An iPhone is a bit boring without the best iPhone apps to populate it. They are, after all, one of the things that set Apple’s smartphones apart from Android phones, since they’re more often better than their Android counterparts. They also add a lot of utility to your phone.
And, while Apple does a lot of curating to help you find apps, such as ones that have been suggested by in-house editors, it can still be tough figuring out which apps are right for you and which should be skipped, let alone getting through all the options constantly being uploaded to the store.
Thankfully, we’re here to help. Whether you’re on a new iPhone 13 or still using an older model (and these apps work on most of the iPhone range though you should check if yours is a few or more generations old), you’ll find new apps that we’ve downloaded and tested each week. These are the ones that stand out from the crowd. If you’re quite able to run some of these apps, we suggest checking out our best iPhones guide to get you up to speed.
We’ve compiled our list of apps to cover all sorts of categories, so you can expand what iOS can do for you, whether it’s for keeping kids entertained, photos, videos, drawing, office tasks, reading, or something else.
This round-up compiles our favourites, from top-quality creative tools and video editors to the finest productivity kit and social networking clients. In addition to our ongoing list of the absolute best, every month we're adding our picks for the latest and greatest new or updated apps, so check back often.
First up is our app pick of the last month, then click through to the following pages for the best iPhone apps across a range of categories.
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Best iPhone app of the month: Obscura 3
Obscura 3 (opens in new tab) rethinks one of the iPhone’s best manual camera apps. Its predecessor relied on a circular control wheel, which felt great to use but made it hard to drill down into key settings. Obscura 3 instead has five modes, each with its own set of controls.
Through making these controls contextual, the interface feels coherent and refined. But Obscura hasn’t been robbed of tactility: for example, Pro Photo mode’s focus and ISO controls have dials that afford you great precision when tweaking settings.
This is also an app of fine details. The focus loupe and focus peaking help you get pin-sharp snaps. Recent captures appear beside the notch, not over your work area. Histograms, grids and format options help you take photos how you want to. And the one-off price-tag feels like a bargain in a world of creative apps that increasingly demand subscriptions.
Best iPhone photo editing and camera apps
These are our favorite iPhone apps for editing snaps, capturing photos and video and applying the filters that actually make things look good.
Pixelmator Photo (opens in new tab) wowed on its 2019 iPad debut. It let you improve photos with a single tap, by way of a machine learning system trained on millions of pro-grade pics. And if you wanted more control, you could endlessly fiddle with a selection of sliders and filters.
The iPhone incarnation of Pixelmator loses none of the functionality of its iPad sibling. Impressively, it remains usable too. Sure, it’s comparatively cramped, due to the iPhone’s smaller display. But it wisely provides fast access to important controls, and lets you hide away what you don’t need.
It might sound hyperbolic to say you should only avoid buying this app if you don't want your photos to look better, but that’s the truth. There’s nothing else like it on iPhone, whether you want lighting-fast one-tap fixes or to dig deeper into fine-tuning your snaps.
Halide Mark II - Pro Camera
- Free trial + IAP
Halide Mark II - Pro Camera (opens in new tab) isn’t mucking around. It has serious pricing - $11.99/£11.99/AU$19.49 per year or $39.99/£38.99/AU$62.99 ‘forever’ - but then it’s a serious camera, designed to get the most out of your iPhone.
The app’s layout doesn’t bombard newcomers with options, yet puts powerful functions within easy reach, with gestures mimicking actions you’d make with real-world cameras. Manual focus puts you in control, while peaking and similar tools ensure you never take a duff shot.
Best of all, the app can optionally smartly marry Apple’s processing with the needs of pro photographers, making the RAW format accessible and immediate. In short, Halide is a better camera app for your iPhone’s camera.
Inkwork (opens in new tab) is an app designed to instantly transform a photo into a sketch-based work of art. And, yes, we’ve seen this all before – but few filter apps catch the eye in quite the same way as Inkwork.
The interface is sleek and polished. You can quickly switch background and ink colors, and the size of the strokes, thereby making your virtual sketch more detailed or abstract, but really it’s the filters themselves you’ll spend most time fiddling with.
There are loads of them – perhaps a few too many, because the choice can initially be a bit overwhelming – but for anyone who likes black and white art, there’s everything here from scratchy pen hatching to stylized comic-book fare. Selections happen instantly and without needing the internet, cementing the app’s place in our list.
- Free + IAP
That doesn’t mean the app isn’t stylish, though; RTRO has a minimalist retro vibe that sits nicely alongside its various vintage looks that you apply to your movies. These range from distressed VHS fuzz to subtle color shifts and film grain. Every filter has notes from its creator, outlining what they were aiming for.
Shooting is simple, and you can capture up to 60 seconds of video across multiple shots, before sharing your miniature masterpiece with your social network of choice. Neatly, although there is a subscription charge, you can alternatively opt to buy one-off looks at a couple of bucks a pop.
Apollo (opens in new tab) enables you to apply new light sources to Portrait Mode photos. This kind of photo records depth information, and can be shot on any relatively recent iPhone (iPhone 7 Plus/8 Plus/any ‘X’ iPhone). In Apple’s Photos app, you can add studio-style lighting, but Apollo takes things further.
The interface is usable, and offers scope for creativity. It’s simple to add multiple lights, and then for each one define distance, color, brightness, spread, and mask effects for simulating effects such as shadows being cast from light coming through a window blind.
Apollo perhaps isn’t an iPhone app if you want an instant fix. It demands you delve into the details, and fine-tune your settings. Also, it doesn’t always create a realistic result. But when it works, this is a little slice of magic, enabling you to apply complex lighting to a photo after the fact.
TouchRetouch (opens in new tab) can rid photos of unwanted elements. Such tools are commonplace – even in free apps like Snapseed – but TouchRetouch being dedicated to the task affords it focus; more importantly, the tools you get are really good.
Blemishes on faces can be removed with a tap. Larger objects can be painted out, whereupon the app fills in the gaps. Alternatively, you can clone from one part of the image to another. There’s also a line remover, which smartly makes short work of power lines and the like that otherwise carve their way across your pic.
Obviously, automation of this kind has some shortcomings – TouchRetouch can’t match desktop apps where you partake in painstaking, time-consuming, pro-level retouching. But for the average iPhone owner wanting to remove annoying things from pics, it’s well worth the small outlay.
- Free + various IAP
Darkroom (opens in new tab) is yet another photo editor for iPhone, but just a few minutes in, you’ll likely decide it should be forever welded to your home screen.
The app is efficient, usable and sleek. Immediately, it invites you to delve into your on-device images. There’s no mucking around. Cropping tools and adjustments sliders bring out the best from what you shoot. Splash out on some IAP and you gain access to pro-oriented curves and color tools.
Edits are non-destructive, and you can save your work directly to your Camera Roll (in a manner that can later be reversed), or export copies. The process feels effortless
throughout, but pause for a moment and you realize how powerful Darkroom is. Only to be avoided, then, if you for some reason don’t want your photos to look better!
Camera+ (opens in new tab) is a combined camera and editor. Despite the wealth of available options, the interface is initially quite minimal, with a modes strip across the top of the screen, a zoom slider, and the shutter. But tap the + button and you reveal further modes, including a timer, a stabilizer and smile detection.
Similarly, tap the viewfinder area and Camera+ enters a ‘pro’ mode, with manual controls, and scene options for shooting under specific lighting conditions. The interface is finicky compared to Obscura 2, but Camera+ is undoubtedly powerful.
Post-shooting, you can edit with adjustment tools, filters, and frames in the Lightbox. This all comes across as impressively friendly and straightforward, and although the range of tools doesn’t compare to Snapseed’s, it’s enough to keep you within the one app for the most part.
Oilist (opens in new tab) is a generational art app. You feed it something from Photos, choose a style, and it gets to work, continually repainting your image. It’s like someone’s trapped a tiny van Gogh in your iPhone.
In fact, it’s like a slew of artists are stuck in your device, because Oilist has a massive range of styles to choose from, taking in everything from classic oil painters through to modern art. Although the app can be left alone in a dock, you can capture stills for posterity, or fiddle with settings (including brush strokes, mood, ‘chaos’ and gravity) to redirect the virtual artist.
Whether you interact or just sit back and watch, Oilist is mesmerizing – kind of like a painterly lava lamp, only what you see is based on one of your own cherished photographs.
Snapseed (opens in new tab) is a free photo editor with a feature set that rivals the very best premium apps. It’s geared towards users of any level, from those who fancy applying quick filters to anyone who wants to dig deep into adjustments and powerful editing tools.
The range of options is dazzling, and the interface is smartly conceived. You can crop, make adjustments, and edit curves, all with a few swipes and taps. Often, vertical drags select parameters, and horizontal drags define an effect’s strength – tactile and intuitive. Even better, edits are non-destructive, and can be removed or changed at any point by accessing them in the edits stack.
As a final sign off, the app enables you to save any combination of adjustments as a custom preset, which you can then apply to any image in the future with a single tap. Superb stuff.
Obscura 2 (opens in new tab) is the best manual camera app for iPhone. It achieves this not with a slew of features, but by providing an interaction model that’s so brilliantly conceived that you simply won’t want to use another iPhone camera.
Echoing manual cameras of old, everything is based around a contextual wheel that sits above the shutter. Initially, you use it to select a tool. When setting focus or exposure, the wheel enables you to make fine adjustments with your thumb. You get a real feel of precision control, with optional haptic feedback confirming your choices.
The app makes the odd concession to modern photography trends with a range of filters, but mostly Obscura 2 wants you to think a little more about what you’re snapping, all while breathing in its minimal yet approachable and deeply pleasing design.
- Free + $1.99/£1.99/AU$2.99
Retrospecs (opens in new tab) is a camera app that wants you to see the world as if it was being rendered by ancient computing and gaming hardware. Load a photo – or take one using the app – and you can select from a wide range of systems, such as the Game Boy, Commodore 64, and original Mac.
But this isn’t just a single-tap filter app for aficionados of pixel art. You can adjust dither, image corruption, and virtual CRT distortion. You get animation effects and video support. And should you get fed up with the included emulated systems, you can even make your own.
So whether you believe all your photos should look like an eight-bit video game or want to add a crazy glitch sequence to your next YouTube video, Retrospecs fits the bill perfectly.
Modern iPhones have some seriously impressive camera hardware, and are capable of taking clean, vibrant shots. So it’s perhaps no surprise that iPhone users are often hell-bent on slathering said images in filters and messing them up.
Mextures (opens in new tab) is a decidedly extreme example, providing a theoretically unlimited number of layers to play with, each of which can have some kind of effect applied. These include grit, grain, light leaks, gradients, and more.
Because each layer can be fine-tuned in terms of opacity and blend mode, you can get anything from subtle film textures to seriously eye-popping grunge effects.
Hit upon something particularly amazing and you can share your ‘formulas’ with other people. Or if you’re in need of a quick fix, you can grab something that’s already online to overhaul your snaps.
There are two sides to Hipstamatic (opens in new tab). In its ‘native’ form, the app apes old-school point-and-click cameras. You get a tiny viewport inside a virtual plastic camera body, and can swap out lenses, film, and flashes, along with messing about with multiple exposures and manual shutters. It’s pleasingly tactile and twangs your nostalgia gland, but feels a bit cramped.
If you’d rather use your entire iPhone display to show what you’re snapping, you can switch to a ‘pro’ camera mode. That’s closer in nature to Apple’s own Camera, but with Hipstamatic’s huge range of rather lovely filters bolted on – a great mash-up of old and new.
And if you’re wedded to Apple’s camera, Hipstamatic’s still worth a download, given that you can load a photo, slather it in filters, add loads of effects and bask in your creative genius.
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