Best free iPhone apps 2016
- 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.
New this week: Tize
This music-creation app manages the tricky combination of being broadly approachable to the masses yet providing real scope for advanced composition. Designed to be used on the go, has you lay down drum, melody or audio tracks (the last of those being recordings made using your iPhone’s mic).
The app automatically loops recordings, can align notes to the beat, and gives you options for adjusting tempo, scale, and effects.
Its main differentiator over the competition is speed. Once you crack how it works, you can very rapidly fashion loops comprising several overlaid drum tracks, bass, keyboard arpeggios, and lush chords.
Need some help? Easy Chords will play chords for the current scale when you tap a single note. Want to tweak things? Delve into the piano roll and move individual notes. For free, this is astonishing stuff.
The only limit is the available sounds, but these, naturally, can be expanded via various affordable IAPs.
You might not associate taking medication with a hip and cool iPhone, but technology can be a boon to anyone with such requirements. offers great pill tracking and dosage notifications – and it doesn’t do any harm that the app also happens to be gorgeous.
It’s split into three sections: in My Medicine, you add medications, and for each you can define a name, strength, individual doses, and schedules based around reminder windows of up to three hours. In Today, you view and log the day’s medication.
Flexible preferences enable you to set up cross-device sync, push notifications, and to export data - and reminding users to refill will be a real help too.
That the app is free is generous, given the job it does – and how well it does it. Also, the system is flexible enough that Round Health might work as a reminders system for other repeating tasks, albeit one in which jobs are labelled as ‘taken’ rather than ‘done’!
Apple’s pre-loaded Clock app has a perfectly serviceable timer – but you only get one countdown at any given moment. , as its name might suggest, gives you multiple timers that you can set going simultaneously.
On launching the app, you’ll find six timers already set up. Each has a different color, name and icon. Tap a timer and it starts, tap again to pause, or double-tap to reset. Easy. Long press and you open the timer’s options, so you can adjust its default time, label, color, icon and sound.
You also have plenty of preferences to delve into, including adjusting the default workspace. Should you want extra workspaces – or a custom layout – grab the $4.99/£4.99/AU$7.99 MultiTimer Pro IAP.
Like the original Hyper, aims to make the experience of video a touch more usable when out and about with your iPhone. As with its sibling, this app downloads content when you’re on Wi-Fi, enabling you to later peruse it even if you have no data signal.
The content has wisely been heavily optimized for people on the go. Rather than provide standard videos, Hyper News instead goes for bite-sized and heavily captioned fare.
This means you can take in the majority of news items without audio – handy when surrounded by people who might not appreciate commentators blaring from your iPhone.
The only snag is that the news sources are quite US-focussed, and are quite scattergun in terms of subject matter, as there are no options to focus on specific topics.
But then that’s the point with Hyper apps – zero friction, and hope you are served something of interest. If not, just skip to the next video.
You type in a URL, visit whatever pages you like, and then tap erase to eradicate your session. (This is also suitable if someone else wants to quickly use your phone, negating anyone first having to sign out of services.) If you at any point want to jump over to Safari, you can do so by tapping a button.
However, Firefox Focus can also – with permission – integrate with Apple’s browser. What this means is you can block trackers that follow you around the web, analyzing your browsing history and serving ads. And if you’re on a poor cellular connection and finding sites loading slowly, Firefox Focus can block web fonts to improve performance.
It’s all very effective and simple to use.
Notes on Blindness VR
An app rooted in a deeply personal story, is a VR experience based on the notes of John Hull, who went blind in 1983. Each of the six chapters explores a specific memory, moment and location, utilizing surround audio alongside Hull’s spoken notes, and glittery visuals akin to echolocation.
Purely as a documentary watched on a standard iPhone display, Notes on Blindness VR is well worth experiencing, as Hull adjusts to his new life and experiences – objects ‘disappearing’ as their related sounds fade, and how rain makes the world beautiful because for Hull rainfall gives objects form.
But the full VR experience (assuming you’re also using headphones) takes things further; you gain greater insight into Hull’s life as your own senses are taken over, leaving you with flickers of light but a world of sound.
You create habits within the app that are designed to be simple and assigned to a period of the day, making for straightforward but flexible planning.
Bright icons atop a deep gray background make your list simple to browse, and the calendar pages ensure tracking progress is a breeze. You can add iOS reminders to any item, too, although we preferred regularly visiting the app – a nice habit in itself.
For free, you’re limited to five ongoing habits, but that should make for a good start – and adding too many could make sticking to new routines less likely. However, if you hanker for unlimited habits, you can upgrade for a one-off $3.99/£3.99/AU$5.99.
dispenses with the gimmickry seen in many iPhone camera apps, instead concentrating on manual control over shutter, ISO, white balance and focus. There's no means to use a volume button for the shutter, nor RAW support, but otherwise it's a solid camera.
The app is also an editor. You select a Camera Roll item, add film-inspired filter presets, and make further adjustments. Again, this feels like serious fare, but MuseCam wisely provides enough tools for pro-oriented iPhone photographers while remaining accessible enough for newcomers.
Interestingly, edits made on Camera Roll items remain accessible in MuseCam regardless of whether you export your final work, meaning you can later return to and update in-progress projects.
All in all, MuseCam feels refined and mature. That it's free (bar the option of splashing out on additional presets by way of IAP) and also ad-free is remarkable.
The Bohemian Rhapsody Experience
This experiment by Google aims to send you on a journey through Freddie Mercury’s subconscious mind, and recreate the sensation of being on stage with the band.
With VR glasses strapping your iPhone to your face, the experience is at once deeply strange and excitingly varied. Wherever you look, something’s happening, whether on stage with a distinctly stylized animated take on the band, and then looking behind you to see the crowd, or standing before a rock face, watching singing creatures in the distance, only to peer down and see a stomach-churning chasm below.
Smartly, the app also works as a standard 360-degree video, which might not have the same immersive clout, but remains impressive all the same.
Putting your Live Photos through Motion Stills adds Google's stabilization technology to them, reducing the amount of visible camera shake, but that's just the beginning.
You can also transform them into GIFs which can be shared in messaging apps, or even combine your Motion Stills into longer movies, and do cool things like invert the direction of the action to make your subject look like it’s dancing.
If you like the idea - but not the reality - of Live Photos then Motion Stills is the app for you, and you're not limited to using it for new images - you can also fix up any Live Photos you've already taken.
Loop by Seedling
You shoot frames using your camera, and can handily overlay your previous photo in semi-transparent form, to ensure everything is properly lined up.
Once you're done, you can play your photos as an animation, where tools are available to adjust the frame rate, add a filter, and mess about with grid collages, creating a Warhol-like animated GIF to share.
The interface is a bit opaque – quite a lot of controls need to be 'discovered' before you become comfortable with using this app.
But once you know where everything is, Loop becomes a smart and efficient way to create charming miniature animations; amusingly, it also works within Messages, so you can reply to friends with a tiny movie should you consider the written word passé.
If you've used Apple's revamped Notes app, in many ways feels quite similar. You can quickly jot down formatted notes, add to-do lists, integrate images, and create rich web links to the likes of Vimeo and SoundCloud to make it a rich place to save your thoughts.
But the key to Dropbox's entry into note-taking is collaboration – you can share notifications with a team, and individuals can reply, comment and edit.
Although there are shortcomings – rich links not always working, for example - there are really smart ideas in this app. We particularly like how galleries of images auto-format to fit neatly within the screen, the means to embed code, and table insertion.
For individuals, there's perhaps less need to investigate the app, given that Notes is pretty good, but Paper's still worth checking out for existing Dropbox users; for teams, it could even prove transformative.
VPNs have become commonplace in a world where countries routinely block internet access to key content. In some cases, you may merely be blocked from accessing media libraries; elsewhere, even news and social media may be beyond reach. The idea behind is to enable anyone to access otherwise inaccessible online content, entirely for free.
Set-up takes only a minute or so, and the VPN itself is toggled in the Opera VPN app. You get a small selection of regions to choose from, after which point your iPhone effectively thinks it's in whatever country you selected.
During use, Opera VPN typically feels snappy, rivaling paid VPNs we've used elsewhere. Although it won't unlock all overseas services (Netflix, notably, is wise to VPNs these days), it's at the very least a good first place to try if you find you can't get at a particular corner of the internet.
Duolingo itself offers a number of sets based around language, history and geography. Smartly, though, anyone can create and publish a set, which has led to hundreds of decks about all kinds of subjects, from renaissance art to retro computing.
The memorizing bit is based around minutes-long drills. You’re presented with cards and details to memorize, which the app then challenges you on, by way of typing in answers or answering multiple choice questions.
Some early teething problems with typos and abbreviations (for example, stating ‘USA’ was incorrect because ‘United States of America’ was the answer) have been dealt with by way of a handy ‘I was right’ button. Just don’t press it when you don’t really know the answer, OK?
Tell the app where you want to go and it’ll serve up a selection of things to do, itineraries for day trips, food and drink recommendations, and more.
This being a Google app, some of the smart bits are somewhat reliant on you being ensconced in the Google ecosystem – reservations need to be sucked in from Gmail, for example.
However, with offline access for any downloaded location, Trips in tandem with Maps (which can also work offline) is an excellent app to have handy while on your holiday, and with the included ‘need to know’ section (emergency numbers; hospitals; health centers) could even be a life-saver.
Everything happens entirely automatically – you just select a character and background, gurn into the camera, watch a seemingly sentient floating hamburger mirror your very expression, and have a little sit down to think about the terrifying advance of technology.
For those not freaked out by the hamburger to the point that they hurl their iPhones into the sea, FaceRig provides plenty of characters, unlocked using tokens earned through regular use or bought using IAP.
You can also snap and share photos of your virtual visage, or record entire videos where you pretend you’ve turned into a sentient goggles-wearing raccoon, an angry dragon or a slightly irritated-looking turkey.
An official Apple production, you get a whole host of Susan Kare’s perfect pixel art as taken from the original Mac, and which looks pin-sharp on a modern iPhone.
There’s perhaps not a great deal of utility in some of the stickers (the paint can icon from the original MacPaint, for example), but we’d be much happier to always see the Happy Mac icon (and evil twin Sad Mac) in place of boring emoji smilies when chatting away in Messages.
(And we’re pretty sure we’ll find a use for Clarus the Dogcow any day now.)
One-time darling of the digital check-in crowd, Foursquare in 2014 reworked its app to focus entirely on local search. Although this irked fans who'd been there since the beginning, it's hard to criticize the app we've been left with.
On iPhone, you start with a search field, beneath which sits a handy list of relatively local places of interest. Tap an item and you gain access to a photo gallery, basic details, and a slew of reviews.
In the main, Foursquare is quite obsessed with food, drink and nightlife, but the 'fun' and 'more' categories house plenty of additional places to visit, from gig venues and cinemas to rather more sedate options like parks and historic sites.
Filters and 'tastes' options within the app's settings enable you to further hone down recommended choices, and anything you fancy reminding yourself of on a more permanent basis can be added to a custom list.
When you see an app describe itself as a 'workout and kitchen timer', you might wonder what its developers get up to. ("Well, that's dinner sorted, time for some press-ups!") But Timeglass ably showcases how timers for cooking and exercise have plenty of overlap.
The app itself is extremely user-friendly. You get three types of timer - single-use, stopwatch, and reusable. The last of those can have one or more steps. This means you can, for example, devise an exercise routine, and Timeglass will methodically work its way through the steps, optionally barking each one's name or playing an alert noise.
It's a pity there's no looping timer - that would enable Timeglass to assist with repeating workouts and run work/rest Pomodoro cycles. Otherwise, this is an excellent timer app, and it's also properly free, entirely lacking IAP.
Although most fans want to cheer on their soccer team by hollering from the stands or, second best, yelling at a TV in a pub, that's not always possible. When you're otherwise busy, Onefootball is a great means of keeping track of your favorites.
The app's a cinch to set up. Choose your teams, allow Onefootball to send notifications, and then let the app work its magic. On match days, you'll be notified of every goal, which, depending on your team's fortunes, may make you thrill at or dread hearing the notification sound.
If you at any point need a little more detail, venture into the app and you'll discover everything from live tickers to customized news feeds.
If you like the idea of editing home movies but are a modern-day being with no time or attention span, try Quik. The app automates the entire process, enabling you to create beautiful videos with a few taps and show off to your friends without needing talent - surely the epitome of today's #hashtag generation.
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 filmmaker hankers for a little more control, you can adjust the style, music, format and pace, along with trimming clips, reordering items, and adding titles to get the effect you desire.
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 manage it with quite the same raw ability as 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, and it's instantly better than most of us could ever hope to achieve with Photoshop.
On trying Prisma with a range of imagery, we found it almost never comes up with a duff result thanks to some insanely smart processing. 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 fairly low-res output, making Prisma pics only suitable for screen use - but it's a real must-have.
Unashamedly retro, BitCam is like shoving a Macintosh Plus into your iPhone's camera. It snaps retro pixelated black and white photos, with dithering right out of Mac co-creator Bill Atkinson's playbook. But what really sets BitCam apart is its authenticity. Tap the settings button and a window zooms in, using the same effect Mac old hands will remember from the 1980s.
Even the interface apes old-school Macs, from the checkboxes and OK button to the trashcan that appears after you take a photo.
There are, though, some concessions to post-1984 living: you can apply the effect to existing images through a Photos extension, and if you need a bit more colour in your life, a 'Color Graphics Card' is available as a one-off $1.99/£1.99/AU$2.99 IAP.
The camera sitting inside your iPhone is pretty amazing. In fact, plenty of people think it's too amazing, the clarity and purity of digital shots having lost the 'character' found in photography of old. Retrica brings a sense of creativity and randomness to iPhone snaps - and more besides.
Filters are Retrica's main trick. You can manually select one from a list (which can be managed, for faster access to favorites) or try your luck by stabbing the shuffle button. A selected filter's strength can be adjusted, but there's sadly no quick 'filter off' switch.
The filters, though, are varied and interesting, and you can optionally add a blur and vignette. It's also possible to apply Retrica filters to shots taken elsewhere, if you prefer taking 'clean' pics and messing around with them later.
Retrica also plays with time. You can take multi-shots, your photos subsequently being stitched together on a grid (there are well over a dozen options to choose from), or played in sequence as an exportable GIF.
Alternatively, hold the shutter and the app starts recording video, using your chosen filter. For five dollarpounds, we'd have written a glowing review about Retrica, but for free this is an astonishing gift - a superb and unmissable creative camera app.
iTunes Movie Trailers
If you're forever hunting down trailers to see what's worth flinging money at in the cinema, iTunes Movie Trailers is an essential download. The interface is split between featured films, charts (by popularity, box office take or rating), and favorites.
Selecting a film doesn't immediately fire up the trailer. Instead, you get some artwork, a synopsis of the movie, information (cast, run time, genre, and so on), and a list of trailers to play.
Like most movie apps, there's a whiff of US-first here. (The app is at the time of writing restricted to the USA, Canada and the UK, and uses US ratings and charts.) But for the movie-mad, it's an elegant and usable means of accessing trailers, some of which are even temporarily exclusive to Apple.
If you used to sit there at school, doodling flick-animation masterpieces in the corner of your jotter, Animatic is the iPhone equivalent. You use simple tools to scribble on a small canvas, and then build your animation frame-by-frame.
The app uses a basic onion-skin approach, meaning you can see the previous few frames faintly behind the current one, ensuring whatever you draw doesn't lurch all over the place. Once you're done, you can adjust the animation speed of your creation and export it to video or GIF.
Given that you're scribbling with what amounts to the iPhone equivalent of felt pens, you won't be crafting the next Pixar movie here. But Animatic is fun, a great way to get into animation, and a useful sketchpad for those already dabbling. The app also includes a bunch of demos, showcasing what's possible with a little time, effort and imagination.
The app formerly known as H--R
The idea behind Hear (although it's now known as 'the app formerly known as Hear' for some reason).is to remix the sounds of your environment. So if you're in an office and want to shut everything out but don't fancy playing music, Hear transforms hubbub into the kind of ambient soundscape that might pique Brian Eno's interest.
Alternatively, if you'd like to ramp up the volume of nearby noise — for example, evening birdsong — Hear can do that too.
Some of the filters are, by comparison, just plain weird. Happy sounds like a deranged, echo-laden clown show, and Sleep turned typing and birdsong into the perfect soundtrack to a horror film dream sequence. But everything else ranges from genuinely useful to at least intriguing. We're not sure we'll often use the Talk filter, which auto-tunes voices to music, but it's at least fun to play with.
A word cloud can be used to help get a sense of a body of text, be it your own output or that of a web page. Wowed is a superb free app for putting one together. You point it at a source — someone's Twitter account, a URL, Facebook, and more — and wait as it trawls through the text it finds.
You're then presented with your word cloud, a stylish blue number with the most popular words more prominently displayed. In the free version, you get two fonts and eight colour alternatives, and can adjust word spacing. You can also edit the word cloud — adding or deleting words — before saving or sharing it. (The paid version adds colour themes and can export to PDF.)
Plenty of apps claim they can get you making music in seconds, but Figure really means it. The app's heritage helps, as it comes from Propellerhead Software, creators of the legendary Reason and ReBirth.
In Figure, though, working on loops and beats is stripped right back from what you'd find in those complex PC apps; instead, you tap out drums, and slide your finger around to fashion monster bass and playful leads.
Sounds can be tweaked or swapped out entirely at any point. Once you're done, finished tracks can be uploaded and shared online. For serious musicians, there's even Audiobus support.
There's a tendency for weather apps to either bombard you with facts or try to be too clever with design Hello Weather, by contrast, simply wants to get you all the weather information you need, but nothing you don't.
This focused approach doesn't mean Hello Weather is an ugly app. On the contrary, it's very smart, with a clean layout and readable graphs. Mostly, though, we're fond of Hello Weather because it eschews complexity without limiting the information on offer.
The single-page view is split in three, covering current conditions, the next few hours, and the week's forecast. If you need more detail, a swipe provides access to things like sunrise/sunset times for the current day, or written forecasts for the coming week.
The app doesn't quite check off our entire wish-list - the lack of a rainfall radar (or at least a precipitation prediction graph for the coming hour) is a pity. But as a free no-fuss weather app, Hello Weather is hard to beat.
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 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.
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/£2.99/AU$4.49 '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.
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.
Snapseed is an extremely versatile photo editor for iPhone. You choose from a number of tools and filters, and proceed to pinch and swipe your way to a transformed image. You get all the basics — cropping, rotation, healing brushes, and the like — but the filters are where you can get really creative. There are blurs, photographic effects, and more extreme options like 'grunge' and 'grainy film', which can add plenty of atmosphere to your photographs.
The vast majority of effects are tweakable, mostly by dragging up and down on the canvas to select a parameter and then horizontally to adjust its strength. Brilliantly, the app also records applied effects as separate layers, each of which remains fully editable until you decide to save your image and work on something else.
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. Handily, it can also save chunks of maps for offline use - great when you're heading somewhere with poor connectivity.
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.
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.
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.)
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.
Although Apple introduced iCloud Keychain in iOS 7, designed to securely store passwords and payment information, 1Password is a more powerful system. Along with integrating with Safari, it can be used to hold identities, secure notes, network information and app licence details. It's also cross-platform, meaning it will work with Windows and Android.
And since 1Password is a standalone app, accessing and editing your information is fast and efficient. The core app is free – the company primarily makes its money on the desktop. However, you’ll need a monthly subscription or to pay a one-off $9.99/£9.99/AU$14.99 IAP to access advanced features (multiple vaults, Apple Watch support, tagging, and custom fields).
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!
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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/£1.99/AU$2.99 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.
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.
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.
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 an amusingly grim armored Batman. (Sadly, after the app was bought by Facebook, a surprisingly vivid and fairly horrific take on The Joker vanished, along with a bunch of other masks.)
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.
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 (from your Camera Roll, or online sources like Facebook and Google Photos), 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.
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.
In a sense Evernote is an online back-up for fleeting thoughts and ideas. You use it to save whatever comes to mind — text documents and snippets, notes, images, web clips, and even audio. These can then be accessed from a huge number of devices. (We suspect any day now, Evernote will unveil its ZX Spectrum app.)
The app itself could be friendlier, and there's a tendency towards clutter. But navigation of your stored bits and pieces is simple enough, and the sheer ubiquity and reliability of Evernote makes it worthy of investigation and a place on your iPhone's Home screen.
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.
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 7, Facebook will likely be one of the first apps you'll want to download.
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.
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.
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.
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.
And even now that Apple's provided easier access to iCloud Drive, Dropbox remains a useful install, largely on the basis of its widespread support (both in terms of platforms and also iOS apps). The Dropbox app itself works nicely, too, able to preview a large number of file types, and integrating well with iOS for sending documents to and from the various iPhone apps you have installed.
Love Dropbox? Then check out our article Essential tips for every Dropbox user.
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 (even if you get the distinct impression it desperately wants to be a Windows Phone app), 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.
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.
Despite Google's adherence to its own distinct design language, YouTube tends to be a good iOS citizen, supporting AirPlay. It also naturally integrates well with your Google Play account, providing access to purchased films, which can be watched or flung at your telly if you've the relevant hardware.
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.
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.
Although you get the sense eBay's designers can't get through a month without redesigning their app, it's always far superior to using the online auction site in a browser.
eBay for iOS works nicely on the iPhone, with browsing proving fast and efficient. Speedy sorting and filtering options also make it a cinch to get to listings for whatever it is you fancy buying.
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.
The revamped keyboard in modern incarnations of iOS is far better than what we had before, 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.
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 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 Free 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.
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.
Some might grumble that Netflix is the perfect way to experience everything a DVD bargain bin has to offer. And anyone outside of the USA might find the pickings in the local libraries a little slimmer. Still, Netflix is cheap and a perfectly decent way to catch up on old shows, along with binge-watching the latest series from Netflix itself.
The app includes AirPlay support and a resume function, so you can pick up where you left off on another device. And if you're feeling cheap, you can always try the month's free trial and then cancel, while laughing maniacally.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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 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.
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.
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.
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.
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 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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
"But Gmail works in Apple Mail," you might say. And this is true, but it doesn't work terribly 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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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 — $2.99/£2.99/AU$4.49 for 'Vert Pro' — but conversions for other units are free.)
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.
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.