You might think your new iPhone is amazing right out of the box, but it’s practically a blank slate compared to how much you can do once you start downloading apps. Of course, there are thousands of apps out there, and it can take hours of research to find the best picks for your needs. For a more comprehensive list, we have our exhaustive list of the best free iPhone apps, all carefully tested by our editorial staff. That list can be overwhelming. Let us ease you into the app-purchasing process with our recommendations. Here are ten must-have apps that will be useful to nearly everyone.
Updated: January 30th, 2015
On its own, Evernote for iOS is a decent way to keep notes, using text, photos or voice. It’s relatively simple to organize your notes into different “notebooks” to, say, keep track of receipts or jot down quick lists.
But paired with its web service or companion desktop app, Evernote becomes much more powerful. Anything you note down in the desktop app syncs near-instantly to the mobile app, and vice versa. The service will also find text in any image you add to it, making it completely searchable. Want to save a recipe? Scan it, bring it into Evernote and you’ll have it forever. Or take a photo of a receipt to keep a permanent record of it. Even without the photo capability, Evernote is still one of the best ways to keep information in sync between desktop and mobile.
Evernote is completely free, but you can upgrade to a premium account with more storage for $5 a month.
Download Evernote (Free)
If you need to keep more than just text and images in sync between systems, Dropbox is the way to go. It also pairs with a web service and desktop app, keeping every file in its synced folders up to date on every system it’s authorized on. If you need to edit a document on the go, keep a PDF handy for quick reference or download images or other files to your phone, Dropbox handles it all quickly and securely.
Dropbox is also free with 2 GB of storage included, and can be upgraded with more storage for an additional fee.
If you’ve got an iPhone 6 or iPhone 6 Plus (which by the way features optical image stabilization), you can take photos that look quite good with just your phone. But if you want to make any changes to the photos you take, you’re going to need an app.
Camera+ is a fantastic photo editor. It’s easy to use, lets you share the final product from within the app, and can edit photos taken in the app or pulled from your photo library. If you just want a quick boost to your photo quality, the app has a huge selection of built-in scenes and filters. But if you want to go deeper, you can also crop, rotate or flip, adjust the colors and exposure, or add borders.
Download Camera+ ($2.99)
Sometimes you want to take a really good photo. That’s when you pull out Camera+. But when you just want to share something great with your family on Facebook or your friends on Twitter, Instagram is the best app for the job.
There’s a reason Apple chose Instagram as it’s App of the Year for 2011. Not only does it make sharing your photos on major social networks extremely easy, it also lets you jazz them up. It boasts a large collection of filters that let you make your photos look like they were taken with toy cameras for some surprisingly impressive retro effects. It also has its own internal sharing network, so you can discover all manner of fantastic photographers to follow.
Download Instagram (Free)
Virtually every social network has its own app on the App Store, and some of those have dozens of customized alternatives. Same with every major news site. But if you want to bring all your Internet-reading together in one place, you can’t beat Flipboard.
Flipboard is probably the best looking way to browse your favorite sites on iPhone or iPad. When you first launch it, you might find it defaults to a few news sources you aren’t interested in. But with a minute or two of set up, you can have it pulling in news and posts from all your favorite websites. You can also sign in to your social networks and have it pull in links and posts from those as well.
Then it puts all that information together in an attractive visual layout that you can flip through at your leisure. If you decide to go deeper, Flipboard shows stories to you with all the extra website formatting stripped out, leaving well laid-out images and text. It’s like having a magazine that updates constantly and is curated to your exact tastes.
Download Flipboard (Free)
While an iPhone isn’t the best form factor for e-reading, you can’t beat its portability. If you can get behind reading on the small screen you’ll have your books at hand everywhere.
There are several big name e-reading apps available, and each ties in to its own exclusive e-book store. Some have better reading experiences than iBooks, which is still a bit minimalistic when it comes to features. But thanks to a recent policy change, only iBooks actually allows you to purchase books from within the app. It’s also easy to import DRM-free e-books purchased elsewhere into iBooks. Those two features make it the standout recommendation.
Download iBooks (Free)
Rdio or Spotify
The iPhone is a great music device, and for your downloaded music the default Music app does everything most people will need. But if you don’t have as large music collection as you’d like or you don’t have space on your phone to store it, a streaming music service makes a fantastic addition.
For a monthly fee, Rdio and Spotify let you stream unlimited music from their collections on your phone. You can also download albums to listen offline. Both offer huge libraries that span decades of both top hits and more obscure tracks.
If you live in the United States, you can pick whichever service you prefer. Canadians have access to Rdio, and folks in the UK and much of Europe can access Spotify. The rest of the world is largely out of luck for now.
Both apps are free, but both require a subscription to their respective services for full access.
One of the coolest things about having a device with built-in GPS is that you can use it to seriously raise your fitness game. If you walk, run or bike, RunKeeper will help you do that. It’s got a huge list of features, so let’s cover the highlights.
RunKeeper can, of course, track your fitness activity via GPS. You’ll know how far you went, how long it took you, and the route you used, so it’s easy to plan ahead and to track your progress over time. You can listen to music through the app, and develop audio cues for feedback or interval training. You can set a target pace, share and compare workout with friends, and even track other activities manually. If you’re willing to invest a bit of cash, you can also get a heart monitor that works with the app. It’s like an all-in-one package for your fitness success.
While you’re spending money on new apps, you might be happy to learn that you can use the iPhone to save yourself a fair bit of money too. With a barcode scanner like RedLaser, you can easily check any product you’re shopping for against its competition online. It’s easier than ever to check for reviews, and you can even make purchases directly from the app.
Plus, you’ll finally be able to scan those QR codes that are popping up everywhere. Neat, right?
Radio tuners have rarely been killer features in mobile phones. That’s been a deal-breaker for some, but now you can do far, far better than any radio tuner could. TuneIn Radio collects 50,000 stations and 120,000 shows that you can listen to, record, pause or rewind. It’s basically a PVR for global radio.
You can also ditch your bedside radio alarm – TuneIn Radio has a great alarm function. It can also stream to AirPlay devices if you’ve got one handy.
All ten of these apps are great, but they’re only the tip of the iceberg. If you’re interested in finding more useful apps, you can share your discoveries in the comments, visit our forums to learn what our readers recommend or visit our massive curated list of the best free apps.