Best iPhone apps 2016
Apps are the cornerstone of Apple’s iOS platform. The ecosystem is what sets Apple’s mobile platform apart from its rivals, and the highest-quality iPhone apps are typically best in class.
But, like any app store, it is sometimes difficult to find out what are truly the best apps, the ones that stand out from the rest and offer a tool or service that’s far beyond anything else available.
Sometimes the best apps are free, other times you will have to pay a little bit for them. Here we showcase the best available and offer up everything you need to know about the app and how much it will cost.
This round-up compiles our favourites, from top-quality creative tools and video editors to the finest productivity kit and social networking clients. And in addition to our ongoing list of the absolute best, every week we’re adding our picks for the latest and greatest new or updated apps, so check back often.
Even if you don’t have an iPhone right now, it’s worth reading up on what’s available if you’re considering investing in the iPhone 6S.
New this week: SKRWT ($1.99/£1.49)
Something that’s starting to grate about camera apps is they want to be everything. They bombard you with features and filters to the point they’re all looking very samey. SKRWT bucks the trend with an almost razor-sharp focus – it exists to fix problems in iPhone photography caused by the wide-angle lens sitting inside your device.
For the most part, then, SKRWT is all about dealing with lens distortion. With a single swipe, you can correct horizontal and vertical perspective distortion, or eradicate extreme effects from images taken using a fisheye lens or GoPro.
Elsewhere, vignettes can be added or removed, and auto-cropping attempts (mostly successfully) to give you a nicely finished photo that takes into account your various edits.
This isn’t the most immediate of apps, but learn how to use SKRWT’s tools and you’ll discover it’s hugely effective at making seemingly subtle changes to digital snaps that make a world of difference, especially with cityscapes.
New this week: Deliveries ($4.99/£3.99)
On using Deliveries for any length of time, you get the sense it’s overkill, but it’s a glorious kind of overkill. Essentially, it’s a package tracker that supports a wide range of services. Give it details and it’ll keep an eye on where your packages are and when delivery will be.
But Deliveries goes far beyond the basics. There are maps that show your item’s path to your door (a special kind of geeky fun with kit that ships from halfway around the globe), Notification Center support, the means to share to deliveries from emails in Mail, and even Peek and Pop on newer iPhones, for peeking at delivery details without fully opening items in the main list.
If you only order something once in a blue moon, you perhaps won’t get much value from this app. But if you’re often having cardboard boxes of joy show up at your doorstep, Deliveries is well worth the investment.
Pre-conceived ideas about what an app should be can stifle innovation, and so it’s interesting to see Proud cheerily elude the drudge-like appointment-making evident in most list-based organisers.
Instead, you figure out what you want to do (adding sub-tasks as appropriate), assign vague deadlines (‘tomorrow’, ‘next week’) for your more pressing tasks, and gleefully mark things as done when they’re completed.
Fittingly, the app splits its workflow into three distinct tabs: Lists, Reminders and History. Pleasingly, each has a hidden ‘superpower’ mini-app to further improve your life.
Lists offers a breathing exercise for reducing stress; Reminders has a Pomodoro timer and utterly brilliant ‘give me more time’ button that shunts every task with a due date on a few hours, a day, or a week; and History delves into your completed tasks, so you can see what you achieved weeks or months ago.
If you live and die on traditional calendars, where every hour must be accounted for, Proud isn’t for you. But if your life is a touch more vague or relaxed regarding scheduling, Proud will take advantage to the point you’ll consider it as revolutionary as when you first experienced a digital calendar.
Elsewhere in this list we mention apps that can be used to add text to a photo. However, this process is a bit fiddly on even the biggest iPhones, and many people just want to somehow instantly make something that looks fantastic. If that’s you, Retype is a must-download.
You open a photo (only from your local images as, for reasons beyond us, iCloud shared albums are not supported), type some text, and tap a style. Immediately, you get something resembling a finely-crafted poster. If you’re not keen on the layout, keep tapping the style button until you get something you like.
Although Retype is more about automation than customisation, that doesn’t mean it’s bereft of further options.
You can change the text’s colour and opacity, adjust the photo’s filter, fade and blur, and also have your image appear inside the text, rather than the text being an overlay.
It’s a pity there are no cropping tools — although countless other apps exist for performing such edits, being able to quickly change an image’s aspect ratio within Retype would be useful. That niggle aside, this is a fast, effective and entertaining app that’s perfectly suited to iPhone.
My Very Hungry Caterpillar ($3.99/£2.99)
If you’ve been around young children for any length of time, there’s no escaping The Very Hungry Caterpillar.
That greedy larva seems to hypnotise tiny people, gluing them to whatever format it appears in, be it book or TV animation. There have been apps, too, but those we’ve seen before have disappointed. My Very Hungry Caterpillar, though, is a new take on the character, turning it into a kind of virtual pet.
Children familiar with the source material will watch happily as fruit they pluck from trees is quickly munched by the wriggly protagonist, but this app has far more to offer.
Gradually, it opens up all kinds of activities, such as growing a garden, playing with a ball, making art by getting messy with paints, and having fun on a pond. The app changes with the seasons, and so in winter the caterpillar gets to gleefully slide across frozen water, but in warmer months goes sailing.
It’s all very charming and adorable, along with being entirely without risk — there’s no way to off the little blighter. It’s also finite: the little caterpillar grows fat and eventually becomes a butterfly, at which point a new egg appears to start the cycle again.
And if we’re being honest, there’s something quite cathartic in seeing the little chap through this journey, to the point we imagine quite a few adults will sneakily launch the app for a while when their child’s asleep.
Let’s immediately get one thing out of the way: Korg Gadget isn’t cheap. It’s not the sort of app you’re going to download for some larks, use for a few minutes, and then casually toss aside. However, if you’ve any interest in making music — whether as a relative newcomer or jobbing musician — it is quite simply the best app available for iPhone.
Purely as a tool for live performance, Korg’s app is first-rate. You get a bunch of miniature synths, referred to as ‘gadgets’; they’re geared towards electronic music, but still have plenty of range.
There are drum machines, a gorgeous bell synth, some ear-smashing bass instruments, and plenty of other options, whether you want to be the Human League for a bit or go all clubby.
Each synth comes with a slew of presets, but you can fiddle with dials and levers to make your own, which can be saved for later use.
When it comes to writing music, you can record live, tapping out notes on a tiny on-screen keyboard or by using a connected piece of hardware. Alternatively, there’s a piano roll for tapping out notes on a grid as you do in GarageBand, creating loops to then combine into a song in the mixing-desk view.
Korg Gadget is one of the most flexible and intuitive music-making apps we’ve seen on any platform, and the deepest on iOS. It was superb on the iPad, but that it actually works — and is very usable — on iPhone is nothing short of astonishing.
You might question the logic in attempting to replace the stock Mail app on your iPhone, but Airmail is a few bucks well spent if you feel constrained by Apple’s app.
Airmail’s built around the idea of speeding up workflow. Although its interface is no more complex than Mail’s on the surface, the app’s far more feature-rich. There are plenty of customisation options for swipes across mailbox messages, and messages can be snoozed.
Document previewing is fast and efficient, and the attachments filter is excellent for quickly scanning through files you’ve been emailed.
Composing emails is superior to Mail as well, not least due to Airmail’s smartly conceived custom keyboard toolbar, which includes attachment and formatting buttons. A large range of actions (print; create PDF; third-party app integration) cements the app’s place at the top of the iOS email client heap.
If we’re being picky, it’s not quite good enough regarding email snoozing to quiet nostalgic pangs for the now-dead Mailbox, but even that’s a close-run thing.
Even on iPhone, chordbooks tend to be dry affairs, full of black dots and lines, and the unmistakable stench of tedium. From the off, Cheeky Fingers obliterates such grey competition through being beautiful, simple and having a sense of fun.
On launch, it cheerily plays ‘C’, cartoon digits atop a keyboard showing finger positioning for the chord. Tappable buttons and tabs then provide speedy access to a huge range of other chords, whether you’re trying to learn a basic ‘E-minor’ or master an ‘A-flat 7th suspended 4th’.
The more you play, the more great things you discover: changing the root (lowest) note with a swipe; toggling between chord (all notes at once) and arpeggio (one after the other) playback; and delving into related chords and progressions (sets of chords that form the basis of a song).
You can even save custom progressions, and although that system isn’t flexible enough to transform Cheeky Fingers into a songwriting tool, it further propels the app beyond ‘mere’ digital chordbook territory, making it an essential download for aspiring and competent keyboardists and pianists alike.
The idea behind Auxy is to get more people using their iPhones to make music. It does this by subtly rethinking the interface for composing on the go, resulting in an app approachable enough for beginners but boasting enough power for pros.
You start with a blank grid, split into four tracks (one for drums, and the others for bass or lead instruments), each of which has 16 loops. Loop editing is simply a question of ‘drawing’ notes on to a piano roll grid, much like you do in GarageBand; only Auxy’s playhead moves vertically, recognising the fact iPhones are usually used in portrait.
This precision control removes the frustration found in other iPhone music-making apps, which force you to record live. And the more you explore, the more features you’ll find: longer loops; the means to adjust instrument characteristics just by fiddling with some sliders; saving a loop arrangement to an audio file by tapping loops live; and MIDI export for sending to a desktop app the notes you’ve painstakingly tapped out.
Auxy feels almost like a halfway house between Figure and GarageBand, and from a music-making perspective, it’s just as good as either of those iOS classics.
For most kids, plastic keyboards and annoyingly loud toy drums are a typical starting point in music, but Loopimal ambitiously attempts to introduce children to the concept of computer sequencing. Fortunately, it does so by way of highly animated dancing cartoon animals, bright shapes, and plenty of flair.
Hit play and you’re immediately shown an animal bobbing its head to a backing track. You then drag coloured pieces (from a selection of five) into eight empty slots. When the playhead moves over the shapes, the animal adds its own sounds and melodies, often while performing impressive gymnastic feats.
It’s Loopimal’s character that initially wins you over. Unless you’re dead inside, you won’t fail to crack a smile when an octopus starts playing funky basslines with its tentacles, or the percussive Yeti gets all stompy. Smartly, once the player clocks how Loopimal works, the screen can be split into two or four, to combine animals and their unique sounds.
The one big miss is the inability to save your compositions, but every Loopimal riff is in C-major; this means you can use just the white notes on nearby keyboards to play along with whatever madness is happening inside the app.
Traditional calculator apps are fine, but even if they come with digital tape, you don’t get figures in context. By contrast, a spreadsheet is overkill for most adding-up tasks. Soulver is a neatly conceived half-way house — like scribbling sums on the back of an envelope, but a magic envelope that tots everything up.
You get two columns. On the left, you type everything out, integrating words as you see fit. On the right, totals are smartly extracted. So if you type ‘Hotel: 3 nights at $125’, Soulver will automatically display $375 in the totals column.
Line totals can be integrated into subsequent sums, ensuring your entire multi-line calculation remains dynamic — handy should you later need to make adjustments to any part.
Given the relative complexity of what Soulver’s doing, it all feels surprisingly intuitive from the get-go. There are multiple keyboards (including advanced functions and currency conversion), you can save calculations and sync them via iCloud or Dropbox, and it’s even possible to output HTML formatted emails of your work.
Apple’s built-in Contacts app leaves a lot to be desired – for example, you can’t create or delete groups from an iOS device. Thankfully, this pain point has been alleviated with the release of Interact, a third-party app that not only does those two things, but a whole lot more. In addition to managing multiple contacts at once, Interact users can address and send group messages or emails from any iOS app with attachments. There’s also a slick Scratchpad, which can be used to create or update contacts by selecting text in email signatures, webpages, or other apps. Last but not least, it’s a universal app with 3D Touch support, and the price above is a launch special, so act fast.
It’s hard to imagine what life would be like without 1Password, and the latest 6.2 update kicks off the new year with a host of new improvements such as the ability to copy and move items between vaults, 3D Touch Quick Actions on iPhone 6 devices, peek-and-pop preview of items, and Watchtower support so you’ll get a heads up about know security vulnerabilities for your favorite websites. There are also of plenty smaller changes afoot, such as search in the Favorites and Organize tabs, and the usual bug fixes to keep things humming.
Who’s ready for some truly free calling? Nanu promises “free calls to everyone, everywhere” with the latest 2.1 update, and that includes those of you stuck on older 2G networks as well. Featuring a new user interface, improved call quality, and add contact feature, Nanu users can place landline calls to 48 different countries, and 20 of those also support calling between mobile devices as well. Naturally, calls between Nanu users have no such restrictions, so tell your friends abroad to get downloading and you can talk to each other until you’re out of breath (or battery).
While most of us are perfectly content to mash on a virtual keyboard, others prefer the seemingly lost art of handwriting instead. Thanks to PenReader, you can have your cake and eat it, too. This app enables smart recognition of even cursive writing through an ingenious keyboard extension, converting text written with a finger or stylus into print right inside your favorite apps. On the iPad Pro, PenReader supports Apple Pencil, but the app is optimized even for smaller devices, and includes a personal user dictionary, analysis of adjacent characters, special symbols, and more. With optional in-app purchase, PenReader can even support handwriting in 38 different languages.
We’ve seen some strange weather lately, going from unseasonably warm in December down to subzero temperatures this month. If you’re having trouble keeping track of the changes, the latest version of 1Weather might be the cure for what ails you. With real-time updates, this free app can track current conditions and forecasts in up to 12 different locations of your choice, along with graphs, precipitation, maps, and videos of the ever-changing weather. US residents will also enjoy a unique 12-week forecast alongside the usual 48-hour, detailed, and 10-day extended versions.
VLC for Mobile
Admittedly a little late to the party, the popular VLC for Mobile was updated last week with what appears to be nothing more than “stability improvements” and improved connectivity and reliability for HTTP and UPnP. But if you happen to look at the list of Purchased apps on your fourth-generation Apple TV, you’ll notice VLC can now be installed there as well. In addition to its main talent as a free media player for movies, TV shows, or music files stored just about anywhere, there’s also advanced subtitle support, multitrack audio, and playback speed control as well.
Apple provides some pretty sweet wallpapers with iOS devices and keeps them updated with each major release, but should you be looking for something simple, Uncluttered promises to do just that. This inexpensive app can create wallpapers that will make your home screen more legible using subtle, hand-picked colors that can be used as-is or mixed into a gradient of your own design. There’s even an option to import a favorite image and have the app pull the dominant colors from it, as well as a custom color picker if all else fails.
Wunderlist: To-Do List & Tasks
A new year is a great time to tackle all of those resolutions you’ve made, which is why Wunderlist has a shiny new update with a fresh new look. Specializing in tasks and to-dos, your lists are now easier to see at a glance, and the Detail View is more streamlined so adding Reminders, Subtasks, or Notes take even less time than before. The update also enables 3D Touch support on iPhone 6 models, which can be used for home screen Quick Actions as well as peek-and-pop to get a preview of an individual to-do item. And hey, what better way to kick off 2016 than with a fresh round of bug squashing as well?
The App Store description for Drafts states that the app is “where text starts on iOS”. A bit presumptuous, but actually a smart idea — instead of another note-taker, this app wants to be the one you instinctively launch before tapping out any words. This is worth serious consideration, because Drafts boasts a distraction-free editing environment that’s simple and powerful, including a live word count and Markdown support.
Lines of copy can be arranged by drag and drop, an extended keyboard row can be customised, and version history enables rollback and browsing for previous entries. Once you’re done, powerful sharing capabilities help you send your text anywhere — even to several places at once by way of multi-step actions.
- Free + $4.99/£3.99 IAP
There are two flavours of Scanbot, each of which is impressive in its own right. For free, you get a superb iPhone scanner with cloud storage integration, QR code support, and the means to detect edges for any paper document you want to digitise. Upgrade to Scanbot Pro and things get more interesting. You can add pages to existing scans, quickly name files using a clever smart-naming system, and search/extract text from previous scans.
There’s also an automated actions feature, where the app finds the likes of phone numbers and email addresses within your scans, turning them into single-tap buttons within each item’s actions menu. It’s not quite accurate enough to be witchcraft, but we nonetheless happily leave important scans within Scanbot these days, rather than immediately deleting after export.
There may come a time in the distant future when Twitter’s own app is our favourite (or Twitter bans third party clients entirely), but until then, there’s Tweetbot. This latest version builds on its predecessor, with an elegant interface fit for iOS underpinned by plenty of power-user features.
There’s a landscape mode and a second column for iPhone 6s Plus users, granular mute settings, support for optional content blockers in the browser view, and new Activity and Statistics tabs. Twitter might greedily block access to a handful of its newest toys, but Tweetbot’s efficiency and power means we won’t defect just yet.
Traktor DJ for iPhone
In the early days of iOS, developers had a tendency to follow Apple’s lead and ape real-world technology on the screen.
This sometimes worked well, but we were always a little suspect of DJ apps that thought it a smart move to present you with two virtual spinning records to try and manipulate with sausage fingers.
On the iPad, Traktor DJ wisely thought different, instead enabling you to directly ‘touch the groove’, working with the waveform itself.
With Traktor DJ for iPhone, everything’s been crammed into the iPhone’s smaller display, which should be madness — but it works. There’s a bit more zooming and swiping involved, but you can apply effects, simultaneously work with two virtual decks, and get recommendations for tracks to play, based on their tempos and keys. Traktor DJ plays nicely with others, too — Audiobus and Inter-App Audio are both supported.
- Free with new devices or $9.99/£7.99
When Apple first brought its office apps to iPad, they were an impressive attempt to perform complex tasks on a glass screen. Squeezing them down to iPhone seemed nigh-on impossible, and yet Numbers in particular survives intact.
Naturally, there’s quite a bit of zooming and swiping to do if your spreadsheet has plenty of rows and columns, but data entry can be relatively painless and surprisingly rapid by way of custom forms.
Unsurprisingly, Apple would very much like you to use Numbers everywhere and sync by way of iCloud, but you can also export to CSV, PDF or Microsoft Excel, along with flinging completed documents to cloud storage providers such as Dropbox.
WhatsApp is one of the most essential apps you can install on your iOS device, especially if you have friends and family across the world.
Rather than worrying about your SMS allowance or signal, WhatsApp lets you send messages over any Wi-Fi or mobile data connection instead. You can also send and receive photos with no size restrictions, and if you’re using Wi-Fi (or you have unlimited mobile data) they won’t cost you any extra to send.
Periscope, Twitter’s live video streaming app, is an essential download for anyone who likes the immediacy of Twitter but craves something more visual.
You can easily create your own live streams or watch other people’s, send comments and hearts in real time and if you miss the action there’s a 24 hour window with which to replay streams. In short it’s simple enough to dive straight into but has enough to it that you’ll keep coming back, whether you’re more creator or viewer.
Even in 2015 there are still times and places where we can’t get an internet connection, but this doesn’t have to mean you can’t read websites, however, thanks to the excellent Pocket app. It allows you to save articles, news stories, blog posts, videos and much more, letting you read and watch them offline.
You can also synchronise your saved articles across every device you’ve installed Pocket on, allowing you to pick up where you left off and continue reading.
There are probably hundreds of photo apps around, but Google Photos stands out as it gives you unlimited storage for photos and videos, all for free.
That’s reason enough to jump on board, especially as it works not just on iOS but on Android and computers too.
But with basic editing tools and the ability to make collages and albums this is more than just photo and video storage, it aims to be your first and last stop after taking a picture. To achieve that it will need a few more features, but it’s well on its way.
Snapseed is Google’s own photo editor that’s been designed from the ground up to make tweaking your snaps as easy and fun as possible on a touchscreen device.
Although the interface is simple enough to use with just your fingers, there’s also a lot of depth to this app as well. You use tools to tweak and enhance your photographs to make them look the best they ever have, as well as playing around with fun filters that can transform the photos you’ve taken on your smartphone or tablet.
Should you find yourself in one of the supported cities (including Paris, London, New York and Berlin), you’ll be grateful to have Citymapper on your iPhone — assuming you don’t want to get lost.
The app finds where you are and then gets you from A to B, whether you want to walk, grab a taxi, or use public transport (for which live times are provided).
It’s no secret just how badly Apple’s own mapping app performs, although it has got better post-iOS 6.
Fortunately, Google Maps is a free download, and a far better solution than the old Google Maps app as well, thanks to the inclusion of turn-by-turn navigation and – in some cities – public transport directions. It’s an easy way to supercharge your iPhone’s mapping capabilities and one of the first apps you should grab for the iPhone 7 when it launches.
Listed for app of the year at the TechRadar Phone Awards.
Boost your productivity with Pushbullet, which lets you view your iPhone’s notifications and messages directly on your computer. It means if you get a text message you can read it there and then without having to take your phone out of your pocket or bag.
You can also quickly send files from your computer to your phone with only a few clicks, and if you regularly find that you email links to yourself just to open them on your smartphone, then you’ll never have to do that again thanks to Pushbullet’s link sharing features.
The idea behind Evernote is you should never forget anything again. Instead, you upload and tag everything, so the service becomes your digital memory. For free, you can upload 60 MB of data per month. Go premium ($5/£4 per month) and you can upload a gargantuan 4 GB per month, search document text, and store your notebooks offline.
Although Evernote Scannable is quite basic by iPhone scanner standards, it’s also efficient and reliable. On launching the app, simply point your camera at a document that contrasts the surface behind it and the app will capture it. The JPEG can be sent to Evernote or shared via another service, and multiple scans are compiled to PDF.
Uber is transforming the way we travel. You can quickly and easily request a taxi using the app and get picked up within minutes and you can compare rates and get quotes, as well as paying with PayPal or by adding your credit card to a secure Uber account.
The Uber service is available in over 50 countries, and it’s rapidly growing. Give it a try and you’ll never want to hail a taxi the old fashioned way again.
Spotify has been pretty quick to establish itself as the top music streaming service, and the Spotify Music app brings some great features to your iOS device, turning it in to a pocket jukebox that delivers your favourite tunes no matter where you are.
Even better you can now listen to Spotify music for free on iOS, although if you want to download songs for offline listening and without any ads, then a Spotify Premium account is worth investing in.
If you’re serious about running or cycling then you should be serious about Strava. As smartphone fitness tools go it’s one of the best, allowing you to track your performance, set goals and see daily progress updates.
There are leaderboards and challenges to give it a competitive edge and if you’re ever not sure where to run or cycle you can find user created routes on the app, or share your own. All of that comes free of charge, while a premium version adds even more tools.
Instagram is the go-to app for quickly taking photos, adding quirky filters to them and sharing them with the world. Over 300 million people use Instagram and thanks to the social aspects and effortless interface it’s easy to see why it’s such a hit.
You’re not limited to sharing your snaps on Instagram either, as you can easily add your photos to Facebook, Twitter, Tumblr and more with just a few taps.
For the most part, social media is fleeting, but Timehop is all about digging up precious memories from the past. You link it to whatever social media services you frequent (and your on-device photos) and it shows you what was happening years ago on today’s date.
There are plenty of solutions for transferring content between your computer and iPhone, including Apple’s increasingly popular iCloud. Dropbox is still worth using, though. It has great cross-platform clients, integrates with iOS 8’s Share sheets, and has direct support in many iOS apps.
Check out our essential tips for every Dropbox user.
Air Video HD
Even the most expensive iPhone has a fairly limited amount of on-board storage and that’s not even likely to change with the iPhone 7. This is a problem if you have a large video collection you’d like to access. Air Video HD server streams (and if necessary, re-encodes) files from a PC or Mac that can then be played on your iPhone; there’s AirPlay support, and also the means to access your Air Video server over the web.
If there’s one thing that’s sorely lacking in the majority of weather apps, it’s a malevolent AI that’s seeking the destruction of all humankind, and in the meantime gleefully revels in you getting soaked in a downpour.
CARROT Weather still gives you a pretty accurate indication of what’s going to happen, though, given that it’s powered by Dark Sky tech; but rather than getting all po-faced and technical, it’ll instead laugh that you’re in for weather hell, while showing a picture of cows being hurled across the screen in a gale.
Secret locations are there for discovery as well, which is handy if you’re desperate to know whether you need sunscreen when visiting Tatooine. (Hint: you really, really do.)
Easily the most beautiful of the iOS stargazing apps, Sky Guide also happens to be the most usable. You can quickly and easily scan the heavens by dragging your finger around, optionally orienting the screen to wherever you happen to be looking. A Today view widget adds information about rise and set times for nearby planets, the sun and the moon.
Traditional journals are all very well, but there’s something wonderful about an app that you always have with you, into which you can save messages, images, locations and more, and then later retrieve everything via a search. Day One is beautifully designed and easy to use – best-in-class on the iPhone.
Fantastical 2 betters iOS 8’s iffy Calendar app by way of a superior interface, a non-hateful method of dealing with reminders, and truly exceptional event input. The app has a powerful parser, and so while adding an event, you can enter the likes of “TechRadar lunch at 3pm on Friday”, watching a live preview build as you type.
Figure crams Reason’s rich history of classic-era electronic music apps into a shoebox. Via a mixture of dials and pads, you can create all manner of banging choons, and then export them and assault your friends’ eardrums. It’s a fun toy for anyone, but also has the chops to be part of a pro-musician’s mobile set-up.
Camera enables you to do the odd bit of cropping with video files, but iMovie is an audacious attempt to bring a full video editor to your iPhone, infused with the ease-of-use its desktop counterpart is renowned for. Amazingly, it succeeds. Effects, themes, credits and soundtrack creation then provide extra polish for your mobile filmmaking.
Launch Center Pro
More or less a speed-dial for regularly performed tasks, Launch Center Pro can be a huge time-saver. You can create shortcuts for things like adding a new Tumblr post or sending your last photo to Twitter, and these shortcuts can be arranged in groups. An essential purchase if you heavily use even a handful of the supported apps.
Transmit for iOS
The app that defines iOS 8, Transmit for iOS is also a missing link for anyone who wanted a file manager for their iPhone. It might have roots in an OS X FTP client, but Transmit for iOS also integrates with cloud storage and local networked Macs. It’s perfect for moving documents, renaming files, and creating archives to email or upload.
There are RSS readers that are more efficient, but Un. The third-party app cleverly mixes elegance and character, with a friendly, easily browsable interface. Subscriptions can be filtered, and you can stream episodes of shows you’ve not yet downloaded.
We’ve never been overly impressed with Apple’s HDR, and it pales in comparison to vividHDR. The basic concept is the same: stunning, vibrant photos, capturing amazing details in both highlight and shadow. But vividHDR‘s combination of speed, presets and ‘before and after’ comparisons results in better photos – and that’s what really matters.
If you don’t feel the iOS Camera app really cuts it, ProCamera 8 should give you what you need: a bunch of extra modes (night; rapid fire; anti-shake; timers) and a dedicated lightbox with a range of editing features and filters. You can even buy vividHDR (see elsewhere in this list) as an IAP.
Every iteration of the iPhone has a superior camera to the previous model, and so it’s only right an enterprising developer came out with an app that can turn your crisp and beautiful snaps into something that you might once have seen on an ancient computer.
In Retrospecs, then, you load your photo, select a system, mess about with dither styles, filters and cropping, and bask in retro glory. A wide range of creaky old computers and consoles is covered, so you should be set whether you were into the C64, Spectrum, SNES, or, er, Mattel Aquarius. (C’mon there must be at least one of you who had the last of those?)
In all honesty, we’ve pretty much had it with filter apps. A new one comes out, and everyone gets all excited, but they pretty much all do the same thing. All of them, that is, apart from Fragment. Rather than offer the usual range of old-school camera filters and adjustment sliders, Fragment instead delves into prismatic photo effects.
In short, this means you get to see what your photos look like through glass collages, smashed mirrors and arty blur effects. Probably not one for the selfie-obsessed crowd, but a must-have download for if you want something a bit more creative and interesting than the norm.
Apple’s GarageBand remains an impressive, ambitious app, turning your iPhone into a recording studio. You get synths, loops, drums, guitar amps and a DAW for arranging MIDI data, making it suitable for beginners and pros alike.
With its huge range of amps and effects, ToneStack is an excellent choice for guitarists wanting to make some noise by connecting their instrument to their iPhone. An ABY unit enables you to split the signal, for hugely complex set-ups. And if that’s not enough, a slew of IAP provides yet more amps, stomp boxes and features, including an eight-track recorder.
Although we’re happy making music on an iPad, the iPhone tends to be better suited to much more focussed composition, as evidenced by loop-maker Figure elsewhere in this selection of apps. Bloom may seem rather more noodly, on account of it being an app for fashioning generative audio, but it’s still stripped right back, making it perfect for the smaller screen.
Devised by Brian Eno and Peter Chilvers, Bloom has you tap out patterns, which create visual patterns and ambient melodies. And if that all feels a bit much, Bloom takes over when left idle, potentially providing limitless ambient background goodness.
Although we’re fans of the likes of the simple, straightforward Byword, Editorial is *the* app for people who want to have a huge amount of control over creating and processing their output. The writing interface is strong, but what makes Editorial is the means to quickly add custom snippets and integrate workflows for extending the app and saving you time.
For illustrators on the go, Procreate Pocket is a must-have. You get a big range of brushes, transform tools, a superb painting engine, and a full-featured layer system. Alas, there’s no IAP for magically improving your digital painting skills.
Workflow is all about automation. You can download sets of actions or compose your own, which can trigger iOS apps and related services. For example, you could create a Home screen icon to call a friend, or build a single-tap icon to get directions to your nearest coffee shop.
Although iOS includes iCloud Keychain for securely storing/sharing login and payment details, 1Password is a better system. It’s cross-platform, supports multiple identities and secure notes, and enables you to edit login details on your iPhone.
A pro mode IAP ($9.99/£7.99) adds multiple vaults for teams/families, categories for personal documents, tagging and custom fields.
BBC iPlayer is our favourite TV catch-up app because it cares about the user experience. There are no ads, you can watch live TV, and you can access content broadcast over the past 30 days. Episodes can be downloaded to watch later, and there’s AirPlay support for sending shows to your telly by way of an Apple TV.
Until Apple sees fit to give us a Files app for iOS, Documents 5 will have to take the strain. It’s really a document reader, designed for displaying PDFs, but in having full iCloud Drive access, it can be used to manage local and remote files, and download documents to your iPhone from the web.
Next for iPhone
The problem with apps for tracking expenses is they’re usually dry, complex and time-consuming. Next for iPhone is none of those things, which is probably why we’re actually using it.
The app is icon-based, so you just tap the icon closest to the thing you’ve just bought. (You can add notes to be more specific if you want, but you don’t have to.) The Next app then tots everything up, enabling you to look back in horror at the end of the month when you realise you’ve in fact spent a third of your earnings on absurdly expensive coffee.
Duolingo is entirely free from IAP, which is extremely generous given the quality of the app and its potential for helping you learn a new language.
It’s packed full of bite-size quizzes that you can dip into at any time, and that gradually build your vocabulary and grammar in any of the ten supported languages.
Start using the eBay app and you won’t go near the site on a PC again. It’s fast, efficiently flags new finds based on your activity, and can be used to create new listings. The built-in bar-code scanner can save you loads of time with the last of those.
Find My iPhone
Using Find My iPhone, you can always find where your device is, and keep track of any other devices on the same account. It’s very useful if you’ve misplaced your device or think it’s been stolen and want to know where it’s at.
The revamped Google Translate is an astonishing app. When online, it’ll translate written, photographed or spoken text between a huge range of languages. And for English to French, German, Italian, Portuguese, Russian, and Spanish (and back), the app will try to live-translate whatever’s in front of your iPhone’s camera — even when you’re offline.
When you’ve a sizeable music collection, you can get stuck in a rut and always end up listening to the same thing. Groove tracks your listening habits and cross-references the data with last.fm.
The result is a constantly evolving selection of automated personalised playlists, which might change your iPhone music-listening habits forever.
For beginners keen on making music, Launchpad is perfect. You choose a genre and then trigger loops with a tap. Effects are only a further swipe and tap away. If you really get into the app, there’s IAP for further loops and the means to import your own audio.
Now as synonymous with mobile exercise as Nike+, RunKeeper is an excellent app, backed by a robust social infrastructure. Using your iPhone’s GPS, you can track exercise routes and then share activities with friends. IAP subscriptions are available for ‘elite’ users, and are ad-free and offer real-time sharing.
FaceTime is a great alternative to standard voice calls, but it only works with Apple kit. Skype remains the best widely-used alternative for people you know distinctly lacking in Apple devices.
You get free calls to anyone else using Skype, and cheap calls to anywhere in the world. If you’re on Pay and Go, this can be handy, and the app enables iPod touch users to call normal phones too.
TodoMovies is a to-do list for movies. Using the clean, efficient interface, you can check out what’s on (and, if you like, movies from the past) and fashion a list of films you want to see.
Usefully, the app provides the means to rate every movie, and so extended use results in a list of favourites you can delve into at any time.
For free, TunnelBear VPN gives you 500 MB of private browsing that can worm its way around geo-locking. All you do is fire the app up and tell the bear where to tunnel. If you want unlimited data, it’s yours for $2.99/£2.29 per month.
It’s a pity Twitter has felt the need to hobble third-party clients, given that its own app doesn’t appear to need any help these days in fending off the competition. Twitter for iPhone is fast and efficient, boasts useful Connect and Discover views, and expands tweets that contain photos, videos and other media.
You can do without most Today view widgets, but Vidgets provides some really useful monitoring tools.
The standalone app is where you manage your icon-like ‘vigets’, which comprise world clocks and indicators for storage and network speeds. That sole $2.99/£2.29 IAP is primarily for showing your support, but you do get an option for saving space by removing widget titles.
To some extent, Yousician Guitar is like Guitar Hero, only you use a real guitar that the app is teaching you how to play.
You start with basic plucking and strumming before moving on to working your way through full songs, the app scoring you as you go. For free, the app only restricts daily play time. To go unlimited, subscribe for $19.99/£14.99 per month.
Instapaper was the service and app that kickstarted ‘read later’, the means to save web pages for later. Unlike Safari’s Reading List, Instapaper strips articles back to just text and images, thereby providing an efficient and usable interface.
Premium membership ($2.99/£2.29 per month) unlocks the means to search your archive and add highlights to articles.
Originally the darling of the iPad, The Elements in late 2013 became a universal app, so it could be enjoyed on iPhones too. A rich, engaging digital book, it tells the story of the periodic table. Each of life’s building blocks can be manipulated on the screen, before you delve into related facts and figures.
- £3.99 (UK only)
We’ve all seen iPhones cleverly detecting songs playing around them, but Warblr uses similar technology to figure out what nearby songbirds are getting all fighty instead. The louder the input, the better the results, but waggle your iPhone in a bird’s general direction and as long as you’ve a web connection, its song will be interpreted, and a list of possible culprits provided.
The app’s not always accurate and it could do with the means to stash multiple recordings to fiddle about with later, but it’s otherwise a fine way to learn more about which feathered friends are in the vicinity.
We’re unashamedly huge Korg fans when it comes to iOS. The company’s iPad apps are superb, but on iPhone everything’s been rather simpler fare, until iElectribe. Astonishingly, Korg’s squeezed its powerful beat-creation tool into an iPhone, giving you a step sequencer and 300 rhythms to mess about with.
It’s admittedly a touch fiddly to use, unless you’re blessed with a plus-sized iPhone, but arm yourself with a decent pair of headphones and you’ll nonetheless be in rhythm heaven. And for when you’re back home or in the studio, surrounded by other kit, the app keeps on plugging away, thanks to support for nanoPAD, nanoKONTROL, Inter-App Audio and Audiobus.
If you’ve seen tiny humans around iOS devices, you’ll have noticed that even those that can’t speak beyond bababababa and dadadadada nonetheless merrily swipe and poke at the screens. Metamorphabet capitalises on this ingrained infatuation with shiny touchscreens, and cunningly attempts to teach the alphabet via the medium of surreal interactive animations.
It starts off with A, which when poked grows antlers, transforms into an arch and goes for an amble. Although a few words are a stretch too far (wafting clouds representing a daydream, for example), this is a charming, imaginative and beautifully designed app.
A constant in the world of mobile is device cameras getting better and better. Naturally, then, certain people who own mobile devices clamour to download apps that degrade photos and videos, so they resemble imagery and footage captured during bygone eras. You pretty much know what you’re going to get with VHS Camcorder, a time machine of sorts back to the 1980s that makes your video look like it’s decades old.
The app’s settings are particularly fun: 480p intentionally disables widescreen, and ‘Tilting Device Makes Things Worse’ is actually a switch you can toggle. One negative is there’s no import, so you can’t keep a clean version of your video and just use the app for later adding effects; but perhaps that’s the point- it’s all about authenticity. And fluorescent socks.
Photoshop is so ingrained in people’s minds when it comes to image editing that it’s become a verb. Oddly, though, Adobe’s largely abandoned high-end mobile apps, choosing instead to create simpler ‘accessories’ for the iPhone and iPad, augmenting rather than aping its desktop products. Valiantly filling the void is Pixelmator, a feature-rich and truly astonishing mobile Photoshop.
It’s packed full of tools and adjustment options, and works well whether you’re into digital painting or creating multi-layered photographic masterpieces. On iPhone, Pixelmator’s naturally a bit cramped compared to using the app on iPad, but at the price it remains an insanely great bargain.