The best iPhone apps to download in 2017
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.
There’s a bigger problem to think about here: with over a billion downloads from the App Store it can be a nightmare trying to work out which title is for you.
Research from analytics firm AppAnnie suggests that the average person uses nine apps per day, including the inbuilt options – and on the iPhone, there’s more of an onus on creativity.
The issue there is working out what’s good for you, and what’s superfluous. For instance, there are loads of brilliant weather apps out there, many with cutting-edge features and beautiful interfaces. Or alarm clocks that can connect to the local transport news and wake you earlier if your train is running late.
But they might be no use to you if you look out the window to see how wet it is and always get up in good enough time to never be late for work.
- What’s the best phone of 2017?
So we’ve done the hard work for you – checking out what’s new and rising up the charts of the App Store each week and cherry picking the best titles to add into our regularly-rotated ranking.
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 7
or even one of the older models (if you need more info, check out our list of the best iPhones) – but note that some of these titles will only work with models from iPhone 5S and later.
This ambitious app by (ex-King Crimson) musician Adrian Belew is his take on cutting-edge modern music. He reasons that to hold someone’s attention today, music must be quick, surprising and random, making a statement and rapidly moving on.
The conceit is that you rarely get the same thing twice. Songs appear in different forms, with alternate mixes, lyrics and instrumentation.
Amusingly, one ‘song’ is merely a countdown, introducing whatever comes next. It’s certainly a long way from a traditional album – and all the better for it, showcasing how apps have the potential to revolutionize music.
What you get out of will likely depend on how you approach the app. If you’re looking for some kind of tool for exploring the cosmos, you need an astronomy app like or . But if you fancy noodling away at a tiny miniature universe you can build yourself, Space is ideal.
The app doesn’t hand-hold. Instead, you’re left to fend for yourself, figuring out the somewhat opaque interface, and dropping celestial bodies onto the screen. Over time, you figure out how they interact, and that, for example, dumping a massive black hole inside your otherwise happily swirling solar system probably isn’t going to do it much good.
Although flawed – your little planets mostly appear as tiny specs, and navigation is a touch clunky – there’s nonetheless something rather magical about having a tiny galaxy in the palm of your hand.
You might shudder at the idea of writing on an iPhone, but wants to change your mind. This is a smart, svelte writing tool that gets out of your way, but that’s packed full of the features you need for writing on the go.
When tapping away at the keyboard, you get a toolbar with cursor arrows and Markdown formatting buttons (if you want to get more complex your text or use it for HTML).
At the top of the screen sits a word count and reading time prediction. Collapse the keyboard and swipe from the right for a Markdown preview and export options. Swipe the other way to access the iCloud documents list that syncs with iA Writer on other platforms.
There’s a night mode and focus-oriented view options, too, and all of this combines to make for a writing experience perhaps unmatched on iPhone. You still won’t use the app to write a novel, but a few hundred words on an iPhone seems less painful with iA Writer installed.
Using the pen tool, you tap out a string of blue points on the screen, which map out the outline to mask. Any point’s position can be adjusted by selecting it and then dragging anywhere on the screen. Exacto places black points between the blue points, and these when selected bend the line, so you can create a curve with two blue points rather than dozens.
There’s unlimited undo, project auto-save, and a layers system for multiple selection. And although you might balk at the price for what’s effectively a single-feature app, Exacto is unparalleled at what it does on iPhone, and opens up scope for creative superimpositions and collages when using other creative software.
Focus and burnout are two commonplace issues for people in work. Too often, you can become distracted from tasks; but also there’s the risk of working long hours without a break, leading to fatigue. aims to deal with both.
The timer is loosely based around the Pomodoro Technique (a time management method), and recommends splitting your time between 25-minute work sprints and five-minute breaks. After four sessions, you take a longer break of about half an hour.
The app is clutter-free, and easy to use. The timer combines a minimal iOS-like design aesthetic with hints of a real-world timer’s dial. You can delve into statistics, adjust work/break lengths, and choose alternate alarm and ‘ticking’ noises. Most importantly, however much this is all about psychology, it does work. Need convincing? Try the first.
The app is very simple to use – you tap a rhombus to add it to the canvas, and can tap existing ones to rotate them. Shapes can be dragged together to make larger groups, and elements on the canvas can be colored and styled.
Isometric is especially well suited to abstract geometric art, and proves relaxing to use when stressed about the world and its problems.
But with a little planning, you can coax it towards more realistic, ambitious fare. Either way, the canvas can expand to a whopping 2048 x 2048, and you can export your angular masterpieces to Photos – or to vector formats with an additional IAP.
Modern iPhones have some seriously impressive camera hardware, and are capable of taking clean, vibrant shots. So it’s perhaps no surprise that iPhone users are often hell-bent on slathering said images in filters and messing them up.
is a decidedly extreme example, providing a theoretically unlimited number of layers to play with, each of which can have some kind of effect applied. These include grit, grain, light leaks, gradients, and more.
Because each layer can be fine-tuned in terms of opacity and blend mode, you can get anything from subtle film textures to seriously eye-popping grunge effects.
Hit upon something particularly amazing and you can share your ‘formulas’ with other people. Or if you’re in need of a quick fix, you can grab something that’s already online to overhaul your snaps.
This camera app has no interest in turning your snaps into miniature Picassos or prints from the 1930s. Instead, heads for decidedly trippier territory. Its filters distort and stretch what you see in front of you, separating colors, creating kaleidoscopes, or transforming a standard snap into a repeating grid.
Many of these filters are interactive, adding a pleasingly tactile feel to Oblique. Destructive sorts can also take things further, messing around with color, saturation, and contrast levels.
It’d be nice if the process wasn’t quite so final – for example, if you could save a clean shot alongside the distressed one, or import from Photos to muck around with the filters. But even so, Oblique’s a fun, creative app for iPhone photographers bored with the Prismas of this world.
On the iPad, resembles a touchscreen take on desktop vector powerhouse Adobe Illustrator. You might think you’d need to be mad to try and squeeze that into an iPhone, but Indeeo has succeeded in fine style.
The app, equally happy in portrait and landscape, is initially set up for vector-based sketching, with you scribbling freehand lines that can subsequently be tweaked and edited. Smartly, the app always lets you know what’s going on under your finger, because Graphic shows that area elsewhere on the screen while you draw.
Delve deeper and you’ll find a shape library, Bézier curves, a layers system and everything else you need to craft illustrations and logos on your iPhone. It can be a touch fiddly at times, but the powerful zoom and general friendliness, of what’s a hugely powerful mobile app, help immeasurably.
Furthermore, Infuse will, when necessary, live-convert the footage to make it compatible with iOS. Got a load of MKVs from your ripped home DVDs knocking around? Infuse will make short work of them.
This app also excels regarding its interface. If your files are appropriately named, it will fetch cover art and subtitles. And if you use the app across multiple devices (including Apple TV), progress will sync.
The only snag for some might be the price, but even there, you’re covered to some extent, with a , which has fewer features and IAP to unlock the rest. At the very least, it’s a great way to try before you buy.
There are plenty of apps that transform photos into personalized takes on works of art. does something similar, but with vintage printed art. This means you can with a few taps turn a photo of a loved one into something resembling artwork that might once have graced a 1950s postcard or ancient theater poster.
You get a decent selection of filters, along with smartly considered additional tools for adjusting dot pitch, brightness, colors, and borders. These things add a personal touch sometimes missing from this kind of app.
The interface sometimes trips up – edits are weirdly done in a thumbnail overlapping your current image, which makes it hard to see what’s going on until the edit is expanded. But Printed is nonetheless a great buy, especially if the novelty’s gone in turning your photos into pseudo-Munchs and Picassos.
The truth is, you’re probably not going to be banging out your latest set using the app alone – although you can connect it up to a range of hardware and use it as the brains behind a controller.
However, whether you’re a wannabe or pro DJ, djay Pro for iPhone warrants investigation for allowing you to experiment on the go. The app’s hugely powerful and feature-rich (waveforms; four decks; sampler; amusing sound effects; properly clever beat-matching), making it far more than a curiosity or novelty.
There are two sides to . In its ‘native’ form, the app apes old-school point-and-click cameras. You get a tiny viewport inside a virtual plastic camera body, and can swap out lenses, film, and flashes, along with messing about with multiple exposures and manual shutters. It’s pleasingly tactile and twangs your nostalgia gland, but feels a bit cramped.
If you’d rather use your entire iPhone display to show what you’re snapping, you can switch to a ‘pro’ camera mode. That’s closer in nature to Apple’s own Camera, but with Hipstamatic’s huge range of rather lovely filters bolted on – a great mash-up of old and new.
And if you’re wedded to Apple’s camera, Hipstamatic’s still worth a download, given that you can load a photo, slather it in filters, add loads of effects and bask in your creative genius.
This one’s all about ‘points of interest’, hence the name – (‘POIs on maps’). Essentially, it’s a wealth of information from OpenStreetMap shoved into an app and twinned with an interface that makes it a cinch to drill down into categories.
So, mooching about London and fancy a bite to eat? Tap on the food and drink icon. Something quick? Tap Fast Food. Pizza? Sounds good.
Each tap filters the POIs and navigation buttons displayed, and arrows point at nearby locations when you’re zoomed in. Everything’s extremely responsive, and the maps and icons are clear and easy to read. Other nice bits include a full-screen mode, a search function, and public transport overlays.
The only snag is Poison Maps is a gargantuan 1.2GB install; if that’s a bit rich, smaller regional alternatives by the same developer exist, each being a free download with a small IAP to unlock all categories.
On creating a profile, you launch a little spaceship, choose a planet, and start messing around, with an emphasis on play rather than dry facts and figures. To compare the mass of planets, you pop them on a weighing scale. Size comparisons are done by dropping planets into adjacent circles, whereupon they resize accordingly.
Elsewhere, you can peek inside celestial bodies, but the app would sooner have you hurl a piano into Jupiter’s Great Red Spot storm, just to see what will happen.
So this isn’t the place to learn that Saturn takes over 29 years to journey around the Sun; but Space is the kind of app that might whet appetites to the point those using it want to find out more.
Filters in iPhone apps are designed to bring a dose of creativity to your digital photos. However, it’s easy to become overwhelmed by the choice on offer, and to end up relying on the same old filters time and again. snaps you out of any such rut, largely by robbing you of direct control over the filters you apply.
Instead, Infltr has you load a photo and drag your finger over it to change the filter. Every movement subtly adjusts what you see – an intriguing mix of randomness and tactility that proves compelling.
The app also has its own camera, works with Live Photos and panoramas, and offers plentiful export options. And if all that dragging feels like a bit too much hard work, just tap the randomizer button to get a new filter and change things up once more.
If you’ve got yourself a resident tiny human, your house probably has a few of those wooden puzzles where letter shapes are shoved into their respective slots. isn’t quite, well, endless, but contains dozens of such puzzles, which work brilliantly on the touchscreen.
On your child selecting a word, monsters sprint along the bottom of the screen, scattering its letters. They then need to be dragged back into place, coming to life as they’re moved. When a word’s complete, monsters act out what it means in a charming animated cut scene.
There are some minor grumbles here and there – the app’s resolutely US-English in nature, and the sounds letters make when dragged might confuse, since they’re not full letters nor the phonics often used in education. Otherwise, this is a first-rate, charming, enjoyable educational app for youngsters getting to grips with words.
The idea of tapping out your next novel on an iPhone might seem mad, but if you’re armed with an iPhone Plus and a small portable keyboard, why not add to your potential bestseller when you’ve the odd spare moment?
is designed to transform your iPhone into a powerful writing environment. Efficiency is the app’s watchword from the off, with excellent templates that provide a document structure ready for input, including example pages so you can see how things work.
When typing away, you’ll appreciate the custom keyboard bar that makes it a cinch to navigate on-screen and adjust text styles. Impressively, the app also integrates the kind of index cards seen in Scrivener (but absent from its iPhone version), so you can get a high-level view of your work, and quickly rearrange your story whenever needed.
The main plus with the app is its flexibility: you can use its own camera to add new frames, bring in pre-shot images from Camera Roll, or even import video footage that is then automatically chopped up into a bunch of stills.
During editing, you also get plenty of options. Frames can be copied and pasted, and audio added – which intelligently plays until completion (rather than cutting off once a new frame is played), so multiple effects can be overlaid.
The app perhaps stretches a little too far in claiming to offer ‘rotoscoping’ – that is, drawing over frames for a result akin to A Scanner Darkly – due to the related tools being too basic and fiddly.
But for taking your first steps towards becoming the next Aardman, Stop Motion Studio Pro fits the bill.
Head back to the 1980s and pixel art was just, well, art. Computer graphics were chunky due to technological limitations, not because of the aesthetic desires of creatives. Nonetheless, for a mix of reasons – nostalgia, primarily – pixel art remains popular in illustration and videogames.
On iPhone, is a great app for dabbling with pixel art. Along with prodding individual pixels using a pencil tool, there’s a neat flood fill option and shape tools too. Layers provide scope for more complex art, as does the option to import an image from elsewhere as a starting point.
There’s no lock-in either: you can export to a range of formats to share your miniature masterpiece, or work on it further elsewhere.
There’s no denying the quality of the filters in the free Prism app, which quickly transforms photos into painterly artwork. However, the app can be slow to render (especially with video), and only makes the full selection of its filters available when you’re online. is a more premium take on the concept and, importantly, its filters all work wherever you are.
This means that whether you fire up Visionn’s built-in camera or work with existing photos and videos, you can swipe between filters and instantly see their effect.
The actual filters are or varying quality and not quite up to Prism’s in terms of aping real-world styles. But ‘animated sketch’ Hawthorne is superb, and we also loved using Belmont, which makes snaps akin to canvases with oil paint thickly applied.
There are plenty of Wikipedia apps knocking around the App Store, but V for Wikipedia does something a bit different. Although you can use the app to search Wikipedia in the normal way, it starts out displaying a Nearby tab, providing articles about interesting things in your vicinity.
Visually, this looks superb – tabs snaking their way from locations on a map to large clickable thumbnails at the foot of the screen. It’s also a practical way to find out more about somewhere without resorting to review-oriented web services.
Regardless of how you end up at an article, V for Wikipedia excels. Typography and layout design are smart and sleek, and a slide-in table of contents is always only a tap away.
So while you might narrow your eyes at the prospect of paying for a Wikipedia reader, V for Wikipedia will soon have said eyes busy reading the world’s most dynamic encyclopedia.
In use, the system works a lot like email: new podcasts show up in your inbox, you fling those you’re interested in to the top or bottom of a queue, and dump the rest in a searchable archive. For those podcasts where you must listen to every episode, they can be queued by default.
This is smart, saving you time and effort, and the archive works brilliantly, too, providing speedy access to older episodes.
Elsewhere, Castro is perhaps more ordinary, with functional podcast discovery, a dull playback interface, and basic effects that don’t match Overcast’s voice boost and smart speed. But for managing and prioritizing what you listen to, Castro can’t be beaten.
- Free + $1.99/£1.99/AU$2.99 IAP
You start off by loading pretty much anything from your Camera Roll: photos, videos, Burst mode images, Live Photos, or GIFs. With stills, you can select a number of them to stitch together, essentially making ImgPlay a kind of low-end stop-motion tool.
But it’s with Live Photos and Burst shots that ImgPlay really becomes interesting. You can take the video or sequence of images your iPhone shoots, trim the result (including removing individual frames), add a filter and text, and then export the lot as a GIF or video.
For free, the app’s full-featured, but buy the small IAP and you get more filters, no ads, and no watermark on export.
That’s because it attempts to bring accessibility to Stephen Hawking’s phenomenal work on mind-bending topics such as space-time and the expanding universe – and squeeze everything into the much smaller screen of an iPhone.
Given such weighty subject matter, this is a surprisingly friendly digital book, broken down into easily digestible, bite-sized sections. Throughout, the app playfully animates, filling your screen with color and using illustration to aid understanding of the text.
Naturally, there’s still the possibility of bafflement, but the app helpfully tracks what you’ve read, and is perfect brain food for filling journeys on the bus in a manner mindlessly scrolling through social feeds can never hope to compete with.
The burst mode in Apple’s camera app is designed to get you the perfect photo in tricky situations. If you’ve a fast-moving subject – or are snapping someone who blinks a lot – you hold the shutter, very rapidly take loads of photos, and later select the best.
But in capturing anything up to dozens of photos, there’s potential to do something with those you’d usually discard. Burstio is all about turning such images into animations.
Launch the app and you see your burst photos as little film strips, each detailing the number of images within. Select a burst and you can trim the series, adjust playback speed, and alter playback direction.
Your edit can then be exported to video or GIF. The process is elegant and simple, and brings new life to images you’d otherwise never use.
You can of course use a wide range of apps for storing real-world scribbles – photograph a journal page and you can fling it at the likes of Evernote, say. But Carbo tries something more ambitious. Your sketches and notes are cleaned up, and converted to vectors, while preserving your original stroke.
What this means is that images within Carbo retain the character of your penmanship, but are also editable in a manner standard photographs are not – you can select and move specific elements that Carbo intelligently groups, adjust line thicknesses throughout the entire image, add annotations and tags, and export the result to various formats.
It’s a friendly, intuitive app to work with, and efficient, too – a typical Carbo note requires only a tenth of the storage as the same image saved as a standard JPEG photo.
- Free + from $9.99/£9.99/AU$14.99
As a free app, Ferrite Recording Studio is mightily impressive – a kind of beefed-up Voice Memos, which lets you bookmark bits of recordings to refer to later, and then edit and combine multiple recordings in a multi-track editor view.
But when you pay for Ferrite, it becomes a fully-fledged podcast creation studio on your iPhone.
First and foremost, in-app purchases remove track and project length limits. This affords much greater scope for complex projects, which can have loads of overlaying tracks and potentially be hours in length.
The paid release also adds a range of professional effects, which can help transform your project by making the audio cleaner and more engaging.
But whether you pay or not, Ferrite’s usable, intuitive interface should make it a tempting go-to tool for amateur podcasters, even if they’re also armed with a PC or Mac.
From a functionality standpoint, Living Earth is a combination clock/weather app. You define a bunch of cities to track, and switch between them to see current time, weather conditions, and when the sun’s going to make an appearance and vanish for the day.
Tapping the forecast quickly loads an outlook for the entire week; prod the clock and you’ll get the weather and time in each of your defined locations.
What sets Living Earth apart, though, is the globe at the screen’s centre. This provides a live view of the planet’s weather – clouds, by default, which can be swapped for temperature, wind and humidity.
We like the clouds most, along with the way the virtual planet can be slowly spun with the slightest swipe. It’ll then lazily rotate between zones in daylight and those lit up after night has fallen.
Apple offers a burst mode when you hold down the shutter in its camera app, but this is for very rapidly taking many shots in quick succession, in order to select the best one.
By contrast, SoSoCamera is about documenting a lengthier slice of time, taking a series of photos over several seconds and then stitching them together in a grid.
The grid’s size maxes out at 48 items and can be fashioned however you like. It’s then just a question of selecting a filter, prodding the camera button, and letting SoSoCamera perform its magic.
The resulting images, while low-res in nature, nicely capture the feel of time passing, in many cases better than video; although do experiment first with the filters, because some are a bit too eye-searing.
With virtual assistants like Siri, technology companies are betting hard on a hands-free, voice-controlled future for software. But eyes-free is also an interesting area of exploration. LeechTunes is designed for controlling music playback without you looking at your iPhone, largely by utilising the entire display for gestural input.
This kind of interaction can be handy when driving – skip a track by quickly swiping the screen of a docked iPhone; it’s also useful when exercising (or anywhere noisy), since you can switch playlists without talking to or looking at your iPhone.
The app provides 15 configurable options in all, and there’s also a handy sleep timer buried away in the settings. One niggle is you’ll need to fire up tunes in Music if you don’t have files stored on your iPhone, but LeechTunes can subsequently ably take over.
- Free + $1.99/£1.99/AU$2.99 unlock
We often write about apps that are ambitious and push the iPhone to its limits, but there’s also a lot to be said for focus. And if there’s one thing that can be said about Tally 2, it’s that it’s focused. The app is a counting aid. Create a new tally, tap the screen and the number increments.
If that was all you got, you’d feel a bit ripped off. Fortunately, Tally 2 provides the means to have multiple tallies on the go (two in the free version; an unlimited number once you buy the one-off IAP), and these can be displayed and interacted with simultaneously, either within the app itself or inside Notification Center.
Smartly, each can also be customized, with a unique name, an initial value, a step value, a direction (as in, counting up or down), and whether it should be displayed in Tally 2’s widget.
On the desktop, Scrivener is popular with writers crafting long-form text. On iPad, the app is – amazingly – barely altered from the PC and Mac release; but Scrivener on iPhone is a slightly different prospect.
That’s not to say this isn’t a feature-rich and highly capable product. You still get a solid rich-text editing environment and a ‘binder’ to house and arrange documents and research, before compiling a manuscript for export.
What you lose on the smaller screen is those features that require more space: a two-up research/writing view; the corkboard for virtual index cards.
But Scrivener is still worth buying – although you’re unlikely to write an entire screenplay or novel on an iPhone, you can use the app to take notes, make edits, and peruse your existing work, wherever you happen to be.
There’s something of a Harry Potter vibe about Live Photos on iOS, and it’s fun to see a still image spring to life when you hold it, offering extra context and a snatch of audio. Ultimately, though, they are a gimmick, and one it’s easy to tire of; which is where Motion Stills comes in.
Google’s app reframes Live Photos in a number of useful ways. You can browse your entire feed, and isolate individual shots to fiddle with settings that showcase how much difference the stabilization makes. (A lot, as it turns out.)
Even better, there are tools for edit and export, so you can transform a Live Photo into a looping back-and-forth GIF to post online, or combine several into a short movie. Really, this is an app Apple should have produced; it’s ironic – but also terrific – that Google’s the one to bring extra life to Live Photos.
If you like the idea of editing home movies but find the thought daunting or lack time, try Quik. The app essentially automates the entire process, enabling you to create beautiful videos with a few taps.
All you need do is select some videos and photos, and choose a style. Quik then edits them into a great-looking video you can share with friends and family. But if your inner Spielberg hankers for a little more control, you can adjust the style, music, format and pace, along with trimming clips, reordering items, and adding titles.
Cementing its friendly nature, Quik offers a little pairs minigame for you to mess about with while the app renders your masterpiece. And there’s even a weekly ‘For You’ video Quik compiles without you lifting a finger.
We’ve seen quite a few apps that try to turn your photos into art, but none hit the spot quite like Prisma. The app is almost disarmingly simple to use: shoot or select a photo, crop your image, and choose an art style (options range from classic paintings through to comic book doodling).
The app within a few seconds then transforms your photo into a miniature Picasso or Munch.
On trying Prisma with a range of imagery, we found it almost never comes up with a duff result. But if you find the effects a bit jarring, a slide of your finger can soften your chosen filter prior to sharing your masterpiece online.
Our only criticism is the app’s low-res output, making Prisma pics only suitable for screen use.
On iOS, astronomy apps tend to be about gazing from Earth to the heavens, but Cosmic-Watch instead has you peering at the Earth and explore its relationship with time and the cosmos.
The default view is a clock that surrounds the planet like Saturn’s rings. You can pinch and drag to zoom and spin the planet, and the app enables you to save multiple locations to snap to via a tap. Elsewhere, you can overlay constellations and astral charts, and experiment with a digital model of the solar system.
A neat additional feature is time travel. Tap the clock icon and you can fast-forward your view. This is particularly lovely in the model, which when running sufficiently quickly (say, a month per second) leaves wiggly trailing paths from planets as they make their way around the sun.
On the iPad, Model 15 works brilliantly, providing a meticulously recreated take on a classic Moog synth, merged with the trappings of modern iOS music-making (presets, alternate keyboard controls, inter-app capabilities). Really, this should have been too much for iPhone, but it astonishingly isn’t.
Just like on the iPad, you can immerse yourself in messing around making new sounds by plugging in patch leads and prodding a keyboard to see what noise bursts forth. There’s a touch more scrolling and zooming on the smaller screen, but it’s perfectly manageable.
This certainly isn’t a cheap app, but Model 15 is the best standalone synth on iPhone, and another example of the most important thing that sets iPhone beyond Android – the scope and ambition found in native apps.
Coming across like a simplified social take on Lego, Tayasui Blocks is all about building objects and sharing them online. The toolset is simple but versatile, making it a cinch to stack and color blocks, along with viewing your creation from any angle.
And if you get bored, you can smother your object in stickers or attack it with a wide range of weapons.
The online bit works especially well, providing speedy access to a huge range of existing constructions that you can download and experiment with. (Smartly, you can’t reupload these unless the app deems you’ve made sufficient changes.)
On smaller iOS devices, the app is perhaps a touch fiddly at times, but you don’t need the acres of an iPad to thoroughly enjoy digital building blocks.
Apps are transforming the way many people learn to play instruments. Capo touch is a case in point, attempting to simplify the process of figuring out songs loaded on to your iPhone.
At its most basic, Capo will slow down a song without changing its pitch, along with looping user-defined sections, thereby helping you figure out riffs and chord progressions. You can also tweak the settings to try and isolate important instruments.
The magical bit, though, is chord detection, which tries to supply chords for any song you load. Capo doesn’t always succeed, but during testing we found its hit rate was fairly high, and whenever it errs, you can always replace Capo’s choice with an alternative.
The idea behind WiFi Priority is a simple one, dealing with a shortcoming within iOS itself. If you’ve multiple networks accessible to you, your iPhone may sometimes automatically join the wrong one – and there’s no way of creating a custom order for known networks.
This can be infuriating and require regular trips to Settings to put things right. All WiFi priority does is let you select and sign into a network and then block it from auto-join. (You can still connect manually via Settings, note.)
The app could be a bit more modern (it has a zoomed view on iPhones larger than a 5) and friendly (removing a setting requires you to delete a profile from Settings > General > Profile), but it does the job it sets out to do ably, dealing with an irksome iOS issue Apple appears oddly reluctant to fix.
There are loads of camera apps for iPhone, broadly offering the same kind of pro-level controls: manual focus and ISO; white balance; zoom; levels; filters; grids. Obscura Camera is in this respect more of the same, but what makes it worthy of consideration is its really smart interface.
Next to the shutter are big ‘expose’ and ‘focus’ buttons, for locking each feature. Above, chunky ISO and shutter buttons beg to be tapped, and can be quickly swapped out for a raft of other controls. Want a different filter? Just swipe across the main viewfinder area.
The result is an iPhone camera that boasts the kinds of features its rivals have, but that obliterates them in terms of usability. It’s a properly one-thumb-controllable app, focussed on quick access to features, dispensing with the needlessly fiddly controls found in many of its contemporaries.
The idea of buying an app based on Google’s Street View might seem bizarre, given that Street View is integrated into the entirely free Google Maps. And yet there’s something oddly compelling about Streets 3. Accessing Street View using this app is simpler and faster than in Google Maps, as is changing your position on the overhead map and viewing coverage.
Beyond this, Streets 3 has several other handy features. It identifies as a navigation app, and so can be a kind of surrogate Street View for Apple’s Maps. You get information about a selected location, along with a list of ‘gallery’ places to check out. These include city sites, monuments, and actual galleries, for partaking in a little virtual tourism.
Moving about in the 3D mapping environment’s a bit jerkier than in Google Maps, and gallery places are weirdly arbitrarily ordered. Still, there’s a search for the latter, and any other niggles are countered by the genuinely useful and entertaining nature of Streets 3 as a whole.
Using a phone while driving is not a smart thing to do. Even when your iPhone’s parked in a dock, app interfaces are typically too fiddly to use without your eye straying from the road for far too long. This is where Open Road comes in.
The app enables you to create a custom screen of big tappable buttons that trigger important actions, such as firing up a favourite playlist or calling a specific contact.
It also boasts a number of eyes-free gestural commands, voice control (occasionally flaky, but useful when it works), a car finder (so you don’t lose your car when parking somewhere new), and a drive recorder, in case you’re involved in an accident.
In a sense, Open Road is a veritable grab-bag of car-oriented goodies, all wrapped up in a clean, efficient interface that ensures the app is best-in-class.
Apple’s built-in Music app has increasingly sidelined personal collections, instead heavily focussing on the Apple Music streaming service. Cesium is a player designed to help you enjoy your existing music library once again.
The interface marries old-school functionality with modern iOS design, offering tabs to quickly access artists, albums, songs and playlists.
Mostly, though, Cesium is great at providing the features music fans want: you can quickly edit and add to an upcoming queue; library sort options enable you to switch between alphabetical and chronological lists; and the landscape mode is just like the portrait mode but in widescreen, rather than trying (and failing) to do something ‘clever’.
So if you’re after a music player for iPhone that’s tasteful, smart, full-featured and free of gimmicks, buy Cesium.
- From free
There are quite a few apps that let you add text to images, but whenever we stray, Over always manages to drag us back. The app’s playful interface is fun to work with, but also it’s quite powerful. Import a photo and you can overlay multiple layers of text, artwork and further images, all of which can be edited and rearranged at any point.
This isn’t an app for super-crazy adjustments, though. Instead, it’s focussed and classy — perfect for adding some beautiful typography with a subtle drop shadow, thereby creating a birthday card, watermarking a favourite photo, or fashioning wallpapers with text for a loved one.
- from free; $6.99/£6.99/AU$10.99 bundle
The Nursery Rhymes apps (of which there are three volumes, each available in freemium or paid flavor) are all pretty much the same. You get a nice image that depicts a famous nursery rhyme, and various on-screen objects can be prodded to make them move and emit noises. Finally, tapping the lyrics kicks off a rendition of the relevant rhyme.
That might not sound terribly exciting to you, but if you’ve any tiny humans about the place, this could be the best few bucks you’ve ever spent.
Although be warned: if our experience is anything to go by, your 18-month-old will be desperate to fish your iPhone out of your pocket at every available opportunity, for just one more go on Hey Diddle Diddle.
Apple ships Voice Memos with iOS, but Just Press Record goes one better, rethinking simple iPhone recording by adding automated sync. The app is mostly a huge button, along with a list that gives you access to previously saved recordings.
Beyond this, the iPhone release bundles a great Apple Watch app, which makes it a cinch to record from your wrist, even when your iPhone’s not around. The next time the devices connect, your Apple Watch recordings seamlessly upload.
A Mac version is also available, which enables you to sync and play back your iPhone recordings on the desktop. But Just Press Record isn’t a closed system — you can share any recording made on your iPhone to the likes of Mail or Dropbox.
In these days of flashy news apps like Flipboard, old-school RSS readers get something of a bad reputation. But there’s something really handy about subscribing to your favourite sites, and knowing you’ll get every article delivered in chronological order, for you to pick through at leisure.
On the iPhone, Reeder 3 remains an excellent app for browsing and reading feeds. The interface is straightforward, and a built-in Readability view enables you to quickly load the text and images from feeds that only otherwise supply you with brief synopses.
If you’ve got an iPhone that supports 3D Touch, you can use that for article previews in the articles list.
- From free
We’re told coding is vital, assuming you want to get ahead in the world; but for newcomers, learning to code is akin to grappling with a foreign language. Lrn aims to ease you in, through a cleverly constructed series of interactive quizzes.
We know: you’d love to workout more often, but you lack the time and equipment. Streaks Workout scowls in your general direction and points out you just need it and an iPhone to become the brilliant version of you that you’ve always dreamed of.
The idea isn’t to have you become some kind of CrossFit superstar, merely to do a workout per day, even if it’s quick.
You select exercises from a list, avoiding those you don’t like, and sessions randomly use up to six of them. Said sessions last from six to thirty minutes. We thought the last of those being titled ‘pain’ was amusing until we tried it and discovered that moniker is quite accurate.
But whether you’re going for a short burst or long haul, Streaks Workout does the business. Icons are bold, and it’s easy to track what you’ve done at any given time. The need to have the screen visible and tap it after each exercise irks a bit – there’s no voice control – but you can at least catch your breath while prodding the display to cue up your next slice of hell.
And while this app’s randomness won’t suit those who demand very structured exercise routines, it’s great if you want something fresh each day to get you into the habit of regular exercise – which is kind of the point.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
The vast majority of iPhones in Apple’s line-up don’t have a massive amount of storage, and that becomes a problem when you want to keep videos on your device.
Air Video HD gets around the problem by streaming video files from any Mac or PC running the free server software. All content is live-encoded as necessary, ensuring it will play on your iPhone, and there’s full support for offline viewing, soft subtitles, and AirPlay to an Apple TV.
Perhaps the best bit about the software is how usable it is. The app’s simple to set up and has a streamlined, modern interface – for example, a single tap downloads a file for local storage. You don’t even need to be on the same network as your server either – Air Video HD lets you access your content over the web. Just watch your data downloads if you’re on a limited cellular plan!
On the iPad, one of the best things about Procreate is its smart, efficient interface that gets out of your way as you’re working on your next digital masterpiece. If anything, this design ethos is even more successful in Procreate Pocket on the iPhone.
Across the top of the screen is the toolbar, providing fast access to brushes, smudging, an eraser, layers, and adjustment tools. At the screen edges are two handles for quickly changing the size and opacity of your brush.
Although the kind of app actual artists are likely to get the most out of, Procreate’s friendliness is such that it’s a great place to start dabbling in digital painting. You can even record the creation of your masterpiece and share it as a 1080p video.
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.
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.
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.
- Free + IAP
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 Studio 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.
Although Apple introduced iCloud Keychain in iOS 7, designed to securely store passwords and payment information, 1Password is a more powerful system. Along with integrating with Safari, it can be used to hold identities, secure notes, network information and app licence details. It’s also cross-platform, meaning it will work with Windows and Android.
And since 1Password is a standalone app, accessing and editing your information is fast and efficient. The core app is free – the company primarily makes its money on the desktop. However, you’ll need a monthly subscription or to pay a one-off $9.99/£9.99/AU$14.99 IAP to access advanced features (multiple vaults, Apple Watch support, tagging, and custom fields).
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 + $7.99/£7.99/AU$12.99 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/7 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.
- Free with new devices or $9.99/£9.99/AU$14.99
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.
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).
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’s Share sheets, and has direct support in many iOS apps.
Check out our essential tips for every Dropbox user.
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.)
There are quite a few apps for virtual stargazing, but Sky Guide is the best of them on iOS. Like its rivals, the app allows you to search the heavens in real-time, providing details of constellations and satellites in your field of view (or, if you fancy, on the other side of the world).
Indoors, it transforms into a kind of reference guide, offering further insight into distant heavenly bodies, and the means to view the sky at different points in history. What sets Sky Guide apart, though, is an effortless elegance. It’s simply the nicest app of its kind to use, with a polish and refinement that cements its essential nature.
Fantastical 2 betters iOS’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.
- $4.99/£4.99/AU$7.99 or free with new devices
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.
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 is a missing link for anyone who wanted a file manager for their iPhone. It might have roots in an Mac FTP client, but Transmit also integrates with cloud storage and local networked Macs. It’s perfect for moving documents, renaming files, and creating archives to email or upload.
Apple’s Podcasts app has improved since its initial launch, but still falls short of Pocket Casts. 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.
Although Apple’s HDR mode in the Camera app works perfectly well, 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.
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.
- $4.99/£4.99/AU$7.99 or free with new devices
Apple’s GarageBand remains an impressive, ambitious app, turning your iPhone into a recording studio. For beginners, there’s a range of smart instruments, making it easy to learn the basics of songwriting and chord progression. You can also experiment with pre-recorded loops, including in the loop player, where you trigger riffs and drum beats with a tap of your fingers.
If you’re already a musical sort, GarageBand enables you to write directly into a sequencer or record any instrument live. The app can also act as a kind of hub for other iOS music software, tying your apps together through Inter-App Audio and Audiobus.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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, you can choose from a range of paid tiers, with ad-hoc, monthly or annual costs.
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, indicators for storage and network speeds, and quick-launch buttons for apps, bookmarks and contacts. That sole $2.99/£2.99/AU$4.49 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/£19.99/AU$30.99 per month.
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.
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