Trying to find the perfect iOS apps can be tough, and we’re willing to bet that your iPhone or iPad is full of pages and pages of apps. There’s just so much out there, it’s hard to come up with a short list of favourites. We understand. Allow us to help you with our freshly updated Lifehacker Pack for iOS.
Yes, you can still use Mail, and it works reasonably well for most people’s basic email needs. As an alternative, we recommend checking out Microsoft’s Outlook (free) or Google’s Gmail (free), as both are great for managing multiple email accounts from different providers in a single, easy-to-use interface. Outlook comes with a bonus calendar built-in, as well as a special “Focused Inbox” feature that attempts to help you prioritise your out-of-control inbox and snoozing tools for bumping important emails back to the top of your queue. With more than 700,000 reviews and an average rating of 4.7 stars, to say Microsoft’s email app is pretty well-liked by its users is a bit of an understatement.
Google’s Gmail app is a perfect fit if you’re already bought into Google’s ecosystem, though it also makes it easy to connect up email accounts from other providers and manage your many messages at once. If you need a little help deciding which emails to tackle first, check out Google’s other email app, Inbox by Gmail (free).
If you don’t like either, there are plenty of other email apps worth investigating: Spark (free, though its data collection practices have made some users unhappy); Airmail (free, the iOS version of our Mac email app pick); Astro (free, comes with a free virtual helper called “Astrobot” to help you deal with your inbox); Edison (free, an email client with lots of positive reviews and a useful “unsub” feature for ditching newsletters you don’t want).
Calendar: Fantastical 2 ($4.49)
It might feel a little bit silly to pay $4.49 for a new calendar app when the one baked into your iPhone or iPad works fine for everyday use. I was surprised—but not that surprised—to find Fantastical 2 recommended over, and over, and over, by other users and other websites. It’s a must-have calendar app, even given its meager cost. The app’s interface looks great and makes it easy to see what’s on your schedule (or what’s coming up), featuring useful little dots to give you an at-a-glance indication of how busy you might be on any particular day. You can even pull iCloud reminders directly into your calendar, to make sure you don’t miss anything important coming up.
The app also does a great job helping you create events by just how seamless it makes it to use natural language to create new calendar items: “Taco Bell on Thursday at six p.m.,” for example. Even if you don’t have a lot of events to enter on your calendar, Fantastical 2 is the best for getting them scheduled and viewing them (and everything else you have to do) in a number of different ways. I’ve frequently seen this app referred to as an app Apple should have made instead of Calendar. It’s that good.
Other contenders I considered included Google Calendar, which is both easy-to-use and free, as well as Calendars 5 ($10.99), featuring a lovely looking interface that does an admirable job of packing in as many appointments as possible without forcing you to scroll), Timepage (free, which gives you a calendar whose dates get darker as your day gets busier), and Rooster (free, an app that focuses a bit more on giving you a comprehensive look at your daily schedule and tasks than a traditional calendar app).
Notes / To-Do: Bear (free-ish)
There are way too many notes and task management apps on the App Store. Way. Too. Many. We, and many others, are big fans of Bear (freemium; $21.49)/annual)—pricey as it is—because it’s a gorgeous app for both note-taking and tracking to-dos. It synchronizes effortlessly with its Mac version, as any good task-management app should, and both its automatic and manual tagging ensures you won’t miss any critical on your various lists (one hopes).
Bear’s search function is speedy and comprehensive; the actual process of creating notes is nearly effortless (and supports inline images); and you can even write up your tasks in Markdown if you want to get fancy. Tagging is as easy as adding a hashtag before any word in a note, and linking between notes to provide additional context for an item is an incredibly useful feature. You can export your notes in a variety of different formats, if you want, and you can even doodle your notes directly on your iPhone or iPad’s screen.
If you don’t want to pay to prevent forgetfulness from overtaking your life, you have plenty of other good options for tracking your tasks and writing little notes to yourself. Microsoft’s OneNote (free) is a great cross-platform app for dealing with everything from sketches to writing, whereas its To-Do app (free) is better for basic reminders. Google Keep or Tasks (free) are both strong choices, with the former good for notes of all formats and the latter ideal for simple text. Simplenote (free) also supports Markdown-based notes and is completely cross-platform.
Other paid apps we considered included Notability ($14.99), a highly reviewed app that’s great for those who prefer to handwrite notes and annotate documents. Todoist ($45/annual) is an excellent cross-platform task-management app that we love on the Mac, and its premium features (like automatic reminders and an activity overview) are useful, but super-expensive. Due ($7.99) has a great concept: It nags you to death until you finish something you’re putting off on your to-do list.
Before Apple goes and replaces its Workflow (free) app with Shortcuts, download it and check it out. It’s completely free to use and provides a great introduction toward automation: the art of having one thing do multiple things instead of having to do those multiple things manually. For example. using Workflow, you can use Workflow to automatically resize images to certain dimensions or convert them into a specific file format (like a .GIF). Or you can create a little button that automatically searches for the nearest gas station and pulls up directions—a useful little trick when you’re driving. You’re only limited by your imagination. Well, that, and the confines of the app.
IFTTT (free) allows you to create similar kinds of rules for a ton of supported devices and services. I’ve covered some fun things you can do with the app and service previously and, like Workflow, you can really get yourself lost with all the neat things you can do. My favourite trick? It’s a toss-up between “turn my room fan on and off when I connect and disconnect from my wifi” and “send all @ mentions on Twitter to a Slack channel so I don’t have to keep pulling up the website when I’m trying to work.”
Storage: Google One, Microsoft OneDrive, Amazon Drive, or Dropbox (various)
We’ve covered all the major cloud services. Odds are good you have a favourite (or two, or many) that you use, and odds are just as high that said service has an official iOS app you can download. Google One, Microsoft OneDrive, and Amazon Drive are our three favourites—in no particular order—for their ease of use and storage/price ratio.
Dropbox makes it on our list because a lot of people are familiar with it and its app is convenient for scanning documents and annotating others’ work. That said, its 2GB of free storage isn’t that much compared to the others and its paid-for plans don’t give you as much for their prices, either.
Customised Widgets: Launcher (free-ish)
If you’re tired of the widgets Apple (or your apps) give you, make your own with Launcher, a freemium app that’s a great way to bend your swipe-right screen to your will (technically called the “Today View”).
Pick people you want to call at the tap of a finger, customise the widgets you see by the time of day or your location, or set up a section that shows you all of your favourite apps and lets you launch whatever you want faster than it takes to navigate your many Home screen pages.
Reading articles later: Pocket (free-ish)
One of the easiest ways to keep all of those articles you swear you’ll make time for later is to use an app like Pocket (free-ish) to organise your procrastinating. Sure, you could just bookmark websites or share links into Notes, but Pocket brings with it a comprehensive tagging system and a recommendation engine that shows you the most interesting content everyone else has been checking out. I also love that Pocket now shows you how long it might take to read articles you’ve saved, in case your subway stop is coming up and you don’t want to start something you can’t finish.
If you’re a little busy and can’t view these must-read articles, use Pocket to save them for later—even if you can’t get a connection on the commute home, everything you saved will still be available for offline viewing. That’s the power of Pocket. And if you pay $US45 ($62) a year, you can unlock even more features like a huge archive of everything you’ve saved, a comprehensive search tool, and suggested tags for that which you’re reading.
Stop looking at your phone: Forest ($2.99) or Productivity Challenge Timer (free-ish)
If you’re a serial procrastinator, then you might want to spend a small chunk of change to grab Forest ($2.99) or Productivity Challenge Timer (freemium). Both apps approach the “stop looking at your device and start working” challenge differently. In the former, you’re growing trees. It’s cute, soothing, and fun. In the latter, you’re working your arse off so you don’t lose virtual levels.
Hey, whatever motivates you to get off your iPhone or iPad and get crap done.
Two-Factor Authentication: Authy (free)
I’ve used Google Authenticator for years, and it’s still a fine app, but I find myself more drawn to Authy (free) nowadays. It’s a great app to keep track of all your rotating keys for two-factor authentication—which you should enable on every service and site that offers it. You can lock the app with Touch ID, which gives you a little extra protection just in case someone gets their hands on your already-unlocked device.
Authy can also automatically back up your various security tokens to the cloud. It’s a lot easier to restore them or synchronise them to a new device versus setting everything up from scratch—assuming you remember all the sites and services you use security tokens with, you can get into your account, and you don’t get bored setting up two-factor authentication again.
Internet and Communications
We’re not going to try to convince you to switch to a browser that you don’t already love. Let’s also be honest with ourselves: A majority of mobile users prefer Chrome to Safari, and a very small handful use Firefox. (Too bad, too; Firefox Quantum—and Mozilla’s “test pilot” experiments—makes the browser worth revisiting.)
Our advice? Give all three a try and see which you enjoy best. And when you’ve settled on a browser, use it across all of your devices where possible (which limits you to just Chrome and Firefox, if you have any Android devices in your arsenal). Trying to juggle different browsers across different platforms is going to be a bit of a mess, and you’ll miss out on a lot of the cross-platform functionality each offers.
Messaging: WhatsApp Messenger, Facebook Messenger, or Google Hangouts (free)
Just like task management apps, there are a sea of messaging apps available on iOS. Odds are good you already have a few favourites you use regularly, if you don’t just stick to good ol’ Messages—now with iCloud synchronisation!
While your choice of messaging app largely depends on where all your friends and colleagues happen to be, the “Big Three” right now feel like WhatsApp Messenger, Facebook Messenger, and Google Hangouts. Each gives you different ways to chat with friends, whether you’re using simple text messages, stickers, images, GIFs, video calls, audio calls, et cetera.
I also wanted to take a moment to call out WhatsApp. I love the app’s built-in end-to-end encryption, which (sort of) protects your messages from outside snoopers, just like Apple’s encrypted iMessage and FaceTime chats. Facebook lets you jump into “secret conversations,” that also offer end-to-end encryption (and disappearing messages), but it’s not quite the same.
Also, if you’re big into the privacy of your messages, you should also consider an app like Signal. Wrap your secrets in end-to-end encryption and make them disappear from chat logs whenever you want—assuming the other party isn’t taking screenshots (or a picture of their device using another device), that is.
Same deal. There are way too many social networks you can use right now (and even new social networks emerging as hopeful alternatives to the social networks). It would take too much time to list them all, and it wouldn’t really matter because most people are on some version of the “big three.” That’s Facebook, Twitter, and LinkedIn.
No, we haven’t forgotten about Instagram, YouTube (technically a social network, too), Reddit, Pinterest, Tumblr, or anyone else. Use them, too. Or not. Or find another network. Start your own. Your call.
Weather: Carrot Weather ($7.99), Hello Weather (free-ish)
Everyone argues over which weather app is the best, and odds are good you’re going to pull up your favourite weather app one day, prepare for a sunny day, and get drenched on. It happens.
For a little more sass with your weather forecast, you’ll want to check out Carrot Weather ($7.99). You’ll get the same old weather data, but with a lot more personality. You can also view historical weather information, unlock weather- and travel-themed achievements, and switch to Weather Underground’s forecasts if, for whatever reason, you aren’t a fan of the default predictions.
Similarly, the freemium app Hello Weather might be worth the annual cost if you’re concerned with accuracy above all else. Pay for the yearly subscription, and you’ll be able to switch its weather sourcing between four different providers: Dark Sky, Accuweather, Weather Underground, or The Weather Channel. If you’re super-concerned about what the weather might look like for an important weekend, it doesn’t hurt to have a second (or fourth) opinion.
Dating: Bumble (free-ish), Coffee Meets Bagel, OKCupid
There are plenty of ways to meet people—whether you’re looking for friendships, casual fun, or a more serious relationship. And there’s always a new dating app, it seems, that has taken your demographic by storm. So, I fully acknowledge that we are likely behind and not recommending the hot new thing all your friends are using to hook up. Still, as far as general recommendations go, I think these three options are all worthy additions to your device.
On Bumble (freemium), women have the power: They’re the ones reaching out to men to make the initial contact post-match. (And if you’re looking for a same-sex relationship, anyone can message the other first. It’s no-holds-barred.) If said potential suitor doesn’t reach out within a day’s time, that’s it. Unless one of you extends the “match” for an extra 24 hours, the opportunity for love is lost forever. Also, bonus points to Bumble for its inclusion of a “Bumble BFF” mode, if you prefer friendships instead of amor.
Coffee Meets Bagel (freemium), based on everything I’ve read from those who use it, seems to be the place people go to actually find longer-term relationships instead of hookups. That’s not to say the latter doesn’t happen; it just doesn’t appear to be the app’s scene. Each day, you get a curated list of matches to pick from. You don’t have to troll through 200 pictures to find the next someone. Match up, and the app will put you in a direct chat with your special someone (and even prompt you with some ideas to get your conversation started).
OKCupid (freemium) should be a household name by now. It’s your quintessential dating service: You make a witty profile, people find you and express interest. That, or you make a witty profile and go find people that interest you. Either way, love is (potentially) in the air. Right? Don’t forget to answer all those many, many questions to help determine your true compatibility with everyone else.
Music, Photos, Video
Music Streaming: Apple Music, Spotify, Google Play Music, Amazon Music (varies)
As is the case with a number of our big categories, the streaming service you pick is largely a matter of preference. If you love the UI of a service’s app as much as you love its musical selection, that’s a win—and your tastes might vary wildly from your peers. All of the major streaming services have similar monthly prices: $11.99 Apple Music, and Google Play Music; $14.99 for Spotify Premium; $15.49 for Amazon Music Unlimited.
Generally speaking, Apple Music is probably the service I’d lean toward slightly on an iPhone, because it’s hard to resist Apple’s platform. It’s a lot easier to pull up songs via Siri if you’re an Apple Music subscriber than if you’re on Spotify, for example. That said, Spotify’s interface runs circles around Apple Music, and I generally prefer its playlists, but that’s not to say that the Apple Music playlists are bad. Again, your preferences largely dictate which app you’ll end up using, and each is worth a free trial before you start paying for a monthly subscription.
Podcasts: Overcast (free-ish), Castro (free-ish), or Pocket Casts ($5.99)
I read nothing but praise for Overcast, free if you don’t mind advertising and $US10 ($14) per year if you want a purer experience. Overcast has everything a great podcast app needs, like a lovely user interface that makes it easy to add all the podcasts you want to listen to and find new ones to binge. You can make custom podcast playlists if you like to balance out your Ira with a little Kai. You can have notifications fire off when new episodes of your favourite podcast are ready. You can adjust the playback speed to your preferences. You can even use Overcast in your car (if your system supports CarPlay). What’s not to love?
I’ve been a big fan of Castro (freemium) for a while; nothing against Overcast, it’s just the podcast player I’ve stuck with and it’s treated me well for years. It costs nothing to use and has no advertising to speak of, but you’re encouraged to pay extra ($US9 ($12)/annual) for features like automatic silence trimming, vocal enhancements, support for podcast chapters that you can skip between, and unlocking per-podcast customisation options (to name a few features).
A lot of people also like Pocket Casts ($5.99). It’s the cheapest option of the three by far, and it has plenty of similar features: silence trimming, volume boosting, speed adjusting, intro skipping, Carplay...ing, et cetera. There’s no trial version to speak of, so you’ll just have to trust Pocket Casts is the right option for you if you buy the full version. Having used it, I wouldn’t have a problem paying for it at all, and it’s leagues better than the default Apple Podcasts app.
I’ve gotten to know Obscura 2 ($7.99) thanks to Apple’s rare move of giving the app out to anyone who wanted it for a big, fat discount. As of when we published this guide, you still have time to get the app for free, so there’s no reason why you shouldn’t download it and try it out to give yourself even more features and settings settings to play with than Apple’s default Camera app. The best thing about the app is that it presents a ton of customisation within easy reach, and it does so without overloading you with options. Even fairly novice iOS camera operators should be able to figure out how to use Obscura 2 to get even finer control over that which they shoot.
Halide ($9.99) offers similar functionality and generally comes highly praised by those looking for a Camera app with more bells and whistles than Apple’s, but not one that’s too complex for everyday use. According to the developers, Halide allows you to take “the best selfies.” Say no more, Halide. Say no more. (But if you need more, we’ve covered this app extensively.)
If you’re more into video than photography, check out FiLMiC Pro ($22.99), an excellent third-party app for your iPhone or iPad. In addition to its multitude of features for shooting video, adjusting the parameters of video you’ve shot, and organising video, the companion app FiLMiC Remote ($14.99) allows you to see that which one device sees. In other words, you can get a live video feed of your iPhone’s front-facing camera on a nearby iPad, which can help you turn your boring desktop setup into a miniature studio.
One of these things is not like the other, we know. And while we took a little flak for it in our Lifehacker Mac Pack, VLC (free) is still an excellent app for playing videos on your devices (or streaming them from another device in your home, like a network-attached storage box). You probably won’t get as much use out of it on an iPhone or iPad as you would on a desktop or laptop PC, but it’s the app we’d go to if we needed to watch videos shot in all kinds of formats.
As for video streaming services, you have a lot to pick from—as always. The biggy is likely Netflix, and which has a monthly subscription cost that can vary based on the parameters you’re purchasing. Unlike Spotify, you won’t pay more for either service if you sign up via the app or the service’s official website (as of when we wrote this, at least).
And if you don’t mind some advertising, an app like Tubi (free) will give you free movies and TV shows to watch. YMMV on the quality of the available selections, however.
Health and Fitness
Working Out: Jefit (free-ish), Nike Training Club (free), C25K (free-ish), Strong Workout Tracker Gym Log (free-ish), Gymaholic (free-ish)
For general workouts, we like both Jefit (freemium) and Nike Training Club (free) because they both give you a wide range of workouts to learn about (and pick from) if you have absolutely no idea what to do at the gym or in that unused workout room in your home. You’ll pay extra for a subscription if you want access to Jefit’s fancier features, like more analytics and demonstration videos. Nike Training Club is completely free: What you see is what you get.
If you’re looking to get started with running, C25K (freemium), though intimidating at first, is a great way to help you train up to run your very first 5K. And it’s totally OK if you need to repeat a few days’ (or weeks’) worth of training. Go at the pace that’s most comfortable for you, because no matter what, you’re not just wasting your day away by sitting on the couch. That’s the important part.
And if you just want to go lift heavy things, there are apps for that too (go figure). We like the Strong Workout Tracker Gym Log (freemium) if you just need a solid way to keep track of reps for regular lifting. Gymaholic (freemium) helps you nail down your lifting technique and track your progress.
Regardless of your specific exercise focus, also consider checking out an app like Streaks ($7.99), which can help you stay motivated to, you know, actually work out on a regular basis.