The best free Android apps of 2012, at least so far

by Brad Spirrison

As we are now comfortably past the midway point of 2012, it is now time to take inventory of the best Android apps available to download on our smartphones and tablet devices.

Our list of the best free Android apps of 2012 so far is dominated by titles that either initially appeared on iOS devices, or launched simultaneously on both platforms. We don’t view this as a lack of creativity or innovation in Android. Rather, it illustrates that major app developers with must-download titles need to be active on both platforms.

Here are our five favorites that we encourage you to tap into right away.

Flipboard

Our favorite iPhone app of 2011 finally and officially arrived to Android in June. One can argue that Android itself was not fully operational until Flipboard arrived. The socially curated magazine – which beautifully presents news, photos and status updates shared by your social graph – included YouTube integration as part of its Android launch (Google+ integration arrived a few days earlier). Flipboard is also the best way to read content from third-party publishers on mobile devices. While I was initially biased towards reading New York Times content on the publication’s owned and operated app, I really dig the serendipity involved in scrolling through articles within Flipboard that I otherwise would ignore in a menu-based interface. It is also great to have this information in the same app as other articles shared by members of my social graph.

Instagram

Better late than never. While Instagram debuted on iOS devices in 2010, it did not arrive to Android until March. The app’s emergence on Android was a positive development to say the least for the photo-sharing pioneer. Within one week, Instagram attracted more than 5 million downloads. A few days later, the company was acquired by Facebook for what was at the time a 10-figure valuation. The company’s immediate triumph illustrates how apps need to be available for both iOS and Android devices to emerge as a true pop-culture sensations.

Download the Appolicious Android app

Pocket (Formerly Read It Later)

We thought this app was worthy even before the brand new update which makes is compatible with Jelly Bean devices (including the Nexus 7). Formerly known as Read It Later, this “read later” app’s April rebrand involved more than just a name-change and price reduction. Pocket’s new features, which include the ability to seamlessly view videos and images as well as grid-based article lists, do not undermine the app’s simple and elegant interface.

Viggle

Receiving discount cards from the likes of Amazon, Starbucks and the Gap just for watching TV for many could be considered the American dream. Viggle makes it a reality by letting users check-in and earn loyalty points for watching their favorite programs. The app performs reliably, while offering additional features including trivia questions, polls and curated tweets as gravy.

Airbnb

Airbnb’s arrival to Android in January, after previously being available online and via iOS devices, was more than just a copy-and-paste job from one platform to another. The service, a vacation-rental marketplace, for the first time made it possible for property owners and travelers to quickly instant message each other for questions or go over any issues that arise during a stay. There are more than Airbnb 200,000 listings across the world, as well as curated travel recommendations from the likes of Ashton Kutcher and Jack Dorsey.