Best iPhone apps 2016
Apps are the cornerstone of Apple's iOS platform. The ecosystem is what sets Apple's mobile platform apart from its rivals, and the highest-quality iPhone apps are typically best in class.
But, like any app store, it is sometimes difficult to find out what are truly the best apps, the ones that stand out from the rest and offer a tool or service that's far beyond anything else available.
Sometimes the best apps are free, other times you will have to pay a little bit for them. Here we showcase the best available and offer up everything you need to know about the app and how much it will cost.
- What's the best phone of 2016?
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.
New this week: Scrivener
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.
In an age of diminishing attention spans, it's perhaps no surprise some video services exist that demand extreme brevity, but that doesn't mean you shouldn't take care when fashioning tiny videos. Vue is an app that responds to such requirements, giving you an amusing amount of control over six-second wannabe Hollywood flicks.
You can shoot into up to four slots with the app itself or use videos already on your iPhone. It's then a case of arranging them, adding the odd effect, and fiddling with sliders to get the right look. It's a pity the slots are always evenly sized and that this cannot be adjusted, but otherwise this is a very smart app for creating tiny movies.
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.
Streets 3 for Street View
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.
The built-in iOS Calendar app isn't great, and Reminders is pitiful. Although we're big fans of Fantastical, you might prefer something a bit more conventional. If that's the case, grab Calendars 5immediately.
It offers a range of views that have far more clarity than those in Apple's app, a task centre that makes Apple's Reminders look truly abysmal by comparison, and natural-language input for events that makes adding to your calendar a breeze.
It works with existing iCloud data (and other calendar services), so you can easily switch between apps, and there's a free version if you want to check out the interface — although be mindful that it lacks many of the best bits of the paid version.
This follow-up to the original iMaschine builds on its predecessor's beatbox smarts. You still get pads for tapping out rhythms and keyboards for composing bass and leads, but all the new bits help you take musical ideas and experiments much further.
Pads now have a step-write function, enabling more precision, and there's a superb arpeggiator for keyboard instruments, adding dynamism to your output.
More powerful arrangement features urge you towards full tracks rather than mere loops. It does feel a bit 'walled garden', though — iMaschine 2 should largely be considered a standalone app or a satellite for Native Instruments hardware; but even a lack of interest in integrating with the wider iOS music app ecosystem doesn't stop this being an essential purchase for musicians with an iPhone.
Korg Module is a digital sound module, and its high price tag is fortunately matched by seriously high-end audio. You get five dedicated sound engines, enabling you to do anything from tinkling virtual ivories to outputting ear-smashing synth noise.
Clearly, then, this app is geared towards the pro user. Although you can play instruments using virtual on-screen keys, Module's really intended to output to a MIDI keyboard, and handily includes set-list functionality for rehearsals and gigs. If you want to have a peek without blowing a large amount of cash, the limited LE version gives you a free taste.
Writing a journal used to be an arduous task before smartphones came along. Now apps help you automate much of the process, only requiring you to perhaps write a few words to go alongside some choice photos and location data, which can then be tagged for later retrieval.
Momento boasts a distraction-free interface and offers optional gentle reminders to urge new entries. But perhaps our favourite feature is Momento being able to import content from social networks — Twitter, Facebook, and the like — giving you a rather more complete diary than you'd get from ad-hoc entries alone.
- from free; $6.99/£4.99 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.
It's not often we feel the need to add extremely simple single-task apps to this list, but for Duplicate Photo we'll make an exception. The app's name tells you everything about what it does: it duplicates photos.
Specifically, you select one or more images in the Photos app and then use 'Duplicate' within the Share sheet to make copies. You can then make all kinds of crazy edits to the copies, safe in the knowledge the pristine originals still exist.
Just Press Record
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 6S, you can also use 3D Touch for article previews in the articles list - yes, it costs, but it's worth the cash.
- 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 when it launches.
Air Video HD
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.
My Very Hungry Caterpillar
If you've been around young children for any length of time, there's no escaping The Very Hungry Caterpillar.
That greedy larva seems to hypnotise tiny people, gluing them to whatever format it appears in, be it book or TV animation. There have been apps, too, but those we've seen before have disappointed. My Very Hungry Caterpillar, though, is a new take on the character, turning it into a kind of virtual pet.
Children familiar with the source material will watch happily as fruit they pluck from trees is quickly munched by the wriggly protagonist, but this app has far more to offer.
Gradually, it opens up all kinds of activities, such as growing a garden, playing with a ball, making art by getting messy with paints, and having fun on a pond. The app changes with the seasons, and so in winter the caterpillar gets to gleefully slide across frozen water, but in warmer months goes sailing.
It's all very charming and adorable, along with being entirely without risk — there's no way to off the little blighter. It's also finite: the little caterpillar grows fat and eventually becomes a butterfly, at which point a new egg appears to start the cycle again.
And if we're being honest, there's something quite cathartic in seeing the little chap through this journey, to the point we imagine quite a few adults will sneakily launch the app for a while when their child's asleep.
Let's immediately get one thing out of the way: Korg Gadget isn't cheap. It's not the sort of app you're going to download for some larks, use for a few minutes, and then casually toss aside. However, if you've any interest in making music — whether as a relative newcomer or jobbing musician — it is quite simply the best app available for iPhone.
Purely as a tool for live performance, Korg's app is first-rate. You get a bunch of miniature synths, referred to as 'gadgets'; they're geared towards electronic music, but still have plenty of range.
There are drum machines, a gorgeous bell synth, some ear-smashing bass instruments, and plenty of other options, whether you want to be the Human League for a bit or go all clubby.
Each synth comes with a slew of presets, but you can fiddle with dials and levers to make your own, which can be saved for later use.
When it comes to writing music, you can record live, tapping out notes on a tiny on-screen keyboard or by using a connected piece of hardware. Alternatively, there's a piano roll for tapping out notes on a grid as you do in GarageBand, creating loops to then combine into a song in the mixing-desk view.
Korg Gadget is one of the most flexible and intuitive music-making apps we've seen on any platform, and the deepest on iOS. It was superb on the iPad, but that it actually works — and is very usable — on iPhone is nothing short of astonishing.
You might question the logic in attempting to replace the stock Mail app on your iPhone, but Airmail is a few bucks well spent if you feel constrained by Apple's app.
Airmail's built around the idea of speeding up workflow. Although its interface is no more complex than Mail's on the surface, the app's far more feature-rich. There are plenty of customisation options for swipes across mailbox messages, and messages can be snoozed.
Document previewing is fast and efficient, and the attachments filter is excellent for quickly scanning through files you've been emailed.
Composing emails is superior to Mail as well, not least due to Airmail's smartly conceived custom keyboard toolbar, which includes attachment and formatting buttons. A large range of actions (print; create PDF; third-party app integration) cements the app's place at the top of the iOS email client heap.
If we're being picky, it's not quite good enough regarding email snoozing to quiet nostalgic pangs for the now-dead Mailbox, but even that's a close-run thing.
Even on iPhone, chordbooks tend to be dry affairs, full of black dots and lines, and the unmistakable stench of tedium. From the off, Cheeky Fingers obliterates such grey competition through being beautiful, simple and having a sense of fun.
On launch, it cheerily plays 'C', cartoon digits atop a keyboard showing finger positioning for the chord. Tappable buttons and tabs then provide speedy access to a huge range of other chords, whether you're trying to learn a basic 'E-minor' or master an 'A-flat 7th suspended 4th'.
The more you play, the more great things you discover: changing the root (lowest) note with a swipe; toggling between chord (all notes at once) and arpeggio (one after the other) playback; and delving into related chords and progressions (sets of chords that form the basis of a song).
You can even save custom progressions, and although that system isn't flexible enough to transform Cheeky Fingers into a songwriting tool, it further propels the app beyond 'mere' digital chordbook territory, making it an essential download for aspiring and competent keyboardists and pianists alike.
The idea behind Auxy is to get more people using their iPhones to make music. It does this by subtly rethinking the interface for composing on the go, resulting in an app approachable enough for beginners but boasting enough power for pros.
You start with a blank grid, split into four tracks (one for drums, and the others for bass or lead instruments), each of which has 16 loops. Loop editing is simply a question of 'drawing' notes on to a piano roll grid, much like you do in GarageBand; only Auxy's playhead moves vertically, recognising the fact iPhones are usually used in portrait.
This precision control removes the frustration found in other iPhone music-making apps, which force you to record live. And the more you explore, the more features you'll find: longer loops; the means to adjust instrument characteristics just by fiddling with some sliders; saving a loop arrangement to an audio file by tapping loops live; and MIDI export for sending to a desktop app the notes you've painstakingly tapped out.
Auxy feels almost like a halfway house between Figure and GarageBand, and from a music-making perspective, it's just as good as either of those iOS classics.
For most kids, plastic keyboards and annoyingly loud toy drums are a typical starting point in music, but Loopimal ambitiously attempts to introduce children to the concept of computer sequencing. Fortunately, it does so by way of highly animated dancing cartoon animals, bright shapes, and plenty of flair.
Hit play and you're immediately shown an animal bobbing its head to a backing track. You then drag coloured pieces (from a selection of five) into eight empty slots. When the playhead moves over the shapes, the animal adds its own sounds and melodies, often while performing impressive gymnastic feats.
It's Loopimal's character that initially wins you over. Unless you're dead inside, you won't fail to crack a smile when an octopus starts playing funky basslines with its tentacles, or the percussive Yeti gets all stompy. Smartly, once the player clocks how Loopimal works, the screen can be split into two or four, to combine animals and their unique sounds.
The one big miss is the inability to save your compositions, but every Loopimal riff is in C-major; this means you can use just the white notes on nearby keyboards to play along with whatever madness is happening inside the app.
Traditional calculator apps are fine, but even if they come with digital tape, you don't get figures in context. By contrast, a spreadsheet is overkill for most adding-up tasks. Soulver is a neatly conceived half-way house — like scribbling sums on the back of an envelope, but a magic envelope that tots everything up.
You get two columns. On the left, you type everything out, integrating words as you see fit. On the right, totals are smartly extracted. So if you type 'Hotel: 3 nights at $125', Soulver will automatically display $375 in the totals column.
Line totals can be integrated into subsequent sums, ensuring your entire multi-line calculation remains dynamic — handy should you later need to make adjustments to any part.
Given the relative complexity of what Soulver's doing, it all feels surprisingly intuitive from the get-go. There are multiple keyboards (including advanced functions and currency conversion), you can save calculations and sync them via iCloud or Dropbox, and it's even possible to output HTML formatted emails of your work.
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), although you will need to pay a one-off $9.99/£7.99 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 + $4.99/£3.99 IAP
There are two flavours of Scanbot, each of which is impressive in its own right. For free, you get a superb iPhone scanner with cloud storage integration, QR code support, and the means to detect edges for any paper document you want to digitise. Upgrade to Scanbot Pro and things get more interesting. You can add pages to existing scans, quickly name files using a clever smart-naming system, and search/extract text from previous scans.
There's also an automated actions feature, where the app finds the likes of phone numbers and email addresses within your scans, turning them into single-tap buttons within each item's actions menu. It's not quite accurate enough to be witchcraft, but we nonetheless happily leave important scans within Scanbot these days, rather than immediately deleting after export.
There may come a time in the distant future when Twitter's own app is our favourite (or Twitter bans third party clients entirely), but until then, there's Tweetbot. This latest version builds on its predecessor, with an elegant interface fit for iOS underpinned by plenty of power-user features.
There's a landscape mode and a second column for iPhone 6s Plus users, granular mute settings, support for optional content blockers in the browser view, and new Activity and Statistics tabs. Twitter might greedily block access to a handful of its newest toys, but Tweetbot's efficiency and power means we won't defect just yet.
Traktor DJ for iPhone
In the early days of iOS, developers had a tendency to follow Apple's lead and ape real-world technology on the screen.
This sometimes worked well, but we were always a little suspect of DJ apps that thought it a smart move to present you with two virtual spinning records to try and manipulate with sausage fingers.
On the iPad, Traktor DJ wisely thought different, instead enabling you to directly 'touch the groove', working with the waveform itself.
With Traktor DJ for iPhone, everything's been crammed into the iPhone's smaller display, which should be madness — but it works. There's a bit more zooming and swiping involved, but you can apply effects, simultaneously work with two virtual decks, and get recommendations for tracks to play, based on their tempos and keys. Traktor DJ plays nicely with others, too — Audiobus and Inter-App Audio are both supported.
- Free with new devices or $9.99/£7.99
When Apple first brought its office apps to iPad, they were an impressive attempt to perform complex tasks on a glass screen. Squeezing them down to iPhone seemed nigh-on impossible, and yet Numbers in particular survives intact.
Naturally, there's quite a bit of zooming and swiping to do if your spreadsheet has plenty of rows and columns, but data entry can be relatively painless and surprisingly rapid by way of custom forms.
Unsurprisingly, Apple would very much like you to use Numbers everywhere and sync by way of iCloud, but you can also export to CSV, PDF or Microsoft Excel, along with flinging completed documents to cloud storage providers such as Dropbox.
WhatsApp is one of the most essential apps you can install on your iOS device, especially if you have friends and family across the world.
Rather than worrying about your SMS allowance or signal, WhatsApp lets you send messages over any Wi-Fi or mobile data connection instead. You can also send and receive photos with no size restrictions, and if you're using Wi-Fi (or you have unlimited mobile data) they won't cost you any extra to send.
Periscope, Twitter's live video streaming app, is an essential download for anyone who likes the immediacy of Twitter but craves something more visual.
You can easily create your own live streams or watch other people's, send comments and hearts in real time and if you miss the action there's a 24 hour window with which to replay streams. In short it's simple enough to dive straight into but has enough to it that you'll keep coming back, whether you're more creator or viewer.
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).
The idea behind Evernote is you should never forget anything again. Instead, you upload and tag everything, so the service becomes your digital memory. For free, you can upload 60 MB of data per month. Go premium ($5/£4 per month) and you can upload a gargantuan 4 GB per month, search document text, and store your notebooks offline.
Spotify has been pretty quick to establish itself as the top music streaming service, and the Spotify Music app brings some great features to your iOS device, turning it in to a pocket jukebox that delivers your favourite tunes no matter where you are.
Even better you can now listen to Spotify music for free on iOS, although if you want to download songs for offline listening and without any ads, then a Spotify Premium account is worth investing in.
If you're serious about running or cycling then you should be serious about Strava. As smartphone fitness tools go it's one of the best, allowing you to track your performance, set goals and see daily progress updates.
There are leaderboards and challenges to give it a competitive edge and if you're ever not sure where to run or cycle you can find user created routes on the app, or share your own. All of that comes free of charge, while a premium version adds even more tools.
Instagram is the go-to app for quickly taking photos, adding quirky filters to them and sharing them with the world. Over 300 million people use Instagram and thanks to the social aspects and effortless interface it's easy to see why it's such a hit.
You're not limited to sharing your snaps on Instagram either, as you can easily add your photos to Facebook, Twitter, Tumblr and more with just a few taps.
For the most part, social media is fleeting, but Timehop is all about digging up precious memories from the past. You link it to whatever social media services you frequent (and your on-device photos) and it shows you what was happening years ago on today's date.
There are plenty of solutions for transferring content between your computer and iPhone, including Apple's increasingly popular iCloud. Dropbox is still worth using, though. It has great cross-platform clients, integrates with iOS 8's Share sheets, and has direct support in many iOS apps.
Check out our essential tips for every Dropbox user.
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.
Figure crams Reason's rich history of classic-era electronic music apps into a shoebox. Via a mixture of dials and pads, you can create all manner of banging choons, and then export them and assault your friends' eardrums. It's a fun toy for anyone, but also has the chops to be part of a pro-musician's mobile set-up.
- $4.99/£3.99 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.
Launch Center Pro
More or less a speed-dial for regularly performed tasks, Launch Center Pro can be a huge time-saver. You can create shortcuts for things like adding a new Tumblr post or sending your last photo to Twitter, and these shortcuts can be arranged in groups. An essential purchase if you heavily use even a handful of the supported apps.
Transmit for iOS
Transmit for iOS is a missing link for anyone who wanted a file manager for their iPhone. It might have roots in an OS X FTP client, but Transmit for iOS also integrates with cloud storage and local networked Macs. It's perfect for moving documents, renaming files, and creating archives to email or upload.
There are RSS readers that are more efficient, but Unread is the most pleasant to use. The interface begs you to sit back and take in articles from feeds you're subscribed to, and plentiful share options enable you to send content onwards. Note that although this is a free download, it's essentially for a demo; the full-price unlock gets you the regular app.
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.
If you don't feel the iOS Camera app really cuts it, ProCamera should give you what you need: a bunch of extra modes (night; rapid fire; anti-shake; timers) and a dedicated lightbox with a range of editing features and filters. You can even buy vividHDR (see elsewhere in this list) as an IAP.
Every iteration of the iPhone has a superior camera to the previous model, and so it's only right an enterprising developer came out with an app that can turn your crisp and beautiful snaps into something that you might once have seen on an ancient computer.
In Retrospecs, then, you load your photo, select a system, mess about with dither styles, filters and cropping, and bask in retro glory. A wide range of creaky old computers and consoles is covered, so you should be set whether you were into the C64, Spectrum, SNES, or, er, Mattel Aquarius. (C'mon there must be at least one of you who had the last of those?)
In all honesty, we've pretty much had it with filter apps. A new one comes out, and everyone gets all excited, but they pretty much all do the same thing. All of them, that is, apart from Fragment. Rather than offer the usual range of old-school camera filters and adjustment sliders, Fragment instead delves into prismatic photo effects.
In short, this means you get to see what your photos look like through glass collages, smashed mirrors and arty blur effects. Probably not one for the selfie-obsessed crowd, but a must-have download for if you want something a bit more creative and interesting than the norm.
- $4.99/£3.99 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.
Although we're fans of the likes of the simple, straightforward Byword, Editorial is the app for people who want to have a huge amount of control over creating and processing their output. The writing interface is strong, but what makes Editorial is the means to quickly add custom snippets and integrate workflows for extending the app and saving you time.
Workflow is all about automation. You can download sets of actions or compose your own, which can trigger iOS apps and related services. For example, you could create a Home screen icon to call a friend, or build a single-tap icon to get directions to your nearest coffee shop.
Although you can now add an iCloud Drive app to your Home screen, Documents 5 remains a handy app to keep installed. Although primarily a document reader, designed for reading PDFs, you get full iCloud Drive access but also the means to manage local and remote files. Additionally, there's also a built-in web browser for downloading documents to your iPhone from the web.
Next for iPhone
The problem with apps for tracking expenses is they're usually dry, complex and time-consuming. Next for iPhone is none of those things, which is probably why we're actually using it.
The app is icon-based, so you just tap the icon closest to the thing you've just bought. (You can add notes to be more specific if you want, but you don't have to.) The Next app then tots everything up, enabling you to look back in horror at the end of the month when you realise you've in fact spent a third of your earnings on absurdly expensive coffee.
Duolingo is entirely free from IAP, which is extremely generous given the quality of the app and its potential for helping you learn a new language.
It's packed full of bite-size quizzes that you can dip into at any time, and that gradually build your vocabulary and grammar in any of the ten supported languages.
Start using the eBay app and you won't go near the site on a PC again. It's fast, efficiently flags new finds based on your activity, and can be used to create new listings. The built-in bar-code scanner can save you loads of time with the last of those.
Find My iPhone
Using Find My iPhone, you can always find where your device is, and keep track of any other devices on the same account. It's very useful if you've misplaced your device or think it's been stolen and want to know where it's at.
The revamped Google Translate is an astonishing app. When online, it'll translate written, photographed or spoken text between a huge range of languages. And for English to French, German, Italian, Portuguese, Russian, and Spanish (and back), the app will try to live-translate whatever's in front of your iPhone's camera — even when you're offline.
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, it's yours for $2.99/£2.29 per month.
It's a pity Twitter has felt the need to hobble third-party clients, given that its own app doesn't appear to need any help these days in fending off the competition. Twitter for iPhone is fast and efficient, boasts useful Connect and Discover views, and expands tweets that contain photos, videos and other media.
You can do without most Today view widgets, but Vidgets provides some really useful monitoring tools.
The standalone app is where you manage your icon-like 'vigets', which comprise world clocks, indicators for storage and network speeds, and quick-launch buttons for apps, bookmarks and contacts. That sole $2.99/£2.29 IAP is primarily for showing your support, but you do get an option for saving space by removing widget titles.
To some extent, Yousician Guitar is like Guitar Hero, only you use a real guitar that the app is teaching you how to play.
You start with basic plucking and strumming before moving on to working your way through full songs, the app scoring you as you go. For free, the app only restricts daily play time. To go unlimited, subscribe for $19.99/£14.99 per month.
Instapaper was the service and app that kickstarted 'read later', the means to save web pages for later. Unlike Safari's Reading List, Instapaper strips articles back to just text and images, thereby providing an efficient and usable interface.
Premium membership ($2.99/£2.29 per month) unlocks the means to search your archive and add highlights to articles.
Originally the darling of the iPad, The Elements in late 2013 became a universal app, so it could be enjoyed on iPhones too. A rich, engaging digital book, it tells the story of the periodic table. Each of life's building blocks can be manipulated on the screen, before you delve into related facts and figures.
We're unashamedly huge Korg fans when it comes to iOS. The company's iPad apps are superb, but on iPhone everything's been rather simpler fare, until iElectribe. Astonishingly, Korg's squeezed its powerful beat-creation tool into an iPhone, giving you a step sequencer and 300 rhythms to mess about with.
It's admittedly a touch fiddly to use, unless you're blessed with a plus-sized iPhone, but arm yourself with a decent pair of headphones and you'll nonetheless be in rhythm heaven. And for when you're back home or in the studio, surrounded by other kit, the app keeps on plugging away, thanks to support for nanoPAD, nanoKONTROL, Inter-App Audio and Audiobus.
A constant in the world of mobile is device cameras getting better and better. Naturally, then, certain people who own mobile devices clamour to download apps that degrade photos and videos, so they resemble imagery and footage captured during bygone eras. You pretty much know what you're going to get with VHS Camcorder, a time machine of sorts back to the 1980s that makes your video look like it's decades old.
The app's settings are particularly fun: 480p intentionally disables widescreen, and 'Tilting Device Makes Things Worse' is actually a switch you can toggle. One negative is there's no import, so you can't keep a clean version of your video and just use the app for later adding effects; but perhaps that's the point- it's all about authenticity. And fluorescent socks.