With every iteration of iOS, Apple tweaks its system software a little, but the default set of apps remains largely unchanged since launch. For many of us, these basic apps just don’t cut it anymore. Here are the best alternatives to replace them.
The design and function of many of Apple’s apps is beginning to feel a bit stale, and many people are growing dissatisified with the experience as a whole. On top of that, many of the apps lock you into Apple’s data ecosystem and iCloud, which doesn’t always sit well. Fortunately, plenty of superior replacements exist for Apple’s stock apps. From Maps to Notes, we’ve got you covered with alternatives that fix the issues with Apple’s built-in apps. Chances are you won’t replace every one of them, but it’s good to know there are better choices out there. [clear]
Indictment: Apple’s new Maps app has been getting its fair share of bad press lately for numerous mistakes ranging from poorly updated maps, to badly implemented search. Thankfully, you have a few really solid alternative choices.
Notes: Whereis is free, locally developed and doesn’t count against your data allowance if you’re a Telstra customer. Outside of that, the mobile version of Google Maps works well and has much more reliable data. [clear]
Indictment: Safari is by no means a bad browser. However, to get its best feature, iCloud syncing, you have to use Safari on the Mac. Not everyone wants to do that (the majority of iPhone owners don’t own Macs, after all). Safari also has its fair share of usability issues, including the inability to quickly swap to private browsing, and a limited amount of tabs you can keep open at a time.
Notes: Picking the perfect browser for your phone really depends on what you use on your computer. If you’re a Chrome user on your desktop, then Chrome is the logical choice on your iPhone or iPad. It syncs your history, bookmarks, autofill settings, and everything else across every single device.
If you’d like a browsing experience geared specifically to mobile, Dolphin is a gesture-based browser that offers a fun alternative way to browse the web. [clear]
Indictment: Apple’s default camera is pretty boring. You can’t really tweak your photos, and you don’t have access to common options like a timer or burst mode. As a straightforward point-and-shoot camera it works fine, but if you want more precision you need to dig deeper.
Notes: Camera+ is easily the most full featured of the iPhone camera apps. Not only does it replicate everything the iPhone’s default camera does, it also offers a stack of built-in photo editing tools, filters and features. You can lock the focus, set up timers, and shoot in a burst mode for action shots.
We also like Camera Awesome, which offers many of the same features as Camera+, and includes a number of guides to help you take better pictures. Both are great camera apps that supercharge everything great about the iPhone’s camera. However, neither do HDR photography, so if HDR is your thing, you’ll want to keep the stock camera on hand. [clear]
Indictment: Much like the Camera app, Calendar is barebones in its functionality. It’s not hard to use, but you can’t customise the look of it to suit your needs, and overall it’s a bit hard to see what’s really going on with your calendar.
Notes: You have loads of options for calendar apps on the iPhone. For a full-featured replacement, we like Week Cal because it does pretty much everything you’d ever want in a calendar. For a completely different approach, Cue makes your calendar more of a social experience and works well for people with more social appointments than work ones. For minimalists, Agenda Calendar is a simple but still useful alternative to Calendar. [clear]
Indictment: Mail is designed to work well with Apple email addresses. If you’re a Gmail user, it lacks support for many of Gmail’s best features.
Superior Alternative(s): Sparrow
Notes: Sparrow gives you control over your Gmail with access to labels, starred emails, and plenty more. The newest version of Mail in iOS 6 isn’t bad if you’re not using Gmail, but if you are, Sparrow’s the right choice. [clear]
Indictment: On its own, the Contacts app isn’t much more than a digital replacement for pen and paper. You get basic information, and the new Facebook integration helps keep that information up to date, but that’s about it.
Superior Alternative(s): Smartr Contacts
Notes: Smartr turns all of your social contacts into an address book. Instead of simply seeing a phone number or email, you get recent Facebook or Twitter updates. This way, you can see a complete history of your contact with someone, which provides welcome context for those people you don’t talk to very often. [clear]
Indictment: OK, so iCloud isn’t an app as much as it’s a service, but it’s built into every Apple app (and many third-party apps) and comes stock with every device. iCloud is great if you happen to use nothing but Apple products. However, the fact that it’s difficult to pull documents from it, and you can’t share easily them, makes it a pain to use for anything more than a simple backup.
Superior Alternative(s): Dropbox
Notes: We love Dropbox for storing all your files, and since most productivity apps (and plenty of others) support Dropbox directly, it’s an obvious choice as an iCloud replacement for transferring files. Dropbox gives you direct access to every file you make across any device (including photos), and you’re not restricted to Apple’s apps. [clear]
Find My iPhone
Indictment: As we learned with Mat Honan’s hack earlier this year, the helpful features of the Find My iPhone app can easily be used for evil.
Superior Alternative(s): Prey.
Notes: Prey doesn’t have all the same features of Find My iPhone, but that’s part of its appeal. It will help you find your phone, but you won’t be able to erase data, or change any settings. If the Mat Honan hack makes you a little wary about using Find My iPhone, then Prey is an excellent alternative. [clear]
Indictment: Out of all of Apple’s iPhone apps, iBooks is the biggest offender when it comes to skeuomorphic design. It makes reading look like a book, and that just feels weird on a digital device.
Superior Alternative(s): Kindle.
Notes: The Kindle app is very simple, but it works really well for reading. You get plenty of settings for brightness and fonts to make the reading experience better. Also, your bookmarks are synced across every device you can access your Kindle library on. The really nice part is you get text on a page — and that’s it. No weird formatting, and no book-style overlay. [clear]
Indictment: YouTube isn’t bundled into iOS 6. If you’re not upgrading to the new operating system yet, then you’re stuck with a pretty ancient YouTube player that doesn’t do much but play videos.
Notes: The official YouTube app is just fine for most people who want to watch a video now and again, but Jasmine really nails the experience. Jasmine is easy to use, and you can do everything you can on a desktop from within the app. [clear]
Indictment: Voice Memos is an incredibly simple app that can record audio, and then share that audio over Email, Messages, or in iTunes. While it works OK, its functionality stops there.
Notes: Audio Memos is great because it syncs recordings across Dropbox, Evernote and FTP. It also has handy features including lock codes and the ability to link recordings together. If you’re a hardcore Evernote user, the Evernote app also features recording options that link directly into your Evernote account. [clear]
Indictment: Notes is about as simple as it gets. It’s a writing pad that syncs with iCloud. Not everyone likes iCloud, and a lot of people aren’t fans of the ruled notebook appearance of Notes.
Notes: Depending on what you use Notes for, you have a couple of solid options. We’re huge fans of Simplenote because it makes syncing your notes across a variety of devices simple. It’s also a nice, minimalist writing environment with just a blank page and a spot for text. If you want the ability to organise those notes into different services, Drafts speeds up the process and lets you quickly jot down a note, and then send it off to a variety of different providers. [clear]
Indictment: Reminders is an exceptionally cool to-do list app that uses geo-fencing to remind you to perform tasks when you’re in a specific location. Unfortunately, they’re not particularly easy to set up and the Reminders app doesn’t come with a lot of options.
Superior Alternative(s): Checkmark
Notes: The nice thing about Checkmark is that it’s dead simple to use. Three taps and you have a location-based reminder. You don’t need to futz about in menus or anything else. Checkmark also works just like Apple’s Reminders app. When you’re in a certain area, you’ll get a notification reminding you to do something. As a trigger to get things done, it works remarkably well and is much easier to use than Reminders. [clear]
Indictment: Until iOS 6, the Music app hadn’t been updated or changed since the iPhone first launched. It’s now a little slicker looking, but it’s still the same experience.
Notes: Depending on what you want from a music player, you have a few different choices. Panamp is a much faster experience than Music, and even though it hasn’t been updated in a while it’s still a slick, easy-to-use experience. Track 8 is another visual overhaul, but it’s definitely a better option for anyone looking for a more graphically engaging player. If you’re not happy with Music’s boring playlist creation, then Groove 2 does it all for you automatically. Groove 2 creates smart, interesting playlists on the fly, and does a much better job of choosing music than Music. [clear]
Indictment: When Apple released its Podcasts app, it pulled those podcasts out of the default Music app and stuffed them inside an ill-fitting, counter-intuitive container. The Podcasts app’s best feature is the fact it auto-downloads new podcasts, but it’s not very easy to use, has an overly-complicated menu, and isn’t the prettiest thing to look at.
Notes: Downcast does everything the Podcasts app does, and it does it much better. You can also use it to create customised playlists, and turn your podcasts into your own radio station. If you’d prefer a podcast app that functions in a similar way to the old Music app, then Podcaster does the trick. [clear]
Indictment: The default Weather app is fine for quickly glancing at the current temperature and looking at the upcoming forecast, but its usefulness stops there.
Superior Alternative(s): Pocket Weather Australia
Notes: With data sourced directly from the Bureau of Meteorology, hourly forecast updates and suburb-by-suburb predictions, Pocket Weather Australia is a much better alternative to the built-in app. [clear]
Indictment: For most people, the default Calculator app is fine for a quick calculation, and the added scientific calculator in landscape mode fills in the gaps for most people. But if you need features like graphing, you’ll have to head into the App Store.
Superior Alternative(s): QuickGraph.
Notes: You have a lot of options for graphing calculators in the App Store, but QuickGraph is on the coolest of the free options. On top of normal calculator functions, you also get 2D and 3D plotting, a library of equations and photo library saving. [clear]
Indictment: The only real problem with the Videos app is that its playback is limited to just a few different formats. If you download a lot of videos in a variety of formats, Videos simply doesn’t do the trick.
Superior Alternative(s): GoodPlayer
Notes: GoodPlayer can handle a stack of different formats (way too many to list here). It’s also a perfectly functional video player that supports everything you’d expect, including subtitles, cropping and mirroring. That said, the stock Videos app has access to decoders the other video apps don’t and can often play in higher definition.