The best iPhone reference apps

So you own an iPhone, and you want to know what the best apps for Apple’s smartphone are, naturally enough. After all, the reason that many folks choose Apple is for its famous app ecosystem.

Recently, we looked at the best Android apps across a number of articles, splitting them up into different categories such as utilities, reference, games and so forth (see the final article in that series here, which has links to all the others in the introduction).

Starting from today, we’re going to do exactly the same with the iPhone, beginning with the best reference apps.

Throughout this series of articles, which will run over this week and next, we’ll pick out apps which are the top dogs in their respective categories. Do note, though, that we’re going to leave out the apps which come bundled on your iPhone to begin with (iTunes, Siri, and so forth).

And also note that if you don’t want to follow such an in-depth examination of iPhone apps, and would rather see just a short summary of the most important software, you can simply check out our 10 essential iPhone apps article.

Furthermore, some of these apps cost money. If you’re not keen on spending, and would rather look at a list of the best free apps, then see our Top 30 must-have free iPhone apps.

Finally, if you know of a great app that we haven’t covered, please tell us about it in the comments section below. If you have time, give us the full name of the app, price, and a short description so other readers can learn about your favourites, too.

Right, let’s get on with looking at the best in iOS reference apps, which includes the likes of Dictionary.com, Wikipedia and Wolfram Alpha. By the way, if you want to download an app, simply click on the title, which links to the app in iTunes.

What makes the Dictionary.com app useful is the fact that the information is local. Rather than wait for the website Dictionary.com to load, you can look up dictionary definitions immediately from the app. The free version of the app has advertisements, but if you can’t stand ads, you can always fork out £1.99 for the ad-free version of the app instead.

Google Maps, which was once included with all iPhones, is now an app that you have to download separately – and you should. Google Maps has proven itself more accurate than Apple's own map app, with turn-by-turn directions for cars, pedestrians, and public transport info. With Google Maps, you'll see estimated travel times, integration with your Google account for quick access to your home and work addresses (optional), and the ability to rotate the map using a two finger twist gesture. If you want to know more about the app, check out our full Google Maps review.

With more than 30 languages supported, the Google Translate app is one of the most remarkable programs you can load onto your iPhone. It delivers impressively accurate results most of the time. Most people probably won’t need it too often, except when traveling or studying a language, but it can be amazingly useful in unexpected circumstances.

The HealthTap app gives you access to health professionals who are willing to answer your health questions. It's free to download and free to ask questions, but if you want your answer expedited or have a specific doctor in mind for your query, it charges for that. You can also see questions that other people have asked and the answers provided, as well as use an interactive symptoms checker to find information about whatever ails you. It's a great resource for professional, non-emergency medical advice.

"What was the name of that movie… the one with Ally Sheedy and Fisher Stevens?" The next time you can't remember the name of an actor, television show, or film (it’s Short Circuit, by the way) IMDb saves the day. One of the handiest reference websites on the planet, IMDb never fails when it comes to looking up anything to do with TV, film, or Hollywood. The IMDb Movies & TV app also lets you find which movies are playing at your local cinema, and you can even purchase tickets. With an IMDb account (free or paid for Pro), the app provides even more features, like the ability to create a watchlist of movies you want to see.

Half the fun of having a smartphone is looking things up when you're in the middle of a bar bet – and hopefully being right. Wikipedia is the go-to source for fact checking in the mobile age, and the Wikipedia app usually returns results faster than a mobile search engine. Of course, bear in mind that Wikipedia isn’t infallible.

In basic terms, WolframAlpha can be thought of as a maths and science version of Wikipedia. It's a great source of information for expert knowledge and computation about virtually anything, from basic algebra to the depths of the universe. The app stores a vast collection of algorithms and data to compute answers and generate reports that you may need, or simply be curious to investigate. Parts of WolframAlpha are compatible with Siri (in iPhone 4S/5 only).