Apps are the cornerstone of the iPhone – what really set it apart from Android. The best iPhone apps are typically best in class.
However, finding the greatest apps among the millions available isn’t easy, and so we’ve done the hard work for you.
Our lists compile the very best the iPhone has to offer, whether using your iPhone for photos, video, drawing, music, office tasks, reading, maps, weather forecasts or keeping kids entertained.
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 two weeks 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 11 Pro 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.
Read on below for our free app pick of the last two weeks then click through to the following pages for the best iPhone apps across a range of categories.
iPhone app of the week: AudioKit L7 – Live Looper
AudioKit L7 – Live Looper brings pro-grade live looping functionality to iPhone in a way that’s easy for anyone to use. Inspired by the Roland Boss RC-505 Loop Station, the app lets you use your device’s mic to gradually build a composition from loops of audio you record live.
The app is designed primarily for use with your voice. Even if you can’t hold a tune, you can beatbox a rhythm, and when you do want to try your hand at bass or melody, autotune and other effects are on hand to help.
For other instruments, the app is less immediate and a touch fiddly, but nonetheless usable when working on layered ideas for guitars. We suspect the cost may be off-putting for the merely curious, but if you’ve ever wanted your iPhone to be a portable looper, this is the app you’ve been waiting for.
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.
Apollo 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 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.
Darkroom 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+ 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.
Snapseed 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 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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.