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From plant care apps and digi libraries, to virtual house parties, Pandora Sykes looks back on the tech we've loved (and loathed) this year


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Not every app or gadget boasts the efficacy of Track and Trace. Some of them actually work! It’s been…A YEAR. And so my gift to you, as it draws to a close, is a snog, marry, avoid of apps and gadgets you may have liked or loathed in 2020. And no, I have not included Whatsapp, Zoom or Gmail because that is like recommending socks in a piece about winter fashion. And yes, I have very probably done that at some point in my journalistic career. So let’s move on, shall we?



Panic-buying houseplants was a knee-jerk reaction to the first lockdown, in an attempt to bring the Great Outdoors indoors - before many new botanical parents realised that they had blue fingers (rest in peace, little Fiddle-leaf Fig). Cue Planta, which helped the clueless care for their house plants and learn about interior gardening, as they went. Also lovely, Tree App - which allows you (via The Woodland Trust) to plant a tree for free, every day. Your planting is interactive; the tree, pleasingly, is not.


It’s no surprise that meditation apps like Calm and Headspace soared this year, as nerves frazzled to crisps. (Particularly popular, for entirely obvious reasons, is Matthew McConaughey reading a Calm Sleep Story, ‘Wonder’.) Try Headspace's roster of ‘sleepscapes’ - ambient noise to fall asleep to that turns itself off after 45 minutes. Corporate calm has even migrated to your telly. Mindful Escapes: Breathe, Release, Restore, narrated by Headspace’s Andy Puddicombe, came out in September, and is available to watch on BBC iPlayer now. (For the gamers there is also SelfCare, a game once described as a ‘really chill version of the Sims’ - you do stuff like fold laundry in your bedroom. Perhaps not unlike your regular life, then.)

Ember Mug

The Elon Musk of sippy cups, this sleek ‘n leak-proof mug maintains your beverage at your preferred temperature, for as long as you like (I write that with the envy of someone who reheats their coffee approximately 5 times per cup) and monitors your caffeine intake. Unfortunately, such voodoo does not come cheap: Rishi Sunak’s favourite mug starts at a bonkers £159.99. 




Free books and audio books through an app - what’s not to like? Libraries have suffered budget cuts for years (which affects what books they buy, when they buy them and how many they buy) before the pandemic came along. BorrowBox is the best example of tech for good: it’s accessible to all and provides greater resources and education. With libraries facing a challenging future, here’s to a generation of Kindle Matildas, courtesy of BorrowBox.


A brilliant app with huge social impact, Olio helps minimise food waste and re-route excess food to those who need it. You simply snap a picture of your surplus food and fellow users, who receive an alert, can come and pick up it from an OLIO Drop Box, or your home. Joint with Olio, is Nextdoor: another example of useful philanthropic tech, chiming with this year’s community spirit. Nextdoor celebrates local communities: it’s where you can exchange recommendations, read local news and updates and support local businesses. Think of it as a virtual version of the pinboard in your favourite local cafe.


My status on TikTok: not technically a user, think it would be unbecoming at the age of 33 to open an account now, but remain obsessed with it. Because you don’t need to have a TikTok account to enjoy its content anymore - anything remotely entertaining gets picked up by all the news sites. Which makes me wonder why we have any social accounts at all. I digress! This year’s personal favourites include the man skateboarding, to Fleetwood Mac’s ‘Dreams’, drinking cranberry juice and Zee.at.ease’s ‘Do I smell vibes? Or food?’ which is a sweet little ode to family cooking. An instant mood-booster, 99% of the time.



An early tech-cess story of the pandemic, it quickly transpired that it was just Zoom with more anxiety (and worse picture quality). With the constant fear that you HADN’T LOCKED THE ROOM PROPERLY, the blurry technicolour atmosphere in Houseparty had all the ‘party vibes’ of a public loo with a broken lock.

Step tracker

Grounded and beached, we didn’t need an app to tell us we’d only taken 33 steps that day (most of them to the loo or fridge.) Fitbit’s usage fell sharply, but in its place, blossomed Down Dog, an app which provides an endless roster of yoga routines, so you never do the same workout twice.

Pandora is the author of How Do We Know We’re Doing It Right? Out now.

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