App Directory: The Best Alarm Clock App For iPhone

App Directory: The Best Alarm Clock App For iPhone

The iTunes App Store features more alarm clocks than you could ever hope to use, so it can be difficult to find one that stands out above the rest. We feel that one is Nightstand Central, thanks to its thoughtful feature set, choice between free and paid versions, and a great, informative layout.Note: Picking a favourite alarm clock, to a large extent, comes down to a matter of taste. Although we really like Nightstand Central and think it pretty much covers everything you’d need from an alarm clock (including things you don’t think you know you need), that doesn’t mean it’s going to be your ideal option. There have been plenty of different takes on the alarm clock, many of which are mentioned in the competition section. Be sure to check them out as well.

Additionally, it’s important to note that an alarm clock app currently cannot perform its function when it is suspended in the background. While it can provide an alert message — which is, by default, relegated to a banner in iOS 5 — it needs to be the app in the foreground to work properly. If you’re not careful, you can very easily miss your alarm. This is not the fault of any app, but simply a problem with the restrictions Apple has put in place. All alarm clock apps, with the exception of the built-in Clock app, have this drawback.

Nightstand Central

Platform: iPhone
Price: Free/$1.99 (no ads)
Download Page


  • Main view displays the time and the weather
  • 12 or 24 hour format
  • Slide your finger up and down the screen to adjust the display’s brightness
  • Schedule multiple alarms with different sounds or music (note: music only works when the app is foregrounded due to Apple’s multitasking restrictions)
  • Sleep timer lets you listen to music (or any other audio content) for a set time and then pauses it so the content doesn’t play endlessly while you sleep
  • Shake your iPhone to turn its LED light on and off so you have a torch when you need it
  • Change wallpapers in the app so you can customise its look

Nightstand Central is an alarm clock app that integrates the time and weather into one good-looking display. This is not groundbreaking, as you can make that argument for much of its competition. Just like everything else, it handles background alarms about as well as iOS allows (which, in iOS 5, is not particularly well — the alarm doesn’t make any noise if the app is in the foreground and your device is set to vibrate/silent mode). It even has a sleep timer so you can fall asleep listening to music, a podcast or an audiobook without the need to worry about it playing throughout the night. None of these things are particularly novel at this point, since most apps can do these things. Even the built-in Clock app can handle a sleep timer. What makes Nightstand Central great is the little things it thought to add. First, you can shake your phone to turn on its LED light in the event you need a torch to guide your way when you wake up in the dark of night. (You can also shake the iPhone again to turn it off.) Second, you can just slide your finger up and down your device’s display to make it dimmer or brighter. This is very nice to have because nobody wants a bright light in their face while they’re trying to sleep or when they wake up and want to check what time it is. These features point to the kind of forethought that make Nightstand Central really great.

The main drawback is something Nightstand Central can’t help. Basically, if your device’s vibrate/mute switch is engaged, alarms won’t go off in the background. (This was the case for me, anyway.) You will get a message saying your alarm is sounding, but you just won’t hear any sound. The app works fine so long as it is in the foreground, but it’s easy enough to make a mistake and close the app. Again, this is not Nightstand Central’s fault but rather a restriction imposed by Apple. Developers simply can’t make an alarm run in the background the way their built-in Clock app can. It’s annoying, and it definitely gives every third-party app have a serious drawback.

Clock is the built-in app that Apple provides and it’s very good. It’s not as good an alarm system as Nightstand Central and some of the others on this list, but it runs perfectly in the background because Apple has the advantage of doing whatever they want on their platform. While you’ll definitely forego some of the nice features the other apps provide, you can remain confident that the alarm app will not neglect to wake you up in the morning. (Well, unless Apple messes up daylight saving again.)

Alarm Clock Pro ($0.99) was my other favourite, at least in terms of looks. It handles almost as much as Nightstand Central, but looks like a standard digital alarm clock. It’s a nice option if you want to save a dollar.

Wake N Shake ($0.99) helps you wake up in the morning by forcing you to shake your iPhone until you fill up an on-screen meter. The idea is that this physical activity will keep you from going back to sleep. If you don’t shake the phone, you’ll have to listen to your alarm endlessly. Not a bad idea if you have trouble getting up in the morning. (More info here.)

The Alarm Clock ($0.99) is very simple. It has standard functions and works well. If all you want is the time on a screen and customisable alarms, you’ll be satisfied.

There are tons of other alarm clock options and this post only scratches the surface. We’ve highlighted some of our favourites, but if you’ve got any of your own please share them in the comments.

Lifehacker’s App Directory is a new and growing directory of recommendations for the best applications and tools in a number of given categories.


  • An alarm clock that fails to work unless it is in the foreground and the phone isnt on silent….. sounds kinda useless? Its like the baby monitor app we tried out…. phone went to standby mode and our baby cried for half an hour till we though we should check in…..

    • Agreed. Apart from the shortfalls John has pointed out above I fail to see how it “excels” because you can shake it to make the screen light up. Isn’t it easier to just press the home button? If you just need an alarm then why not use the native one which you can be certain will work. I don’t know why the article is titled “The Best Alarm Clock App For iPhone” when clearly the best alarm clock is the native one that has the awesome feature of making a noise at a preset time. I would be interested to see if the weather details it provides are accurate too or if they are the same terrible AU weather estimates that many US apps share.

  • I like Nightstand Central but its sleep timer seems a bit wonky. I’ve been trying to use the lullaby function to listen to 20 minutes of an audio book as I drift off but most nights the thing reverts back to the same point in the book each time rather than being 20 minutes further on. Kinda annoying as there is no way to fast forward to a new spot from within the app and doing so in iTunes has no impact on the point at which Nightstand starts playing the file. So I use ALARMED for its sleep timer – it allows you to use iTunes itself in the backgound to play your content and works much better.

  • Try “First Light”. It shows you your Facebook and Twitter status messages, your days agenda and weather so you know immediately what’s on for the day. It also wakes you up (or go to sleep) to your iTunes Music, the radio or some nice inbuilt sounds. Has a night mode to keep the light down in the room while you sleep.

  • The downside is what bugged me most about the alarm apps in the past and why i stopped using them.

    I hate some of those stupid restrictions, apple should let us allow certain apps to run in background (ie grant permissions to apps on a case by case basis, as it stands some apps have too much privileges and others don’t have enough).

  • Nightstand Central works well for me.
    I keep a backup alarm set on the inbuilt app in case I forget to leave it running.
    I love the chirping birds sound set to gradually fade in over a few minutes.
    It’s doesn’t rudely scream at me like every other alarm sound I’ve ever used.

  • This app used to be one of my favorites and I’ve been using it every night. However, failure to update to iOS 6 broke it. I’ve been experiencing all kinds of errors (and judging by the comments in the App Store, so have many others), from the alarm not working to the weather not updating. I really hope they update it at some point, but right now it’s nothing more than a pretty clock with no further functionality.

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