology news service Mashable and satire website The Onion. A Google spokeswoman said 10 sites are testing the service. -- Bloomberg News