Updated: Best free iPhone apps 2016

Best free iPhone apps 2016

There are now hundreds of thousands of apps available for your iPhone 6S and, surprisingly, many of the best are free.

What’s the best phone of 2016?

The following list showcases our pick of the best free iPhone apps, and includes iPhone applications for social networking, travel, news, photography, productivity and more.

Best free iPhone apps 2016

There are now hundreds of thousands of apps available for your iPhone 6S and, surprisingly, many of the best are free.

What’s the best phone of 2016?

The following list showcases our pick of the best free iPhone apps, and includes iPhone applications for social networking, travel, news, photography, productivity and more. Most of these apps are also compatible with the iPod touch.

If your top free iPhone apps aren’t covered, tell us all about them in the comments. And don’t forget to check out our iPhone 7 rumours.

New this week: Cheatsheet

The idea behind Cheatsheet is to provide fast access to tiny chunks of information you never remember but really need to: your hotel room, your car’s number plate, Wi-Fi passwords, or, if you’re feeling suitably retro, the Konami code.

Set-up is pleasingly straightforward. Using the app, you add ‘cheats’ by selecting an icon and then typing your info nugget. When you’ve got yourself a number of ‘cheats’, they can be reordered as you see fit. Once you’re done, the entire lot can be displayed on the Today widget or an Apple Watch.

Cheatsheet saves some features for a $2.99/£2.29 ‘pro’ upgrade – a custom keyboard, an action extension, some of the icons, and iCloud sync. But the free version is nonetheless useful and generous, along with making really good use of the Today view on your phone.

TodoMovies 4

With the vast range of movies available at any given time, keeping track of what you’d like to see and what you’ve watched already isn’t easy. TodoMovies 4 aims to simplify the process and aid discovery.

The app starts off with the discovery bit, having you check out lists that range from Academy Award nominees to those with the ‘greatest gun fights of all time’. Beyond this, you can browse by genre, explore upcoming films and what’s on in theatres, or perform a search for something specific.

Selecting a film loads artwork, and most have a trailer. Tap the big ‘+’ to add the current film to your To Watch list, which can be searched or browsed (alphabetically, by date added, or by release date).

Watched films can be removed or sent to your Watched list, whereupon they can be rated. This mix of focus and friendliness – along with some very smart design – makes this app a no-brainer download for movie buffs.

Foodie

There are two types of people when it comes to photographing food – those who relish the opportunity to snap and share every meal, and those who eye anyone who does so with scorn and suspicion. If you’re firmly in the former camp, try Foodie, a camera app designed to ‘transform simple food photos into one-of-a-kind masterpieces’.

OK, so that’s overplaying things a bit, but there’s a lot to like here. Foodie’s filters are designed to enhance the look of food, and they have amusing names like Yum, Fresh and Crispy. If you don’t find that at least a little endearing (i.e. you’re dead inside), there’s an ‘albums’ button fashioned as a knife and fork, which might just be too much.

Post-snappage, the app offers basic editing tools, for adding blurry vignettes and mucking about with contrast. And here’s the thing: although this one’s designed for foodies, we reckon it’s a pretty great free camera app for everyone.

MSQRD

A while ago, we chanced upon an app that utilised your iPhone’s camera in order to turn you into a zombie. This was, we decided, the pinnacle of modern technology, and far more important than using smartphones for trifling things like productivity, art, or music.

Imagine our joy, then, when setting eyes on MSQRD, which ramps up such camera-based magic to the max.

Peer into your iPhone’s camera, and MSQRD quickly locates your head, before overlaying a mask. They range from cartoonish eyes that explode from your own when you perform a suitably over the top open-mouthed expression, to a surprisingly vivid and fairly horrific take on The Joker.

Naturally, this all falls apart a bit when you shoot a video with the app — you must take care not to move your head too much or cover it with a hand, although pulling stupid expressions is usually fine. (We checked.)

Stills tend to work better, although ‘better’ is often ‘creepy as hell’. Like we said: the pinnacle of modern technology.

Guides by Lonely Planet

In a sense, there’s something of an old-school feel about Guides by Lonely Planet. Whereas some iPhone travel guides are desperate to funnel information into your eyes about even the most far-flung or obscure locations, Guides is more interested in covering a handful of famous cities: London, New York, Paris, Barcelona and the like. This might seem limited, but it gives the app a sense of focus, and also enables it to be blazing fast.

When we tapped Paris, we expected to be hanging around while information downloaded, but Guides is done in about a second. Almost instantly, a map appears, detailing where interesting things are located. Inviting icons provide quick access to sights, restaurants, shops, and so on, and popular interests for a given city sit behind buttons masquerading as photographs.

For tourists and day-trippers alike, there are overviews and basic budget planners, and you can bookmark any page. There’s nothing like Triposo’s city walks creator, nor even basic built-in routing, though, and the offline maps take an age to download. However, there is ‘near me’ functionality when you’re online, and, most importantly, the guides appear to be written by people who genuinely love the cities in question.

Klok

Although it won’t satisfy anyone clamouring for an Android-like interface on iOS, Apple’s take on widgets is quite elegant, shoving mini-apps into a scrolling page within the pull-down Notification Center. This provides fast access to important information, such as weather reports and, in the case of Klok, loads of clocks.

You fire up the Klok app to define up to five locations, which can be rearranged in ‘west to east’ order, or dragged about as you see fit. You then choose whether clocks appear in analogue or digital, before scooting across to Notification Center and seeing how everything looks.

Klok does the business admirably. In either form, the clocks are big enough to spot the time at a glance, and day markers are added when a location is, relative to you, enjoying ‘tomorrow’ or still mired in ‘yesterday’.

Cleverly, you can also tap a clock to get a row of hours beneath. Tap one to temporarily set the clock to that time and the others change accordingly. This is great for sanity-checking international meeting times, or for when you just have to know what time it is in Tokyo when it’s 3pm in Madrid.

Splice

We’re big fans of iMovie. Apple’s video editor for iPhone is usable and powerful. In our lazier moments, we also really like Replay, which takes a bunch of videos and edits them on your behalf. But there are times when you hanker for a middle ground, and that’s where Splice fits in.

Getting started is simple — select some videos and photos to import, along with, optionally, a soundtrack. Name your project, choose an orientation, and the app lays out your clips. These can be reordered by drag and drop, and transitions can be adjusted with a couple of taps.

If you want to delve deeper, individual clips can be trimmed and cut, and you can apply effects. Several filters are included, as is a speed setting, and the means to overlay text.

These tools perhaps won’t worry the Spielbergs of this world, but a few minutes in Splice can transform a few random iPhone clips into something quite special — and all without a price-tag or even any advertising.

WhatsApp

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 using up your SMS allowance by sending text messages, 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.

Listed for app of the year at the TechRadar Phone Awards.

Strava

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.

Listed for app of the year at the TechRadar Phone Awards.

If you like this then make sure you read 10 best iPhone and iPad apps for keeping fit and 5 sports headphones for iPhone and iPod touch.

Google Photos

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.

Listed for app of the year at the TechRadar Phone Awards.

Snapseed

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.

Listed for app of the year at the TechRadar Phone Awards.

Spotify

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.

Listed for app of the year at the TechRadar Phone Awards.

Periscope

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.

Listed for app of the year at the TechRadar Phone Awards.

Google Maps

It’s no secret that Apple Maps doesn’t have the best reputation, although it has got better in recent times.

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.

Uber

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.

Listed for app of the year at the TechRadar Phone Awards.

Evernote Scannable

Although Evernote Scannable isn’t the most feature-rich iPhone scanner you’re ever likely to see, it’s a winner when it comes to efficiency. Open it up, plonk a document on a background with enough contrast, and the app scans it in in just a moment.

You can send the resulting JPEG to Evernote, share it to another service, or do further scans that will be compiled to PDF.

Listed for app of the year at the TechRadar Phone Awards.

Pushbullet

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.

Listed for app of the year at the TechRadar Phone Awards.

Citymapper

If you live in or visit one of the supported cities (which include London, Paris, Berlin and New York),Citymapper is an essential download, assuming you want to find your way around more easily.

It’ll zero in on your location and then intelligently get you from A to B, providing all kinds of travel options and routing, and, where relevant, live times for transit.

Listed for app of the year at the TechRadar Phone Awards.

Instagram

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.

Listed for app of the year at the TechRadar Phone Awards.

Evernote

Clients to access the popular Evernote service for storing notes and ideas online are available for so many platforms that we half expect a ZX Spectrum app to be announced tomorrow.

On the iPhone,Evernote is efficient and usable, enabling you to rapidly scan your notes and also create new ones.

Listed for app of the year at the TechRadar Phone Awards.

Pocket

Even in these ultra-modern times there are still instances where we can’t get an internet connection, but this doesn’t have to mean you can’t read websites, 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.

Listed for app of the year at the TechRadar Phone Awards.

Timehop

The nature of social media is it’s all about the ‘now’. With Timehop, you get the chance to revisit moments from this day, based around your online history.

The service connects to whatever accounts you allow it to, and then shows you what was happening in your world. It’s a simple concept that’s perfect for iPhone.

Listed for app of the year at the TechRadar Phone Awards.

Facebook

The world’s biggest social network brings a tightly honed experience to the iPhone and iPod touch, but nonetheless still enables you to access your contacts, feeds and other important information. This sense of focus makes it in many ways superior to using Facebook in a desktop browser.

If you pick up an iPhone 6S / iPhone 7 when it launches later this year, Facebook will likely be one of the first apps you’ll want to download.

Manual

One of the biggest new camera features in iOS 8 is the ability to finally adjust your exposure settings.

Although you can manually brighten and darken the frame with the basic built-in camera app, the Manual app adds some more granular control over settings such as ISO and shutter speed.

Calorie Counter

If you’re feeling the need to cut down on your food intake, Calorie Counter‘s a smart download. The app is well designed and, importantly, has a massive food-item database, making it easy to input everything you eat. Web sync, optional social features, reports and goals add to the goodness.

Overcast

Sometimes with apps, it’s the seemingly little things that make a big difference. With Overcast, for example, you get a perfectly decent podcast app that does everything you’d expect: podcast subscriptions; playback via downloads or streaming; a robust search for new shows.

But where Overcast excels is in attempting to save you time and improve your listening experience. Effects (which can be assigned per-podcast) provide the smartest playback speed-up we’ve heard, voice boost for improving the clarity of talky shows, and smart speed.

The last of those attempts to shorten silences. You won’t use that setting for comedy shows, but it’s superb for lengthy tech podcasts. As of version 2.0, Overcast is free, and betters all the other iOS podcast apps that also lack a price tag. (Should you wish to support the app, though, there’s an entirely optional recurring patronage IAP.)

TripIt

Organizing travel just got automagical. Whether you’re a planner or the spontaneous type, TripIt helps transform your travel and booking confirmation emails into a master day-by-day itinerary, with all your plans in one place, via the web or your phone.

Along with creating your itinerary, TripIt also suggests attractions and activities according to your schedule, and even looks up all the information we seem to forget like weather, maps, and directions.

7 minute workout

There’s more to exercising than just running, and 7 Minute Workout can help introduce you to a whole new set of calisthenics.

The app includes instructions for a whole series of exercises including tricep dips, planks (not to be confused with planking), box squats and much more. It even provides instructional video for each to make sure you have the proper form.

Find My Friends

AKA ‘Stalk My Contacts’, but Find My Friends does have practical uses: if you’re meeting a bunch of iPhone-owning friends and want to know where they’re at, for example, or for when wanting to check where your spouse is on the road, to see if it’s time to put the dinner in the oven/pretend to look busy when they walk through the door. (Or maybe that’s just what freelance tech writers do.)

It’s all opt-in, so you won’t be able to track your friends / be tracked without explicit consent, so you can rest easy once you start using it.

Instapaper

There are plenty of read-later services out there, but Instapaper was arguably the original, and it remains the best.

The app integrates well with iOS, enabling you to send articles to it from other browsers. Only text and imagery is saved – all web-page clutter is removed – and downloaded articles are cached for offline reading.

Inside the app, there are plenty of formatting options, boasting some great font choices and colour options. If you really get into the system, there’s an optional premium subscription (£2.29/$2.99 per month), which adds full text search for your archive, unlimited highlighting within articles, and the means to create playlists for the app’s text-to-speech feature.

30/30

Timers and task managers are usually designed with extreme efficiency, to the point they practically yell NO FUN ALLOWED in your face.

30/30, however, provides a streamlined, tactile interface that happens to look great, is fun to use, and that makes it a breeze to create lists and define timers.

It also enables looping for anyone addicted to the Pomodoro Technique.

Dropbox

Plenty of apps exist for transferring content between your computer and your device, but Dropbox is free and easier to use than most of its contemporaries.

Dump files you want to sync in a folder on your computer and Dropbox for your device will enable you to access them, download them for offline viewing, and, in many cases, view them.

Love Dropbox? Then check out our article Essential tips for every Dropbox user.

Skype

FaceTime is a great alternative to standard voice calls, but it’s no good if you’re trying to contact someone without a Mac or compatible iOS device. Therefore, Skype remains an essential download.

The interface is simple and usable, enabling anyone with a Skype account to make free calls to other Skype users and cheap calls to anywhere in the world. If you’re on Pay and Go, this is particularly handy, but the app also enables iPod touch users to utilise their devices for calls.

Wikiwand

There are plenty of Wikipedia readers for iPhone, but Wikiwand feels like someone’s actually sat down and thought about how to design and present information, rather than more or less flinging a mobile website at your face.

Search is lightning fast and comes with handy thumbnail images, to help you make the best selections. Article pages boast large images and enable you to quickly navigate via an easily accessible sidebar.

Our favourite touch, though, is the preview you get when tapping on a link. It appears at the bottom of the screen, giving you a quick overview of the relevant article.

This means an extra tap’s required to subsequently open a linked article, but you get context for what you’re currently reading without having to switch back and forth between different entries.

UP by Jawbone

Up might be Jawbone’s latest app designed for the Jawbone Up24 fitness tracker, but you can also use it with just an iPhone 6, iPhone 6 Plus or iPhone 5S by itself.

Thanks to the new Health app and the step tracking capabilities of Apple’s M8 and M7 co-processor you can use the app to track your steps, sleep and food intake.

Twitter

The official Twitter app might lack some of the features found in the likes of Tweetbot, but it does provide a sleek and simple means of using the service.

It also rapidly rolls in new features from the website, such as the Connect and Discover views, along with expandable tweets that contain photos and videos and the new Moments feature that allows you to keep track of stories in little bubbles.

YouTube

Apple binned its own YouTube app from the iPhone, presumably because it hates Google far more than it loves online video.

Google’s own YouTube app works much as you’d expect, enabling you to search and watch an almost limitless number of cats playing pianos, people moaning about stuff to their web-cams, and more besides.

ShowStopper

You know how it goes: hand your iPhone to someone so they can check out an amazing picture you took, and before you know it they’re scrolling like a maniac through the entirety of Photos.

Stop such rudeness with ShowStopper, an app that enables you to make locked galleries on the fly. You get up to four images at once, but can go unlimited for $0.99/69p.

Kindle

With iBooks on the iPhone, you might wonder why you should bother with Amazon’s Kindle. After all, the app’s not as pretty as iBooks, nor is there an integrated store (you buy in Safari and sync purchases to the app).

However, Kindle offers a massive selection of books compared to Apple’s app and the reading experience is great.

1Password

Although iOS includes iCloud Keychain, 1Password is a better system. It’s fully cross-platform and enables you to store multiple identities (such as a full one for payments and a simplified one for forums), secure notes and software licence details.

As of iOS 8, 1Password integrates with Touch ID, meaning you can use it with Safari, although the app also retains its own built-in browser.

Vidgets

A great many Today view widgets seem quite gimmicky, but Vidgets provides a great mix of monitoring and utility.

The standalone app enables you to add and organise the likes of world clocks, network indicators, and widgets outlining remaining space on your device. These are then immediately available in Notification Center.

eBay

On using the eBay app, there’s a good chance you won’t go near the eBay website again. The app is fast, has great saved searches (which flag new finds), and enables you to create listings.

The last of those things is also improved by the built-in bar-code scanning.

Duolingo

We’re always waiting for the other shoe to drop with Duolingo, but it seems this organisation really does want you to learn new languages entirely for free.

And it’s a fantastic app — fun, friendly, and packed with bite-sized quizzes that hold your interest and never become onerous. It’s perfect for anyone who wants to dabble in a bit of Spanish, French, German, Portugese, Italian, Irish, Dutch, Danish, Swedish or even English!

Shazam

Shazam is an app that feels like magic when you first use it. It’s deceptively simple—hold your iPhone near to a music source, and wait while the app listens and tells you what track is playing.

But the sheer technology behind this simplicity is mind-boggling, and while Shazam doesn’t always guess right, it’s worth a download.

Swiftkey

The revamped iOS 8 keyboard is far better than its predecessor, not least because of the predictive word bar, but SwiftKey takes things a step further.

Rather than laboriously tapping out individual keys, you just glide your finger across them. This can make for some comical typos initially, but SwiftKey soon speeds up iPhone text entry.

Yousician Guitar

For the most part, Yousician Guitar feels quite a lot like Guitar Hero, only you use a real guitar and the app is cunningly teaching you how to play it.

Things start with the absolute basics, but before you know it, you’re strumming and picking with the best of them. The app’s free, although with limited daily play time. Subscriptions enable you to learn more rapidly.

Find my iPhone

For the paranoid souls out there (or the unlucky ones who’ve had their devices pilfered), Find My iPhone is a must-have download.

Assuming you’ve a 2010 or later iOS device, you can set up a free account and locate your devices within seconds. (Note that older devices can also be added to Find My iPhone – you just need a recent one to get things going.)

Google Translate

Google Translate is a bit like an insanely portable and entirely free gaggle of translation staff. When online, you can translate written or photographed text between dozens of languages, or speak into your device and listen to translations.

And for English to French, German, Italian, Portuguese, Russian and Spanish (and back), the app will attempt to live-translate (even when offline) any text in front of the camera.

TunnelBear VPN

The idea behind TunnelBear is to keep browsing private and to get around censored and geo-locked websites. The interface is insanely simple — you just tap the country you want to browse from and wait a bit.

Connections are generally robust but easy to restart if they drop. For free, you get 500 MB per month. Spam your Twitter feed and you’ll get an extra GB.

RockMyRun

There are a wealth of running apps available, but RockMyRun is a good’un. This free app monitors your pace – or if you have a wrist or chest based heart rate monitor, your beats per minute – and offers up its specially curated playlists to give you the perfect music for your speed.

This means the music tempo will respond to your pace or heart rate, thus making every run tailored to your awesomeness.

From serene sounds during your warm up, to high intensity bangers when at full speed, it adds another dimension to your run. The best bit is when you explode into a sprint and the music pounds in your ears.

SkyScanner

Skyscanner’s a great website, which enables you to punch in airports and find out the cheapest way of getting from A to B.

The Skyscanner app is the same, but it’s on your device and with a spiffy AI. Well worth a download, even if only to check flights for an upcoming holiday.

Hours Time Tracking

Time trackers tend to fall into disuse when they’re not simple to get working, and not immediately available. Fortunately, Hours Time Tracking has an interface that makes setting and starting timers simple. You can use the app itself, a Today view widget, or even your Apple Watch to get a timer going.

Adjustments, edits and exports can later be made from within the app itself. (Also, when sync service Hours Cloud appears, existing users will be grandfathered into a better ongoing deal for free usage than new users, do grab this one as soon as possible, then!)

Netflix

Some might rightly grumble that the Netflix selection leaves a little to be desired, but it’s still a very affordable way to get a ton of TV in front of your eyes.

The app works much like you’d expect: browse, watch, realise it’s three in the morning – again.

Flipboard

It would be a hard ask to expect the Flipboard experience on the iPhone and iPod touch to match that of the iPad version, but it nonetheless has a good go, transforming your favourite feeds and news sources into a tiny, beautiful digital magazine.

Paper

It’s interesting to watch the evolution of an app. Starting out on iPad, Paper was something of a design industry darling, offering a beautiful and stylish, if ultimately slightly limited, digital notebook of sorts.

Then it went free, the developer positioning Paper as the perfect app to use with its Pencil stylus.

But the latest update not only brings the app to iPhone it also radically reimagines and expands it. Alongside existing sketch tools, you now get notes and the means to add photos, transforming Paper from nice-to-have to essential.

JustWatch

These days, the bigger problem isn’t deciding what you want to watch on the telly, but where you want to watch it. And where has a couple of meanings: the device you’re going to peer at and the service you use. With telly becoming so decentralised, JustWatch aims to bring coherence to browsing content offered by a range of providers.

Search for a show or movie and the app tells you where you can buy, rent or stream it; click New, Popular or Price Drops and you can, respectively, find newly added content, see what everyone else is watching, and discover bargains that might only stick around for a day or two.

Slack

The thinking behind Slack is to free teams from the drudgery of email. It’s essentially a real-time messaging system, where people have group conversations based around user-defined hashtags, or send private messages to one-another.

Support for inline images, videos and Twitter-like summaries boost pasted content, and the app integrates with cloud storage from the likes of Dropbox and Google Drive.

It’s worth noting that while Slack is clearly aimed at businesses, it works perfectly well as a means of communication for groups of friends who aren’t thrilled about storing their personal insights and details on Facebook.

Brushes Redux

Back in 2009, Jorge Colombo did some deft iPhone finger painting using Brushes, and the result became a New Yorker cover.

It was a turning point for iOS and suitably handy ammunition for tech bores who’d been drearily banging on about the fact an iPhone could never be used for proper work. The app sadly stagnated, but was made open source and returned as Brushes Redux.

Now free, it’s still a first-rate art app, with a simple layers system, straightforward controls, and a magnificent brush editor that starts you off with a random creation and enables you to mess about with all manner of properties, from density to jitter.

Flotsm

Making decisions is hard. With Flotsm, absolve yourself from all the pesky responsibility by unleashing questions online (anonymously) and having people vote for their favourite options.

Should you not be thrilled with a particular response, you can cunningly nudge it in a different direction, filtering votes by gender, age and location. Alternatively, if you’re more a bossy than indecisive type, trawl lists and spend your time voting.

Should you get a bit too much into Flotsom, you can follow search terms, although be advised the Apple keyword will return everything from queries about what iPhone someone should buy to concerns about the proper ingredients for a fruity pie.

Star Wars

This Star Wars app is clearly a cunning slice of digital marketing injected into your iPhone, but we don’t care, because it’s fun. The main interface has three skins – droid, light side, and dark side – and provides you with access to all kinds of Star Wars goodies.

There’s a sound-board, selfie generator, and augmented reality Force Trainer where you waggle your iPhone about like a lightsaber, attempting to deflect bolts from a floating training remote.

There are practical bits, too, such as ticket-booking (obviously) and checking out the local weather – the app helpfully noting which Star Wars location it most closely maps to.

RunKeeper

The prospect of Nike+ but better and for free might sound unlikely, but that’s what RunKeeper provides. Previously split into ‘pro’ and ‘free’ versions, the developer now generously includes all the features in one free app.

That means you can spend no money, yet use your iPhone’s GPS capabilities to track your jogging and cycling routes, and examine mapping and details of your pace and calories burned.

Activities can be shared online, and treadmill runs and other exercise details can be entered manually.

Around Me

Around Me figures out where you are and lists local stuff – banks, bars, petrol stations and, er, Apple Retail Stores.

The app’s reliance on Google Maps info means there are gaps, but it’s nonetheless handy to have installed when in unfamiliar surroundings, and the ‘augmented reality’ landscape mode is amusing, if flaky.

Dictionary.com

Over two million definitions, synonyms and antonyms are available in the palm of your hand with this free, offline dictionary and thesaurus.

The app is fast and efficient, includes phonetic and audio pronunciation of words, and its interface seems perfectly suited to the iPhone.

Google Earth

“Hold the world in the palm of your hand,” says Google about Google Earth, which enables you to fly across the planet by swiping your finger.

More integration with content and features from Maps would be good, but Google Earth’s Wikipedia articles and a Panoramio layer at least ensure it’s a great app for seeing the world from your living room.

XE Currency

XE Currency is a fine example of an app that does what it needs to, without fuss. You configure a list of currencies, and it shows current conversion rates.

Double-tap a currency to set its base rate or to define values for custom conversions.

TuneIn Radio

Don’t bother buying a DAB radio – just install TuneIn Radio instead and plug your device into a set of speakers.

TuneIn Radio has a great interface for accessing over 100,000 digital stations; it also has AirPlay support, and you can use it as an alarm clock.

iMotion

We say a big PFFT! at CGI. Real animators use stop-motion, until they inevitably go crazy at only being able to craft about three seconds of footage per week. iMotion enables you to create such painstaking animations with your device.

The sting in the tail: an IAP for export, but if you don’t care about that, you can play your creations on your device to your heart’s content. There’s also the free iMotion Remote to use as a remote controller over Wi-Fi for iMotion, to avoid you accidentally moving your ‘camera’.

TED

TED is brain food. The app provides access to talks by insanely clever people, opening your mind to new and radical ideas.

You can also save your favourite talks locally, for even easier access, or ask the app to inspire you, based on your mood and available time.

PayPal

Whatever bank you’re with PayPal has you covered for mobile banking and it’s a pretty solid performer.

You can manage your account on the go, send and receive money and find local businesses using PayPal Here, so you can pay for stuff without cash. Nifty.

Wunderlist

The App Store has so many to-do apps that it’s in severe danger of tipping over, due to the sheer weight of digital checkboxes, but Wunderlist is one of the very few that really stands out.

The interface is very usable, and the app’s ability to seamlessly sync across devices and platforms makes it a great download.

Google Authenticator

This one falls under ‘essential’ rather than ‘amazing’. If you’ve turned on two-step verification on your Google account, chances are it’ll regularly ask for a code. You can get this sent to you via SMS, but it’s much less hassle to have Google Authenticator instead provide the numbers to type in.

Chrome

Safari’s a perfectly decent web browser on the iPhone, but Chrome has a couple of particular advantages.

First, the card-like tabbing system (technically unlimited, but Chrome does tend to get a bit crashy if you open too many) is really very nice indeed; secondly, you can send tabs to your iPhone from the desktop version of Chrome.

Photo Editor by Aviary

Another image editor, but Photo Editor is a good ‘un. The interface is clear, and it contains all the tools you’d expect: filters, enhancements, cropping, and the ability to fire that picture of your frothy coffee/amusing dog/current skyline to Flickr, Tumblr, Facebook or Twitter.

Gmail

“But Gmail works in Apple Mail,” you might say. And this is true, but it doesn’t works really well. For the best of Gmail, Google’s own offering is unsurprisingly the app to opt for.

The Gmail app provides a full experience, enabling you to search, thread, star and label items to your heart’s content – and is far better when your connection is patchy.

Yahoo! Weather

With weather apps, you’re frequently forced to choose between lashings of data or something that looks lovely. Yahoo! Weather combines both, offering a stunning interface that also happens to be rich with information. The maps are a touch weak, but other than that, this is an essential weather app.

Vine

Such is the nature of social networks and online media that Vine‘s 15 minutes might have passed by the time you read this. Still, the app is a great way to rifle through the many thousands of six-second videos people have uploaded to the service.

Flickr

Long-time internet users frequently dwell on what might have been regarding Flickr. It should have the ubiquity of Facebook, but seemingly missed the mobile boat. Still, Yahoo! now has new leadership and if apps like Flickr are any indication of what’s to come, the service might get a second wind.

Lrn

We keep hearing about how important coding will be to the future of everything. That’s all very well, unless code makes about as much sense to you as the most exotic of foreign languages.

The idea behind Lrn is to gently ease you in. Through friendly copy and simple quizzes, you gradually gain confidence across a range of languages.

For free, you get courses on HTML and CSS, along with introductions to JavaScript, Ruby and Python. You can complete any course for $2.99/£2.29; but even if you don’t pay anything at all, you’ll get a lot out of this app if you’ve an interest in coding but don’t know where to start.

Patreon

The rules have changed when it comes to modern media. Pretty much anyone can do it, but there’s much more out there. Also, unless you’ve loads of spare time and a hobbyist mentality, chances are what you love isn’t what you’re being paid for. That’s where Patreon can help.

People who make stuff get direct access to the fans who fund them; and everyone else gets access to loads of really interesting projects.

The app’s a typically mobile ‘discovery and interaction’ tool, for the most part, enabling you to search Patreon, find new things, and post comments and notifications.

Sleep Cycle alarm clock

The science of sleep is something few people delve into. But you know some days that you wake up and feel awful, even if you think you’ve had a decent night’s sleep. Sleep Cycle might be able to tell you why. It analyses you while you sleep, using sound or motion, and provides detailed statistics when you wake.

Additionally, it’ll constantly figure out what phase of sleep you’re in, attempting to wake you at the best possible time, in a gentle, pleasing manner.

That probably all sounds a bit woo-woo, but here’s the thing: this app actually works, from the graphing bits through to helping you feel refreshed and relaxed on waking up.

Runtastic

You might get the sense that GPS trackers are all very much alike, and there’s some truth in that. But we nonetheless reckon Runtastic is worth installing, on the basis that it’s nicely designed, frequently updated, and quite generous with its free tier.

The app tracks your movements, calculating distance, speed, pace and calories burned. For free, you get a map view of your run, charts (speed, elevation and heart rate), access to your training history, and the means to manually add activities.

You can even have other users cheer you on. Splash out for ‘pro’ and you can add routes, voice coaches, smartwatch connectivity and more; but as a starting point, the free app gets you moving.

Vert S

We’re told the ‘S’ in Vert S stands for ‘speed’. This is down to the app being an efficient incarnation of the well-regarded Vert unit converter.

The older app had you browse huge category lists to pick what you need, but Vert S is keener on immediacy. There’s a search, but the app’s core is a Favorites page, where commonly used conversions are stored.

Tap one and you enter a basic calculator, enabling you to convert between your two chosen units, which can be quickly switched by tapping the Vert button. (Note that currencies are behind an IAP paywall — $1.99/£1.49 for ‘Vert Pro’ — but conversions for other units are free.)

Kitchen Stories

A great many iPhone cookery apps make the mistake of aping cookbooks a little too closely. You tap a recipe, only to get a set of steps, rendered in tiny, barely readable text.

Kitchen Stories is different. From the off, the app dazzles your eyes (and tempts your tastebuds) with stunning photography. Better: open a recipe and you’ll find handy step-by-step photo instructions and typography that you don’t have to squint at.

Not sure about some of the basics of cooking? The app’s got you covered there, too, with a selection of HD video guides.

Assembly

Developer Pixite is best known for its eye-popping filter apps, and so Assembly was quite the surprise. The app is all about building vector art from shapes.

Individual components are dropped on to the canvas, and can then be grouped or have styles applied. It feels a bit like the iPhone equivalent of playing with felt shapes, but you soon realise that surprisingly complex compositions are possible, not least when you view the ‘inspirations’ tab or start messing about with the ‘remix’ projects.

For free, you get loads of stuff to play with, but inexpensive IAP unlocks all kinds of bundles with new themed shape sets to explore.

Marvel

It’s interesting to see how far the App Store has come. Time was, Apple banned apps that gave you the chance to build prototypes. Now, Marvel is welcomed by Apple, and is entirely free.

Using the app, you can build on photographed sketches, Photoshop documents, or on-screen scribbles. Buttons can be added, and screens can be stitched together.

Once you’re done, your prototype can be shared. If you’re not sure where to start, check out existing prototypes made by the Marvel community.

Music Memos

Apple’s Music Memos is all about getting music ideas down — fast. You launch the app, hit record, play your guitar or piano, and your riff is safely recorded, rather than vanishing from your head the moment you see something vaguely interesting outside.

Smartly, the app provides additional toys to experiment with. There’s a tuner, and during playback, you can add automated electronic bass and drumming. The virtual instruments attempt to match tempo and energy with whatever you recorded (and with some success, although more complex inputs can confuse this feature to an amusing degree).

Music Memos also tries to transcribe the chords being played; its accuracy is questionable beyond the basics, but not bad as a trigger when you later want to learn how to play your own spark of inspiration.

Usefully, you can fling recordings at GarageBand and Logic (bass and drums going along for the ride as separate tracks).

Less usefully, you can sing into the app, and still add bass, drums and chord transcription, for some kind of madcap tech-based cacophony of awfulness that we felt entirely compelled to try in the name of a thorough review. Expect our effort to (not) trouble the charts shortly.

Weather Underground

The Weather Underground app (or ‘Wunderground’ to your iPhone, which sounds like an oddly dark Disney film) is one of those products that flings in everything but the kitchen sink yet somehow remains usable.

Whatever your particular interest in the weather, you’re covered, through a slew of ’tiles’ (which can be moved or disabled to suit) on a huge scrolling page.

At the top, you get a nicely designed tile detailing current conditions and showing a local map. Tick and cross buttons lurk, asking for input regarding the app’s accuracy. During testing, we almost always tapped the tick — reassuring.

Scroll, though, and you find yourself immersed in the kind of weather geekery that will send meteorological nuts into rapture. There are rainfall and temperature graphs for the next day and hour, along with simpler forecasts for the week.

You get details on humidity, pressure and dew point. Sunrise, sunset and moon timings are presented as stylish animations. You can investigate local and global webcams and photos, and then head to the web if not satisfied with that deluge of data.

Weather Underground is funded by non-intrusive ads (which you can disable annually for $1.99/£1.49 if you feel the need), and is easily our favourite free iPhone weather app; in fact, it even rivals the best paid fare on the platform.

NASA App

You’ve got to hand it to NASA: in naming its app ‘NASA App‘, you’re well prepared for a product bereft of elegance, and so it proves to be. This is a clunky app, with ugly graphic design, and that’s heavily reliant on you being online to download its content.

Oh, but what content! It’s the wealth of eye-popping imagery and exhaustive commentary that will keep anyone with an interest in space glued to their iPhone, devouring items by the dozen. The ‘Images’ section is particularly lovely, with a huge range of photos.

There are pictures of star clusters that look unreal, moody shots of planets and moons, and snaps of engineers doing clever things. These can all be rated, run as a slideshow, shared, or saved locally.

Elsewhere, you get a ton of informative and educational videos, guides to missions, news, and, slightly weirdly, access to NASA’s Twitter feed. And if you fancy turning your brain off for a bit, there’s a live feed from the ISS, the blue marble that is Earth slowly rolling underneath.

Novation Launchpad

On the iPad, Novation Launchpad is one of the best music apps suitable for absolutely anyone. You get a bunch of pads, and tap them to trigger audio loops, which always sound great regardless of the combinations used. This isn’t making music per se, but you can get up a good head of steam while imagining yourself as a futuristic combination of electronic musician, DJ and mix genius.

On iPhone, it shouldn’t really work, the smaller screen not being as suited to tapping away at dozens of pads. But smart design from Novation proves otherwise. 48 trigger pads are placed front and centre, and are just big enough to accurately hit unless you’ve the most sausagey of sausage thumbs.

Effects lurk at the foot of the screen — tap one and a performance space slides in, covering half the screen, ready for you to stutter and filter your masterpiece.

As on the iPad, you can also record a live mix, which can be played back, shared and exported. This is a really great feature, adding optional permanence to your tapping exploits.

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