Best iPhone apps 2018
Apps are the cornerstone of Apple's iOS platform. The ecosystem is what sets Apple's mobile platform apart from its rivals, and the highest-quality iPhone apps are typically best in class.
But, like any app store, it is sometimes difficult to find out what are truly the best apps, the ones that stand out from the rest and offer a tool or service that's far beyond anything else available.
There's a bigger problem to think about here: with over a billion downloads from the App Store it can be a nightmare trying to work out which title is for you.
Research from analytics firm App Annie suggests that the average person uses nine apps per day, including the inbuilt options – and on the iPhone, there's more of an onus on creativity.
The issue there is working out what's good for you, and what's superfluous. For instance, there are loads of brilliant weather apps out there, many with cutting-edge features and beautiful interfaces. Or alarm clocks that can connect to the local transport news and wake you earlier if your train is running late.
But they might be no use to you if you look out the window to see how wet it is and always get up in good enough time to never be late for work.
- What's the best phone of 2018?
So we've done the hard work for you - checking out what's new and rising up the charts of the App Store each week and cherry picking the best titles to add into our regularly-rotated ranking.
This round-up compiles our favourites, from top-quality creative tools and video editors to the finest productivity kit and social networking clients.
And in addition to our ongoing list of the absolute best, every week we're adding our picks for the latest and greatest new or updated apps, so check back often.
Even if you don't have an iPhone right now, it's worth reading up on what's available if you're considering investing in the iPhone XS or even one of the older models (if you need more info, check out our list of the best iPhones) - but note that some of these titles will only work with models from iPhone 5S and later.
New this week: Stop Motion Studio Pro
Stop Motion Studio Pro is designed for people patient enough to craft stop-motion masterpieces. It’s a friendly app, but flexible too. You can shoot in-app to add new frames, add existing images from your iPhone, or import video, which is converted to a string of stills.
The editor is powerful: you can copy and paste frames; a Painter mode offers text, shapes and backgrounds; you can create custom titles; and it’s possible to import audio. Playback of audio is intelligent, continuing until completion (rather than just the end of the frame), allowing multiple effects to be overlaid.
The app overreaches with talk of rotoscoping – drawing over frames in the stype of A Scanner Darkly – but for everything else, this is ideal fodder for taking your first steps towards becoming the next Aardman or Ray Harryhausen.
Dark Sky Weather
Dark Sky Weather started out primarily as a rainfall tracker, with luminous clouds billowing over a dark background map. Now, the app is much more conventional – but arguably massively more useful.
The main forecast page shows current conditions and a local map. Usefully, little arrows denote the direction a storm’s heading, so you can always spot that at a glance, rather than having to check the full animated rainfall view. Below that you get rainfall predictions for the hour, the daily forecast, and a weekly outlook. It’s all very sleek, efficient and usable.
The app’s accuracy may vary by location, but during testing in various countries we’ve found its rainfall predictions to be spot-on. It’s also a nicely flexible app regarding warnings – several notifications are built in, and you can add your own based on a range of weather conditions.
Linea Go is the mini-me to the impressive Linea Sketch for iPad. Despite the iPhone app’s more limited canvas, it’s still a great means of getting down sketches and visual notes.
Tools mostly live in pop-up panels at the bottom of the screen. You get five layers, a handful of pens and pencils, and a smart color picker that makes it a breeze to flick through related shades. You can switch backgrounds at any point, choosing from textures and guides (such as an isometric grid). Pressure sensitivity makes it a touch wearing to scribble with digital pencils when using a finger, but the pens and other tools work well.
The end results can look rather digital, but Linea Go wins out in terms of elegance and efficiency. With iCloud cross-device sync, it’s a smart choice for iOS-based sketching.
Infuse Pro 5
Infuse Pro 5 frees you from having to load videos on to your iPhone when you fancy watching them. Instead, films and shows can be streamed from wherever the files happen to be stored, which can be pretty much anywhere, such as a drive plugged into your router, Dropbox, a networked PC, or Plex.
Once you add a folder, Infuse figures out what’s in it, and quickly downloads relevant cover art and metadata. It looks superb, and comes across a lot like a refined take on Netflix, but for your own personal movie and TV collection.
Assuming you have the network bandwidth, playback is seamless, regardless of the files you’re working with. If you want to send footage elsewhere, there’s Google Cast and AirPlay support, and Infuse will even download subtitles on request for when you’re trying to watch something on the sly.
Streaks is a to-do manager all about helping you form good habits – and ridding yourself of bad ones. You begin by selecting a task and defining how often you want to do it. Tasks are subsequently checked off, and you can track your progress by way of the app’s various graphs and statistics.
Where Streaks succeeds is in the flexibility of the tasks you can add, and the razor-sharp focus on getting habits infused into your routine. The bold interface is ideally suited to six tasks, forcing you to prioritize. You can set reminders, and mark items as done using the Today widget or an Apple Watch.
Task types are varied. There are those that integrate with Health, negative tasks (like smoking) to avoid completing, and timed tasks for things like meditation sessions. In all, it’s an excellent app for coaxing out a better you.
Camera+ 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 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.
- $9.99/£9.49/AU$13.99 per year
Capo touch helps musicians learn songs without resorting to sheet music. Instead, you load an audio file and the app detects guitar or piano chords – however obscure the artist or song happens to be.
To help you master tricky bits, there’s a variable speed slider, and you can loop user-defined regions. There are isolation tools as well, to bring specific instruments to the fore. Chords can be edited, regions named, and entire songs transposed to different keys.
There are a few snags: the app requires local music files to work with (so no bringing across a song from Spotify or Apple Music), and you need annual IAP to get more than 60 seconds of playback per session. But as a learning aid when you absolutely must nail a song, it’s an essential install.
Comic Life 3
Comic Life 3 is for creating comics from photos and other images on your iPhone. Although it works best on the bigger screen of an iPad, it’s surprisingly usable on an iPhone, not least due to the sheer speed at which you can put together a great page (or, if you’re feeling ambitious, a full multi-page book).
Much of this is down to the app’s varied templates, which get you up and running in no time. You can quickly import pictures into frames, add speech bubbles and sound effects, and then export the lot to a variety of different formats.
Oddly, the one thing the app does badly is comic-style filters – you’re better off using Prisma for that. But for making custom comics from doodles or photos of amazing days out, Comic Life 3 can’t be beaten.
Runkeeper is a training aid and run tracker that’s been around for more than a decade. Since its debut, it’s evolved from mapping out your runs by using your iPhone’s GPS to become a kind of digital personal trainer.
If all you’re looking for is a way to track exercise, Runkeeper remains a winning app. Whether you’re running, walking or cycling, Runkeeper provides real-time data in massive glanceable numbers, and plenty of data to delve into when you’re done.
Runkeeper Go takes things further than logging and stats. For $9.99/£7.99/AU$14.99 per month, you gain access to premium training plans, and custom workouts designed to fit your schedule and ability. The price is obviously a jump up from the free app, but it’s cheaper than a human trainer, and effective when you want more than the basics.
MyFitnessPal aims to get you fitter by helping you track what you eat. Given that such tracking often involves logging meals, the app speeds things along by way of a barcode scanner, a colossal food database and a recipe importer. If you tend to eat the same meals often, you can save favorites.
All the while, your calories are tracked, and you can check how you’re doing against any goals you’ve set. The ability to connect exercise apps also means MyFitnessPal can become a kind of hub for your general wellbeing.
As ever, there’s a pro version. This seriously ramps up data, analysis and support, with the likes of nutrient insights, tips articles and fine-grained goals. In either incarnation, MyFitnessPal works well to help you more easily understand how food intake affects you.
- Free + IAP
Zombies, Run! is a fitness app that urges you on not just with stats and data, but with the threat you’re about to be torn limb from limb by the undead.
Fortunately, it doesn’t just randomly blare ‘BRAINZZZZ’ into your ears – it’s a full-fledged adventure experience, co-created with an award-winning novelist. So as you huff and puff, you gain insight into a dystopian future, head out on supply runs, and try not to become lunch for a zombie horde.
For free, you get a few missions, one of which unlocks every week, and interval training workouts. But the subscription packs in hundreds of missions – enough to keep you going for many months. If you’re a fan of horror or just fancy an exercise app that isn’t all about numbers and music, it’s an excellent buy.
- Free + $2.99/£2.99/AU$4.49 IAP
White Noise+ is an ambient noise machine, which aims to drown out distractions by filling your ears with something pleasant instead.
Rather than just offering you sounds to play, or sliders to adjust volume levels, it takes the form of a mini mixing desk akin to the smart drums grid in GarageBand. You drag sounds into the 16 available slots, with those towards the top playing at a louder volume, and those towards the right offering more complexity. It’s intuitive, effective and looks really great as well.
Neatly, should you happen upon a particularly pleasing combination, it can be saved for later playback, and the app itself includes a few examples to get you going. There’s also an alarm built in, for using the app for meditation sessions – or stopping you oversleeping when having a quick afternoon nap.
Launch Center Pro
Launch Center Pro resembles the iOS home screen, but it launches actions rather than apps. For example, instead of firing up Phone or Safari, Launch Center Pro can trigger a call to a specific person, or launch a particular website.
There are, naturally, some limitations. The Launch Center Pro website outlines supported apps and actions (click ‘all’ to see the full range), but you’ll likely already own a bunch of these, and be able to think of ways the app can make using an iPhone easier for you.
You don’t even have to launch the app either – shortcuts can be assigned to Today view widgets, or Quick Actions when you press down on the app’s icon. In short, it’s a great speed dial for your favorite app actions.
WeatherPro is a weather app designed for people who favor information density over aesthetics. That’s not to say WeatherPro looks bad – its white-on-blue stylings are perfectly nice – but where it excels is in providing fast access to a wealth of weather data.
For any selected location, a single screen shows the current conditions, a local radar, upcoming predictions and then a forecast for the coming week. The latter packs temperatures, sun hours, precipitation forecasts and wind speeds into a tiny space.
In pretty much all cases, tapping on something lets you delve into even more information, and additional taps provide layered mapping and radar services. Accessing some layers requires an IAP subscription, but just the bare-bones WeatherPro is a great buy if you want at-a-glance forecasts packed with detail.
V for Wikipedia
V for Wikipedia is a Wikipedia reader. That in itself might sound like an odd recommendation for a premium app, but bear with us.
Although V can be used to search Wikipedia in the normal way, it starts off in its Nearby tab, flagging articles of interest in your vicinity. This looks great, tabs snaking their way from map locations to large thumbnails. It’s practical, too, for finding out more about the local area, without resorting to review-oriented web services.
This sense of polish extends to the article views. Typography and layout are first class, and a slide-in contents list is only a tap away. So while you might narrow your eyes at the prospect of paying for a Wikipedia reader, Viki will have said eyes busily and regularly reading the world’s most dynamic encyclopedia.
Procreate Pocket is a great bet if you fancy dabbling in digital finger-painting. Whether you’re a novice scribbler or a jobbing artist, this app’s sleek interface wants to get out of your way and let you paint.
The toolbar that runs along the top of the display provides fast access to brushes. At the left of the screen are two sliders, for adjusting brush size and opacity. If you find them distracting, a four-finger tap puts you in full-screen mode, leaving you alone with your miniature masterpiece.
It all feels fluid and sleek, but there’s depth here too. A fantastic brush editor (including custom grain sources) unleashes all kinds of creativity, and the layers system provides scope for more advanced compositions. And when you get really good, you can share time-lapse recordings created automatically by Procreate Pocket, and await glory when a TV network comes calling.
Obscura 2 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 + IAP
Fiery Feeds is a powerful, usable, beautifully designed RSS reader. Once you’re subscribed to some website feeds, Fiery Feeds pulls down headlines and synopses – all for free.
It’s a great way to track sources you know and enjoy, so you never need miss anything important. You get a slew of options for customizing the visual appearance of the app, and many ways to share interesting content.
Pay the annual IAP ($9.99/£9.99/AU$14.99) and Fiery Feeds opens up further. You get a text view mode, which means synopses expand to full article feeds without you having to visit the original sites. The app also provides smart views – automatically generated feeds of ‘must reads’ and other interesting finds, bringing them to your attention when you’re tight for time.
BFT - Bear Focus Timer
BFT - Bear Focus Timer is yet another app designed to make you use your iPhone less and concentrate more, but if you need a sense of focus and are easily distracted by your iPhone, it’s one of the best of its kind.
First, it features a friendly bear, and who doesn’t like bears? Secondly, the app’s Pomodoro-style timers are adjustable, so you can fine-tune lengths for work, short breaks, session counts, and long breaks (recommended after several work/short break sessions).
The app’s interface is the real star though, inviting you to turn your device upside-down to get the timer going. Pick up your phone and the timer stops, while the previously friendly bear scowls. It’s amusing and chastising in equal measure, making you smile, flip your phone back, and listen to the app’s helpful hubbub-drowning noise loops.
- Free + IAP
RememBear is a password manager with a friendly – and furry – demeanor. The idea is you store your passwords (and payment cards) in a ‘vault’ accessed using a master password that only you know (or Touch ID/Face ID, if that’s available). You can then use RememBear to create essentially unbreakable passwords that it remembers on your behalf.
The app integrates with Safari through the Share sheet, but also has its own built-in browser if you fancy keeping everything important within the app. It’s a little basic compared to some of the competition (the lack of a favorites section is a nuisance when you have dozens of logins), but its elegance and simplicity make it worth a look.
For free, you effectively get an endless trial on a single device. To sync across multiple devices, you’ll need to subscribe ($35.99/£30.99/AU$50.99 per year) – worth the outlay for the security the app provides.
Filmborn is an app for camera obsessives – for those who revel in the joys of film, but come away unimpressed with apps that present an over-saturated, overblown take on old-school photography.
The interface is icon-heavy, but gives you fast access to tools that will improve your photography. There’s manual focusing, a range of grid overlays, and a blown highlights preview that outlines problematic areas of a potential snap.
The film filters will appeal to fans of real-world stock, subtly transforming images in a manner that’s pleasingly realistic. Filmborn even educates you regarding when’s best to use each one. The app also includes basic editing functionality, although a key tool – curves – frustratingly sits behind IAP.
Despite that niggle, Filmborn is well worth checking out if you fancy fusing photography’s past with its present.
- Free + $1.99/£1.99/AU$2.99
Retrospecs 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.
FileBrowser is a file browser app, which you probably already guessed from its name. But this isn’t for rummaging around what’s on your iPhone – it’s for getting at files stored pretty much anywhere else.
Connecting to a PC, Mac, or some other local or online storage is straightforward, whereupon you can send and receive files. Usefully, favorite connections can be saved to quickly get at them later, as can often-used folders – the latter being stored as bookmarks.
Although the app has the odd strange omission (the lack of Share sheet integration being the most obvious), its basic interface almost hides a wealth of features, including file viewing, audio recording, archiving, internet downloads, and even streaming capabilities. It does a lot, without overwhelming you with features, and is a good buy if Apple’s Files doesn’t meet your needs.
Halide wants you to focus on deliberate, thoughtful photography. Its creator has remarked that many camera apps now have interfaces like airplane cockpits, and Halide was stripped back accordingly.
That’s not to say Halide is bereft of features, but those it has are all about taking better photos. You can adjust focus and exposure manually, and use ‘focus peaking’ to highlight areas of sharp contrast within the frame, and the grid overlay’s central rectangle turns yellow when your phone is held straight.
If you have a modern iPhone, Halide offers a groundbreaking depth mode with ‘depth peaking’ and a depth map preview. You can also view portrait photos in augmented reality.
The net result of all this is a premium camera app that feels like a professional tool – money well spent if your idea of photography isn’t based around filters and stickers.
- Free + $2.99/£2.99/AU$4.99 IAP
Zen Studio‘s developer describes it as a meditation app for kids, but really it’s an engaging and entertaining combination of coloring and musical toy. It’s ideal for anyone who needs to relax for a while – regardless of age.
The app’s canvases are triangles that you color in with a tap and emit a note whenever you do so. Drag out a line or tap a few triangles in quick succession and you’re treated to a little melody. It’s all very ‘zen’.
You get the bulk of the app for free, but pay the one-off IAP and it opens up in useful ways: white paint for ‘deleting’ colored triangles; a range of template-based tutorials; and unlimited save slots. You might feel ‘zen’ about not splashing out, but this is an app that’s well worth paying a few bucks for.
Calzy 3 is a playful, friendly calculator app that betters the one built into your iPhone in key ways. As well as playing a pleasing sound whenever a key is tapped, it gradually builds a sum below the main display. Not only does this allow you to sanity check your ongoing calculation, but also you can at any point tap a figure or operator and swap it out for something else.
Another useful feature is the ‘memory area’ where you drag figures from the main display, which can later be dropped on operators to add to the current sum. We also liked how Calzy 3 automatically stores calculations you make in a scrollable history. You can bookmark useful sums for later retrieval, and assign a label (text or emoji) for added context.
- Free or $0.99/79p/AU$1.49 per month
Noted is a rich-text notepad and voice memos app combined. This isn’t a new concept on the iPhone – other apps do much the same. But Noted differentiates itself by enabling you to mark important moments within the recording.
This is achieved using #TimeTags. As you type up notes while recording, tapping a button places a tag inline. When you subsequently tap a tag, your recording instantly starts playing from the relevant moment. This means you can take basic notes during a meeting or lecture, and then flesh everything out later, without having to constantly scrub through a recording to find the relevant parts.
You’ll need a subscription to make the most of the app – not least to record more than a handful of notes – but for many people, #TimeTags alone will be worth the outlay.
Samplebot is a colorful grid of buttons that you use to capture sounds. Press a pad, make a noise, and it’s then played by tapping the pad again. Fun stuff – but it turns out Samplebot has more layers than an onion.
Recorded sounds can be trimmed, and arranged in a sequencer. Pre-defined drum patterns are included, but you can also tap out your own. Beyond that, you can import audio from cloud services, Music, Files, or the clipboard, and manage sounds in-app. Tracks can be exported, and Samplebot can even be synced to other music apps.
In short, then, Samplebot is ideal for anyone wanting to make some noise, whether you fancy recording and playing back pots and pans being whacked, or creating entire songs.
Things 3 is a task manager that wants to help you get more done. The interface is sleek and the workflow is smart, helping you collect thoughts and plan your time efficiently.
The app’s core is to-dos, but it allows you to add context, such as the time, date or location that you plan to carry the task out. Things 3 then populates a Today view with the day’s tasks (cleverly grouping things you do at home under a This Evening heading), and puts later tasks in an Upcoming list.
The finer points of the app’s design and interactions make it a joy to use. Animations are subtle, but colors are bold. Clever details are dotted about, like the ability to position a new entry by dragging the to-do button to a list.
Things 3 isn’t cheap – especially if you also buy it on iPad and Mac – but the potential time savings make it good value.
Foldify is a rarity – an app that’s not entirely devoted to the digital realm. Instead, it invites you to create little characters on your iPhone, which you can then print on to card or paper, and construct by way of deft folding and a dab of glue.
The interface is first-rate. You kick things off with a template – anything from basic cubes to little blocky people, cars and arcade machines. You then scribble all over that with a pen tool, slap on stickers, and import your own images. All the while, you can admire your handiwork as a little 3D model that’s updated in real-time and can be spun with a flick.
There’s also a social aspect for sharing your creations and downloading other people’s works – including amusingly cuboid takes on Steve Jobs and the original Mac.
- free + $14.99/£14.99/AU$22.99
MindNode 5 helps you connect your thoughts and figure out how ideas link together. This is achieved by way of mind maps – diagrams that begin with a central thought and connect it to related ones, typically resulting in something resembling a mutant spider.
However, when you work with MindNode 5 instead of paper, such messy results don’t happen. Instead, you get a system that can automate and lay out even the most complex of interrelated thoughts beautifully, with color, icons, and images when appropriate.
This all works nicely on the iPhone’s smallish screen, too. A superb Quick Entry mode helps, transforming a bullet-point list into a mind map via a single tap, but the entire interface is heavily optimized towards iPhone use. In short, MindNode 5 is easily the best in its field.
Cinegraph is about using existing videos (or Live Photos) to create images that move. Areas selected by the user animate in an endless loop while the rest of the image remains static – a beguiling effect.
The selection of tools is small, but focused on the task at hand: basic adjustment options for your image, brush/overlay settings for outlining the part(s) of your image that will move, and the means to fine-tune the video output, for example to crossfade the end of the loop.
There’s no automated stabilization, which is a pity – you’re effectively restricted to videos or stills shot using a tripod with no wobble whatsoever. But with the right starting point, Cinegraph is capable of fashioning little slices of magic. And unlike much of the competition, there’s no messing about with subscriptions or IAP for ongoing use or removing watermarks.
Yoink is a ‘shelf’ app – a place to store items for later. It might seem an odd addition to your iPhone, and this version is less useful than the iPad app, which provides access to Split View and drag-and-drop. Even so, Yoink’s value rapidly becomes clear.
The app can grab items from the clipboard and download files from the internet. It will accept images, text, emails, documents and URLs. You can rename anything you add and create ‘stacks’ from multiple items. The iPhone version also includes Peek and Pop, for rapidly previewing items before sending them on using the Share sheet.
Yoink might not be an app you’ll use daily, but when you’re trying to collate a bunch of documents on iPhone to send somewhere, you’ll be glad to have it installed.
Streaks Workout dispenses with the complexity and problems associated with mobile exercise apps. Don’t want to trudge about in the rain? Streaks Workout has you exercise inside. Lacking kit – or even a chair to lean on? This app only demands you have access to a floor.
It’s also a cinch to focus on exercises you prefer. If you fancy doing push-ups but hate planks, tap the relevant buttons accordingly. You can then jump into a semi-randomized routine that’s between six and 30 minutes long (labelled, respectively, ‘quick’ and ‘pain’).
As of version 3.0, there’s a custom workout option, too – great for people who need to know what’s coming next and how many reps to do. We suspect some exercise nuts might still consider the app limiting, but for mere mortals wanting to get fit, Streaks Workout is among the best there is on iPhone.
Bandimal is probably the world’s cutest music-making app. And although it was designed for children, we’ll wager anyone with a soul will be grinning from ear to ear shortly after starting to play.
It involves loading animals into one of three available slots, and tapping out notes on a dotted grid. When the playhead moves over the dots, a sound plays, and the animal bops along accordingly – such as a whale blowing colored water while emitting suitably deep bass noises.
It’s relentlessly jolly, sounds superb, and automatically stores every song you make. And as if to cement how perfect the app is, load one of your songs and the animals count in before it starts playing.
Playground AR does what it says on the tin, in that it’s a playground for having fun with augmented reality. In short, it’s a physics sandbox, which enables you to build virtual structures on a real-world flat surface.
Placing blocks is a bit weird, because this app isn’t about drag and drop. Instead, you drag to rotate an item, and adjust its position by physically moving your device. However, there’s tons of scope here for the patient, including the means to create machines with joints, wheels and thrusters – and then blow them up with bombs.
It’s a pity you can’t save set-ups, but at least when you’re playing with virtual blocks there’s no mess to clean up when you’re done.
Insight Heart was apparently designed to make medical education explorable and fun. This is achieved by having a realistic beating heart float before your face, via the magic of augmented reality (AR).
It’s very weird, but also oddly fascinating. After planting a human outline’s feet, the outline fades and you’re left with an organ levitating above your carpet. Go in close and the heartbeat gets louder; go really close and the heart opens, so you can explore how the blood flows.
Offering further insight, the app can show how conditions affect the heart, for those times when you’re desperate to see some arterial hypertension above your kitchen table. We want a brain app next, please.
GarageBand is a music creation app and recording studio. Ambitiously, it aims to suit newcomers and pro musicians alike – and it succeeds.
For newcomers, there are smart instruments that automate chords and riffs, and a grid pad for triggering samples and loops. Gain in confidence and you can plug in a guitar and use GarageBand’s excellent range of amps, experiment with the timeline, and create drum patterns in the Beat Sequencer.
For pros, though, this app connects to other apps via Inter-App Audio and Audiobus, can ‘import’ entire third-party apps as Audio Units, and enables you to record, arrange and mix up to 32 tracks.
The app’s a stunning achievement, and we suspect many long-time musicians can’t believe such a thing exists on a phone.
Afterlight 2 is a powerful photo editor for your iPhone. All the basics are there, including one-tap filters, cropping, and brightness/contrast sliders. Itls more professional features allow you to manipulate curves, selective hue/saturation/tone controls, filter editing, and a double exposure tool for Lomography fiends.
A highlight, though, is the text tool. It’s a cinch to add words to your pictures, and fine-tune everything with custom leading, kerning, and erasing. In fact, the entire interface feels very considered – there’s a lot going on in this app, but it remains approachable throughout.
One misstep is that edits are destructive – although there’s unlimited undo, you can’t remove a specific step unless you eradicate all the work you did afterwards. Otherwise, this is an excellent app, and one that wisely doesn’t mess about with subscriptions and IAPs – even additional pro-designed filter packs are free.
Toca Life: Office
Toca Life: Office is an app designed for children, ostensibly giving them insight into what their parents do all day at work. Only this office is probably a lot more exciting than the one you get to spend many hours in every week.
Here, tiny fingers can dot 35 distinct characters about the place, and role-play in an office, bank, rooftop, courthouse, and apartment. There’s a virtual daycare, a swanky glass elevator, and a bank vault with an alarm.
You can draw on a whiteboard, print from the computers, discover a helicopter, and even make superheroes. Chances are you’ll want to try this out yourself when your kid’s done, too, if only to imagine how exciting your own office life could be.
- Free + ($1.99/£1.99/AU$2.99)
Pic Collage offers ways to quickly turn some photos into something special, and the best mode is Grids. You select some images, which Pic Collage automatically drops into a grid layout. If you’re not keen on what you get, you can choose something different, add a background, or manually fiddle with the dividers.
Double-tap an individual image and you get further tools, including an ‘effects’ area that’s not far off a fully-fledged photo editor. You can add stickers and text to your masterpiece, and even doodle over the top of everything. If you fancy something more structured, the Cards mode offers predefined card layouts, and Freestyle lets you go entirely freeform.
Everything can be tried entirely for free, but exports have watermarks. Be rid of those for a one-off IAP that’s very much value for money.
PCalc is a traditional calculator – like the super-powered equivalent of something you might find sitting on a desk. If you want something more conventional than the calculator meets sort-of spreadsheet Soulver, PCalc is simply the best there is on iPhone.
For a start, the app’s almost absurdly feature-packed. There’s multiline and RPN, a paper tape, and multiple undo. Need conversions and constants? Done. Engineering and scientific notation? Sure. You can even edit the individual buttons, if you for some reason want the 6 key to be massive.
The app has a slightly odd sense of humor, too. Head into the Help section in its Settings and fire up the ARKit About PCalc screen, and lob anti-gravity bananas about the place. This is a calculator with leaderboards and achievements, and – we say again – anti-gravity bananas. Buy it.
ProCam 5 is an iPhone camera app with a lot of options. Not one for minimalists, then, but the app’s design is such that while it could have drowned you in a bewildering array of options, it actually ends up being very usable.
The main camera shoots to RAW, TIFF or JPEG, and optionally shoots HDR. There are several modes (burst, night, slow shutter, and so on), and you can manually tweak ISO, exposure, shutter speed, and focus.
Usefully, you can also opt to shoot only when your iPhone is perfectly still; and there are handy visual guides, too, including a focus peak meter, a grid of thirds, and a tilt meter.
When you’re finished shooting, you can delve into a capable editor for trimming, perspective correction, frame-by-frame video clip review, and the application of lenses and filters. It’s very comprehensive, making for a high-value package.
Just Press Record
Just Press Record is a highly usable audio recorder and transcription tool. It’s also an excellent example of how to take an app that’s extremely simple and add new features without drowning it in complexity.
To start, you still tap a big, red button, and then record whatever you want to say. Saved recordings head to iCloud, meaning they can be accessed on any device. On your iPhone, they’re found in the Recents and Browse tabs, the latter listing them by date.
There’s also a Search tool – which might seem redundant until you realize every recording is automatically transcribed. Naturally, this doesn’t always nail context – during testing, it mixed up ‘synced’ and ‘sinked’ – and you have to manually say punctuation (such as ‘comma’).
Still, this means that you can share text rather than just audio files, and that every utterance you make can potentially be found by keyword, instead of you scrabbling through a huge list of recordings. It’s really smart stuff.
Sky Guide AR
Sky Guide AR wants you using your iPhone to explore the night sky. Move your iPhone around and you’ll see stars, planets, satellites and comets, as if there was nothing between you and the heavens. Alternatively, you can manually drag a finger, to explore at leisure, tapping on objects to find out more about them.
There’s an elegance about Sky Guide AR, which sets it above its iOS contemporaries. Everything from the background audio to illustrations of constellations showcases taste.
Instead of bling, you get beauty, not least when you fire up the time travel mode, and watch the stars swirl into an endless spiral of light.
And then there’s the AR bit. If you’re a keen stargazer, but can only get outside during daytime, Sky Guide AR will magically project constellations over the sky as seen by your iPhone’s camera.
Moji Maker is a construction kit for emoji. Because, as everyone knows, there can never be enough emoji in the world. On opening the app, you can tap Random to see what it comes up with, or begin with a clean slate. Loads of shapes are available, to which you add facial features, hats, and hands – everything from bushy beards to bizarre sci-fi shades.
As each element is added, you can pinch and drag to adjust its size and orientation. There’s also a deeper – if slightly fiddly – Adjust screen for flipping elements and changing their position in the stack.
When you’re done, you can save your creation for later use, either through Moji Maker’s Messages app or keyboard extension, or by sharing oversized portraits that should certainly get a friend’s attention. Or make them think giant emoji have invaded and finally taken over.
MaxCurve is a photo editor aimed at people who want more control over adjustments. The app includes the basics – cropping; vignettes; sharpness; grain – but its real power is in the curve tools that afford a huge amount of control over color, lightness, saturation, and other aspects of your photo.
The approach is very different from most of MaxCurve’s contemporaries, and, notably, the curves take up a lot of room, sitting in front of the image you’re editing. But they do provide a very tactile means of making everything from subtle tweaks to dramatic changes.
These effects are all non-destructive, too, applied as layers, to which you can also add colors (with blend modes) and textures. Bar its slightly cluttered interface, the only real problem with MaxCurve is it can be a bit too clever – there are no quick-fix buttons for things like exposure. But perhaps that’s the point.
CARROT Weather rethinks weather apps, mostly in being helmed by an angry AI that seemingly won the ‘most likely to kill people in their sleep’ award over HAL. Sure, you get the usual rainfall warnings, hourly forecasts, and weekly outlooks, but they’re all delivered with a layer of snark.
Venture into the excellent Today view widget and CARROT will ‘LOL’ if it’s going to rain. If it’s sunny, she’ll hope you get tan lines, call you a meatbag, and suggest you make the most of the nice weather – “or else”.
It’s uniquely entertaining in its App Store category, but also usable, colorful, and configurable. The maps are poor (although they do house a secret locations game), and some useful settings lurk behind IAP, but otherwise this is one of the best – and certainly the most fun – weather apps for iPhone.
- free + $4.99/£4.99/AU$7.99 IAP
TabBank is a ‘smart notepad’ for people interested in songwriting on the go. And we mean that in the traditional sense: writing lyrics and chords, rather than prodding virtual synths.
Songs are written in basic markup. Each has an artist and title (after which you add colons), lyrics, and chords (added inside square brackets). Fancy melodies can be added by writing tab using dashes and numbers. The preview then makes everything readable – and playable. Well, sort of, as you can tap to play chords, and play tab in a slow-motion kind of way.
If that all sounds like hard work, you can grab tabs from countless websites, too, through a Safari extension; and everything can be exported to PDF, if you buy the one-off IAP. We’d like to see auto-play, rather than you having to tap individual chords, but otherwise this one’s a boon for budding songwriters.
Pimp Your Screen
Pimp Your Screen is an app for customizing your iPhone. At its most basic, this means wallpaper. You select a category, swipe until you find something you like, tap to bring up a Home screen mock-up, and save the image to Photos when you’re done.
However, Pimp Your Screen goes further than its contemporaries in key ways. There’s a Themes section, which pairs matching lock and Home screen wallpapers. There are also ‘makers’ for both screen types, which enable you to combine components in a creative manner.
In the Lock Screen Maker, you can define a background, and add text. Swiping the status bar or clock adds a background for that area alone; swipe below the clock and a (static) calendar appears.
The Home Screen Maker adds a slew of virtual shelves and icon ‘skins’ to the status bar and page backgrounds. The results can vary from beautiful to eye-punchingly taste-free. Probably best if you try to veer toward the former.
DNA Play is an educational app for children that serves as an introduction to the basic science behind DNA. At least in theory. Really, most tiny people will be more excited about the prospect of fashioning all kinds of bizarre, colorful creatures by way of dragging and tapping.
The app begins with you completing simple ‘gene’ puzzles, which see you dramatically adjusting a monster’s characteristics, and this can be done by simply hammering away at a body part to switch it for something new - ideal for less dextrous younglings. Each monster can then be saved and its photo shared.
Occasionally, objects show up, giving you the chance to propel your monster along on a skateboard, feed it a pile of fruit, or have it totally freak out when faced by a spider significantly less terrifying than the monster. But best of all, if you get caught playing with the app yourself, you can argue you’re in the midst of an important scientific breakthrough. Probably.
Comic Zeal is the best comic reader for iPhone. There, we’ve said it. You import comics from cloud libraries or by dragging and dropping them to a special address in your web browser (sadly, there’s no local network drive access), whereupon they’re displayed as a grid or list.
Through slightly fiddly but powerful organizational tools, your collection can be categorized and tagged, making individual issues easy to access later.
The reading experience is the best bit, though. Whether you load a PDF, CBR or CBZ, Comic Zeal quickly renders pages. Page turn animations can be disabled, and you can use ‘assisted panning’ to efficiently read through zoomed pages that would otherwise be unreadable on an iPhone. There’s also a single tap button for switching between single pages and double-page spreads.
Ultimately, comics are still best read on a larger display, but Comic Zeal shows iPhones needn’t be left out when you’re on the move and want your next superhero or indie comic fix.
Pennies is all about managing your money. But whereas finance trackers have a tendency to be dry and complicated, Pennies goes for a much friendlier approach. Using the app’s colorful, straightforward interface, you can quickly and easily define new budgets around any kind of topic, and add or remove money from them.
Much of the app’s effectiveness lies in the way it encourages you to categorize your spending. Want to cut down on coffee? Create a ‘coffee’ category and get a monthly and daily budget, along with a visible reminder of when you can next spend.
Your entire history always remains available in an ongoing scrolling list, and because Pennies syncs across devices, your figures are readily available on iPad and Apple Watch too. In short, it’s the budget tracker for the rest of us.
Untitled rethinks screenwriting. Rather than you having to remember how to format your next Hollywood blockbuster, Untitled prioritizes you getting ideas down, through providing a helping hand regarding how your script should look.
This works by way of simple-to-remember shorthand, such as placing dialogue underneath a character’s name, or ‘>’ before a transition. The app’s also intelligent enough to reformat scene headers (intro/location/time) from plain English into the correct style.
On iPad, Untitled is a friendly screenwriting tool, but its relaxed, note-taking approach really feels at home on iPhone. It’s not a tool you’d likely use to fine-tune a fully polished screenplay, but it’s excellent for starting one – wherever and whenever inspiration strikes.
Infltr began life as a photo filter app for people who considered choosing a filter too much effort. Instead, you dragged your finger across the screen, watching as the filter updated live. Simple. Fast. Random.
But this brutally stripped-back approach nudged Infltr towards gimmickry – something its current incarnation addresses by affording you a modicum of additional control. The original functionality still exists – the app nicely going full-screen when you activate it – but there are editing and filter management features too.
Along with adding a filter in the original way, you can select a pre-made option, make basic adjustments, and alter the photo’s crop and skew. All edits are non-destructive, so you can revert or make further changes later, and your settings can be saved as a custom style. The net result is an app that’s evolved from an interesting curio to a must-have iPhone app for photographers.
The idea behind Forest is to get you to leave your iPhone alone. It does this by having you plant a tiny sapling and set a timer. If you succeed in not using your iPhone until the timer’s done, you get to plant what’s now a little tree in a virtual forest. If you succumb to temptation, Forest mercilessly kills your tree, leaving a barren little twig.
Amusingly, if you try to trick the app by switching away, it’ll immediately send a terse reminder to have you switch right back. But despite this somewhat gruff element, Forest ranks among the best gamified focus aids.
Over time, it’s rewarding to see your forest grow, unlock new trees, and delve into detailed statistics. Also, using coins earned in-app, you can buy real trees for communities that need them. And all because you avoided Facebook for a few hours.
Brian Eno: Reflection
In a sense, featuring Brian Eno : Reflection in this round-up is a bit weird. Unlike other collaborations between musician Eno and software designer/musician Peter Chilvers, Reflection is broadly devoid of interaction. Instead, it effectively just plays Eno’s ambient Reflection album, but with some clever twists.
Unlike the standard album, which is the same every time you listen, the audio here has phrases and patterns within that continually interact in different ways, and subtly change as the day progresses, creating an endlessly changing version of the music. Likewise, the painterly visual on the screen slowly morphs before your eyes.
It’s pricey, but ultimately gives you endless Eno and is an intoxicating experience for anyone that likes their ambient fare. The man himself describes the app like sitting by a river: it’s the same river, but always changing. By contrast, the standard Reflections album initially sounds similar, but it’s a recording frozen in time, never changing.
We’ve lost count of how many currency converters exist on the App Store, but it’s vanishingly rare to see anyone try something properly different.
Elk bucks the trend, with a unique interface and approach that might not appeal to traders, but feels very much like currency conversion for the rest of us.
On firing up the app, you select your two currencies and it offers a list of current rate conversions. For USD to EUR, for example, you get a list of the rates for one through ten dollars. Swiping from the right increases these values by ten. To access rates between two values, tap an entry.
Smartly, you can also input a fixed rate, for example to track your spending on a holiday when you’ve already got your cash. Most of the features are behind a paywall, but a 14-day trial lets you try them for free.
The iPhone is well-served when it comes to podcast apps, and Pocket Casts has a decidedly premium and feature-rich feel.
Podcast discovery is straightforward, by way of search, charts, trends, networks, and categories. Organization is deftly dealt with, through customizable filters and the ability to download or stream.
Playback is also smart, including a speed boost function, silence-trimming for talky shows, and a volume boost for when listening in a noisy environment.
Naturally, there will be comparisons with Overcast, which is an excellent free app, with a similar feature set. For our money, Pocket Casts nudges ahead in terms of interface and usability, making it worth the outlay.
Pocket Casts also has the advantage of being available on a range of platforms – ideal if you also use Android and want to sync podcast subscriptions and listening progress between all your devices.
FLUX by belew
This ambitious app by (ex-King Crimson) musician Adrian Belew is his take on cutting-edge modern music. He reasons that to hold someone’s attention today, music must be quick, surprising and random, making a statement and rapidly moving on.
FLUX by belew very much does that, by way of blasting out sonic snippets and semi-randomized imagery the second you hit play.
The conceit is that you rarely get the same thing twice. Songs appear in different forms, with alternate mixes, lyrics and instrumentation.
Amusingly, one ‘song’ is merely a countdown, introducing whatever comes next. It’s certainly a long way from a traditional album – and all the better for it, showcasing how apps have the potential to revolutionize music.
You might shudder at the idea of writing on an iPhone, but iA Writer wants to change your mind. This is a smart, svelte writing tool that gets out of your way, but that’s packed full of the features you need for writing on the go.
When tapping away at the keyboard, you get a toolbar with cursor arrows and Markdown formatting buttons (if you want to get more complex your text or use it for HTML).
At the top of the screen sits a word count and reading time prediction. Collapse the keyboard and swipe from the right for a Markdown preview and export options. Swipe the other way to access the iCloud documents list that syncs with iA Writer on other platforms.
There’s a night mode and focus-oriented view options, too, and all of this combines to make for a writing experience perhaps unmatched on iPhone. You still won’t use the app to write a novel, but a few hundred words on an iPhone seems less painful with iA Writer installed.
There are quite a few apps that attempt to automatically get rid of backgrounds from an image, or have you paint them out with a finger. Exacto, though – as its name might suggest – is all about precision.
Using the pen tool, you tap out a string of blue points on the screen, which map out the outline to mask. Any point’s position can be adjusted by selecting it and then dragging anywhere on the screen. Exacto places black points between the blue points, and these when selected bend the line, so you can create a curve with two blue points rather than dozens.
There’s unlimited undo, project auto-save, and a layers system for multiple selection. And although you might balk at the price for what’s effectively a single-feature app, Exacto is unparalleled at what it does on iPhone, and opens up scope for creative superimpositions and collages when using other creative software.
Focus and burnout are two commonplace issues for people in work. Too often, you can become distracted from tasks; but also there’s the risk of working long hours without a break, leading to fatigue. Focus Keeper aims to deal with both.
The timer is loosely based around the Pomodoro Technique (a time management method), and recommends splitting your time between 25-minute work sprints and five-minute breaks. After four sessions, you take a longer break of about half an hour.
The app is clutter-free, and easy to use. The timer combines a minimal iOS-like design aesthetic with hints of a real-world timer’s dial. You can delve into statistics, adjust work/break lengths, and choose alternate alarm and ‘ticking’ noises. Most importantly, however much this is all about psychology, it does work. Need convincing? Try the free version first.
What kind of art do you think you can make from the humble rhombus? That’s the challenge you face when working with Isometric, which is – as its name suggests – designed for creating isometric artwork.
The app is very simple to use – you tap a rhombus to add it to the canvas, and can tap existing ones to rotate them. Shapes can be dragged together to make larger groups, and elements on the canvas can be colored and styled.
Isometric is especially well suited to abstract geometric art, and proves relaxing to use when stressed about the world and its problems.
But with a little planning, you can coax it towards more realistic, ambitious fare. Either way, the canvas can expand to a whopping 2048 x 2048, and you can export your angular masterpieces to Photos – or to vector formats with an additional IAP.
Modern iPhones have some seriously impressive camera hardware, and are capable of taking clean, vibrant shots. So it’s perhaps no surprise that iPhone users are often hell-bent on slathering said images in filters and messing them up.
Mextures 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.
On the iPad, Graphic resembles a touchscreen take on desktop vector powerhouse Adobe Illustrator. You might think you’d need to be mad to try and squeeze that into an iPhone, but Indeeo has succeeded in fine style.
The app, equally happy in portrait and landscape, is initially set up for vector-based sketching, with you scribbling freehand lines that can subsequently be tweaked and edited. Smartly, the app always lets you know what’s going on under your finger, because Graphic shows that area elsewhere on the screen while you draw.
Delve deeper and you’ll find a shape library, Bézier curves, a layers system and everything else you need to craft illustrations and logos on your iPhone. It can be a touch fiddly at times, but the powerful zoom and general friendliness, of what’s a hugely powerful mobile app, help immeasurably.
There are plenty of apps that transform photos into personalized takes on works of art. Printed does something similar, but with vintage printed art. This means you can with a few taps turn a photo of a loved one into something resembling artwork that might once have graced a 1950s postcard or ancient theater poster.
You get a decent selection of filters, along with smartly considered additional tools for adjusting dot pitch, brightness, colors, and borders. These things add a personal touch sometimes missing from this kind of app.
The interface sometimes trips up – edits are weirdly done in a thumbnail overlapping your current image, which makes it hard to see what’s going on until the edit is expanded. But Printed is nonetheless a great buy, especially if the novelty’s gone in turning your photos into pseudo-Munchs and Picassos.
djay Pro for iPhone
You might first look at djay Pro for iPhone and wonder if the developer’s gone a bit mad. You get virtual decks, sliders, and a bunch of buttons – but on an iPhone it looks a little like a DJ set-up for toddlers.
The truth is, you’re probably not going to be banging out your latest set using the app alone – although you can connect it up to a range of hardware and use it as the brains behind a controller.
However, whether you’re a wannabe or pro DJ, djay Pro for iPhone warrants investigation for allowing you to experiment on the go. The app’s hugely powerful and feature-rich (waveforms; four decks; sampler; amusing sound effects; properly clever beat-matching), making it far more than a curiosity or novelty.
There are two sides to Hipstamatic. In its ‘native’ form, the app apes old-school point-and-click cameras. You get a tiny viewport inside a virtual plastic camera body, and can swap out lenses, film, and flashes, along with messing about with multiple exposures and manual shutters. It’s pleasingly tactile and twangs your nostalgia gland, but feels a bit cramped.
If you’d rather use your entire iPhone display to show what you’re snapping, you can switch to a ‘pro’ camera mode. That’s closer in nature to Apple’s own Camera, but with Hipstamatic’s huge range of rather lovely filters bolted on – a great mash-up of old and new.
And if you’re wedded to Apple’s camera, Hipstamatic’s still worth a download, given that you can load a photo, slather it in filters, add loads of effects and bask in your creative genius.
This one’s all about ‘points of interest’, hence the name – Poison Maps (‘POIs on maps’). Essentially, it’s a wealth of information from OpenStreetMap shoved into an app and twinned with an interface that makes it a cinch to drill down into categories.
So, mooching about London and fancy a bite to eat? Tap on the food and drink icon. Something quick? Tap Fast Food. Pizza? Sounds good.
Each tap filters the POIs and navigation buttons displayed, and arrows point at nearby locations when you’re zoomed in. Everything’s extremely responsive, and the maps and icons are clear and easy to read. Other nice bits include a full-screen mode, a search function, and public transport overlays.
The only snag is Poison Maps is a gargantuan 1.2GB install; if that’s a bit rich, smaller regional alternatives by the same developer exist, each being a free download with a small IAP to unlock all categories.
If you’ve got yourself a resident tiny human, your house probably has a few of those wooden puzzles where letter shapes are shoved into their respective slots. Endless Alphabet isn’t quite, well, endless, but contains dozens of such puzzles, which work brilliantly on the touchscreen.
On your child selecting a word, monsters sprint along the bottom of the screen, scattering its letters. They then need to be dragged back into place, coming to life as they’re moved. When a word’s complete, monsters act out what it means in a charming animated cut scene.
There are some minor grumbles here and there – the app’s resolutely US-English in nature, and the sounds letters make when dragged might confuse, since they’re not full letters nor the phonics often used in education. Otherwise, this is a first-rate, charming, enjoyable educational app for youngsters getting to grips with words.
Head back to the 1980s and pixel art was just, well, art. Computer graphics were chunky due to technological limitations, not because of the aesthetic desires of creatives. Nonetheless, for a mix of reasons – nostalgia, primarily – pixel art remains popular in illustration and videogames.
On iPhone, Pixure is a great app for dabbling with pixel art. Along with prodding individual pixels using a pencil tool, there’s a neat flood fill option and shape tools too. Layers provide scope for more complex art, as does the option to import an image from elsewhere as a starting point.
There’s no lock-in either: you can export to a range of formats to share your miniature masterpiece, or work on it further elsewhere.
- Free + $1.99/£1.99/AU$2.99 IAP
A playground for GIFs, ImgPlay aims to bring life to whatever you capture with your iPhone – or to fine-tune the motion within those things that already move.
You start off by loading pretty much anything from your Camera Roll: photos, videos, Burst mode images, Live Photos, or GIFs. With stills, you can select a number of them to stitch together, essentially making ImgPlay a kind of low-end stop-motion tool.
But it’s with Live Photos and Burst shots that ImgPlay really becomes interesting. You can take the video or sequence of images your iPhone shoots, trim the result (including removing individual frames), add a filter and text, and then export the lot as a GIF or video.
For free, the app’s full-featured, but buy the small IAP and you get more filters, no ads, and no watermark on export.
Stephen Hawking’s Pocket Universe
One of the things the iPad’s been really great at – with the right app installed – is making science approachable. But Stephen Hawking’s Pocket Universe is, in many ways, more ambitious than iPad tomes.
That’s because it attempts to bring accessibility to Stephen Hawking’s phenomenal work on mind-bending topics such as space-time and the expanding universe - and squeeze everything into the much smaller screen of an iPhone.
Given such weighty subject matter, this is a surprisingly friendly digital book, broken down into easily digestible, bite-sized sections. Throughout, the app playfully animates, filling your screen with color and using illustration to aid understanding of the text.
Naturally, there’s still the possibility of bafflement, but the app helpfully tracks what you’ve read, and is perfect brain food for filling journeys on the bus in a manner mindlessly scrolling through social feeds can never hope to compete with.
The burst mode in Apple's camera app is designed to get you the perfect photo in tricky situations. If you've a fast-moving subject – or are snapping someone who blinks a lot – you hold the shutter, very rapidly take loads of photos, and later select the best.
But in capturing anything up to dozens of photos, there's potential to do something with those you'd usually discard. Burstio is all about turning such images into animations.
Launch the app and you see your burst photos as little film strips, each detailing the number of images within. Select a burst and you can trim the series, adjust playback speed, and alter playback direction.
Your edit can then be exported to video or GIF. The process is elegant and simple, and brings new life to images you'd otherwise never use.
You can of course use a wide range of apps for storing real-world scribbles – photograph a journal page and you can fling it at the likes of Evernote, say. But Carbo tries something more ambitious. Your sketches and notes are cleaned up, and converted to vectors, while preserving your original stroke.
What this means is that images within Carbo retain the character of your penmanship, but are also editable in a manner standard photographs are not – you can select and move specific elements that Carbo intelligently groups, adjust line thicknesses throughout the entire image, add annotations and tags, and export the result to various formats.
It's a friendly, intuitive app to work with, and efficient, too – a typical Carbo note requires only a tenth of the storage as the same image saved as a standard JPEG photo.
Ferrite Recording Studio
- Free + from $9.99/£9.99/AU$14.99
As a free app, Ferrite Recording Studio is mightily impressive – a kind of beefed-up Voice Memos, which lets you bookmark bits of recordings to refer to later, and then edit and combine multiple recordings in a multi-track editor view.
But when you pay for Ferrite, it becomes a fully-fledged podcast creation studio on your iPhone.
First and foremost, in-app purchases remove track and project length limits. This affords much greater scope for complex projects, which can have loads of overlaying tracks and potentially be hours in length.
The paid release also adds a range of professional effects, which can help transform your project by making the audio cleaner and more engaging.
But whether you pay or not, Ferrite's usable, intuitive interface should make it a tempting go-to tool for amateur podcasters, even if they're also armed with a PC or Mac.
From a functionality standpoint, Living Earth is a combination clock/weather app. You define a bunch of cities to track, and switch between them to see current time, weather conditions, and when the sun's going to make an appearance and vanish for the day.
Tapping the forecast quickly loads an outlook for the entire week; prod the clock and you'll get the weather and time in each of your defined locations.
What sets Living Earth apart, though, is the globe at the screen's centre. This provides a live view of the planet's weather - clouds, by default, which can be swapped for temperature, wind and humidity.
We like the clouds most, along with the way the virtual planet can be slowly spun with the slightest swipe. It'll then lazily rotate between zones in daylight and those lit up after night has fallen.
Apple offers a burst mode when you hold down the shutter in its camera app, but this is for very rapidly taking many shots in quick succession, in order to select the best one.
By contrast, SoSoCamera is about documenting a lengthier slice of time, taking a series of photos over several seconds and then stitching them together in a grid.
The grid's size maxes out at 48 items and can be fashioned however you like. It's then just a question of selecting a filter, prodding the camera button, and letting SoSoCamera perform its magic.
The resulting images, while low-res in nature, nicely capture the feel of time passing, in many cases better than video; although do experiment first with the filters, because some are a bit too eye-searing.
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.
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.
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.
In these days of flashy news apps like Flipboard, old-school RSS readers get something of a bad reputation. But there's something really handy about subscribing to your favourite sites, and knowing you'll get every article delivered in chronological order, for you to pick through at leisure.
On the iPhone, Reeder 3 remains an excellent app for browsing and reading feeds. The interface is straightforward, and a built-in Readability view enables you to quickly load the text and images from feeds that only otherwise supply you with brief synopses.
If you've got an iPhone that supports 3D Touch, you can use that for article previews in the articles list.
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.
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.
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.
For most kids, plastic keyboards and annoyingly loud toy drums are a typical starting point in music, but Loopimal ambitiously attempts to introduce children to the concept of computer sequencing. Fortunately, it does so by way of highly animated dancing cartoon animals, bright shapes, and plenty of flair.
Hit play and you're immediately shown an animal bobbing its head to a backing track. You then drag coloured pieces (from a selection of five) into eight empty slots. When the playhead moves over the shapes, the animal adds its own sounds and melodies, often while performing impressive gymnastic feats.
It's Loopimal's character that initially wins you over. Unless you're dead inside, you won't fail to crack a smile when an octopus starts playing funky basslines with its tentacles, or the percussive Yeti gets all stompy. Smartly, once the player clocks how Loopimal works, the screen can be split into two or four, to combine animals and their unique sounds.
The one big miss is the inability to save your compositions, but every Loopimal riff is in C-major; this means you can use just the white notes on nearby keyboards to play along with whatever madness is happening inside the app.
Traditional calculator apps are fine, but even if they come with digital tape, you don't get figures in context. By contrast, a spreadsheet is overkill for most adding-up tasks. Soulver is a neatly conceived half-way house — like scribbling sums on the back of an envelope, but a magic envelope that tots everything up.
You get two columns. On the left, you type everything out, integrating words as you see fit. On the right, totals are smartly extracted. So if you type 'Hotel: 3 nights at $125', Soulver will automatically display $375 in the totals column.
Line totals can be integrated into subsequent sums, ensuring your entire multi-line calculation remains dynamic — handy should you later need to make adjustments to any part.
Given the relative complexity of what Soulver's doing, it all feels surprisingly intuitive from the get-go. There are multiple keyboards (including advanced functions and currency conversion), you can save calculations and sync them via iCloud or Dropbox, and it's even possible to output HTML formatted emails of your work.
Although Apple introduced iCloud Keychain in iOS 7, designed to securely store passwords and payment information, 1Password is a more powerful system. Along with integrating with Safari, it can be used to hold identities, secure notes, network information and app licence details. It's also cross-platform, meaning it will work with Windows and Android.
And since 1Password is a standalone app, accessing and editing your information is fast and efficient. The core app is free – the company primarily makes its money on the desktop. However, you’ll need a monthly subscription or to pay a one-off $9.99/£9.99/AU$14.99 IAP to access advanced features (multiple vaults, Apple Watch support, tagging, and custom fields).
- Free + $7.99/£7.99/AU$12.99 IAP
There are two flavours of Scanbot, each of which is impressive in its own right. For free, you get a superb iPhone scanner with cloud storage integration, QR code support, and the means to detect edges for any paper document you want to digitise. Upgrade to Scanbot Pro and things get more interesting. You can add pages to existing scans, quickly name files using a clever smart-naming system, and search/extract text from previous scans.
There's also an automated actions feature, where the app finds the likes of phone numbers and email addresses within your scans, turning them into single-tap buttons within each item's actions menu. It's not quite accurate enough to be witchcraft, but we nonetheless happily leave important scans within Scanbot these days, rather than immediately deleting after export.
There may come a time in the distant future when Twitter's own app is our favourite (or Twitter bans third party clients entirely), but until then, there's Tweetbot. This latest version builds on its predecessor, with an elegant interface fit for iOS underpinned by plenty of power-user features.
There's a landscape mode and a second column for iPhone 6S/7 Plus users, granular mute settings, support for optional content blockers in the browser view, and new Activity and Statistics tabs. Twitter might greedily block access to a handful of its newest toys, but Tweetbot's efficiency and power means we won't defect just yet.
- Free with new devices or $9.99/£9.99/AU$14.99
When Apple first brought its office apps to iPad, they were an impressive attempt to perform complex tasks on a glass screen. Squeezing them down to iPhone seemed nigh-on impossible, and yet Numbers in particular survives intact.
Naturally, there's quite a bit of zooming and swiping to do if your spreadsheet has plenty of rows and columns, but data entry can be relatively painless and surprisingly rapid by way of custom forms.
Unsurprisingly, Apple would very much like you to use Numbers everywhere and sync by way of iCloud, but you can also export to CSV, PDF or Microsoft Excel, along with flinging completed documents to cloud storage providers such as Dropbox.
Should you find yourself in one of the supported cities (including Paris, London, New York and Berlin), you'll be grateful to have Citymapper on your iPhone — assuming you don't want to get lost.
The app finds where you are and then gets you from A to B, whether you want to walk, grab a taxi, or use public transport (for which live times are provided).
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.