Skip to main content

10 essential iPhone apps

Loading an iPhone 5 with the right apps is a balancing act. Not having the ones you need when you need them can be a frustrating experience. Install too many, however, and you'll spend more time than may be worthwhile organising them and managing their data so that they don't eat up too much of your phone's memory.

Every iPhone owner knows "there's an app for that," no matter what "that" happens to be, but we wanted to pare down the enormous selection of apps to the ten we deem the most essential. All of these apps are free as well, as an added bonus, save for Dashlane which is still free in its basic form, but has a premium subscription.

The apps that made it to this list are meant for everyone, truly, whether you're a veteran iPhone user trying to clean up your apps, or a new convert to the iOS platform. We all need a little guidance when it comes to figuring out which apps to install from the hundreds of thousands that are in the App Store.

These ten iPhone apps are the ones we recommend every iPhone owner download, install, and actually use. Each of the apps that made this list represents some slice of mobile computing or mobile entertainment that we feel should be utilised: Productivity, organisation, social networking and communication, and so on.

This list does not include apps that are preinstalled on iOS 5 and 6 (nor features hidden in those operating systems, although you can find ten tips for iOS 6 here). Why not? Because you have no choice about whether you'll download them. They're already at your disposal, like it or not. But don't overlook those preinstalled apps because many of them add wonderful functionality to your smartphone experience, such as Reminders, Mail, and Calendar.

So without any further introduction, let’s push on with the ten apps themselves. And if you have suggestions for other essential apps, please do share them in the comments section below.

Brewster (free)

The Brewster iPhone app may be one of the most visually appealing contact managers you'll find, tapping into multiple social networks for images of people you know. It insists on having access to your iPhone Contacts and either Twitter or Facebook to work, though, which may be a showstopper for anyone who is anti-social networks. Brewster puts faces to names in an interface you can explore, though. That design choice may lead you to waste time (I got sucked into looking for pictures of people I didn't recognise), or it may aid your memory if you're someone who remembers people by their faces rather than company affiliation, location, or name. If you want to check out our full review of this app, head over here.

Dashlane (free, optional full subscription)

Dashlane is a simple and elegant password manager app for the iPhone that also adds auto-complete so you don't have to retype the same information over and over again. Like any password manager, you need to set one strong password for your Dashlane account, and all other passwords can be generated and saved automatically. The app is free to download and use, but you'll hit some limitations with the free version – notably, it doesn't log you into sites automatically without a Premium account, which costs $4.99 (£3) per month or $39.99 (£25) per year (or you can pay with loyalty-like points by referring friends to sign up for the service, too). Most importantly, Dashlane is extremely secure, keeping your information private and encrypted.

Evernote (free)

Everyone will tell you to download Evernote, but few are able to put into words why it is such an amazing service. The problem with convincing someone of Evernote's worth is it is a uniquely personal tool. Everyone uses it differently. To summarise, the free iPhone app synchronises notes of all kinds, like text notes, audio recorded notes or voice memos, and pictures, and then makes them all highly searchable. It doesn't sound exciting, but the moment you figure out your own use case for Evernote, I swear you will never look for a replacement (the company highlights different use cases on the Evernote blog; do have a browse of the site). The app excels as a pared-down word processing program, and Evernote integrates with dozens of other iPhone apps. When it comes to staying organised, keeping track of ideas, and writing things down, Evernote for iPhone does the heavy lifting for you.

Facebook (free)

With Apple's iOS 6, you can use some features of Facebook right from your phone, such as posting a photo taken with your iPhone to your Timeline, without even installing the app. The dedicated Facebook app, however, will keep you connected to your social network more fully. Even if you're not enthralled by Facebook, many of your friends and family probably are, and they doubtless use it to share important information that you might need to know. Whether you're an avid Facebooker or just an occasional user, the app helps you stay on top of the people and events all around you, which is reason enough to download it and log on. And for the time being, it still doesn't have advertisements (at least not beyond sponsored content that shows up in your feed).

Google Maps (free)

iPhone users around the world can stop heading to the wrong cities or dying of heat stroke while using Apple Maps, because Google Maps is back! Formerly included with every iPhone purchase, Google Maps got kicked to the kerb with the release of iOS 6. But fret not, it has returned – you just have to download it now. A new improvement to the tried-and-true Google Maps is it now has equal footing with the Android version of the app, including voice-enabled car navigation (technically in beta as I write this, but present nonetheless). To read up more on this app, see our full review here.

Google Translate (free)

Every time I use Google Translate to look up the meaning of some string of text in a language I don't understand, or translate from English something I want to write or say, I marvel at the world in which we live. Google Translate supports the real-time translation of dozens of languages, and even has a special speech-to-text translation for Afrikaans, Arabic, Mandarin Chinese, Czech, Dutch, English, French, German, Hebrew, Indonesian, Italian, Japanese, Korean, Malay, Polish, Portuguese, Russian, Spanish, and Turkish. Phew! Google Translate is quite simply an incredible resource.

Onavo Extend (free)

Onavo Extend reduces data usage on your iPhone, which means that if you're traveling abroad or just looking to stay more comfortably within your data plan, it's an essential app. Easy to use and highly customisable, Onavo compresses your data to decrease overall data consumption with almost no work on your behalf. It works automatically, and it works well. If you're interested in data collection in general, Onavo will treat you to all kinds of statistics about how you're using your phone with comprehensive data reports. It does not compress streaming video, however, and do note that the app does have a known issue with hotspots, which is resolved simply by turning the app off temporarily.

Snapseed (free)

Snapseed is a quality camera app which boasts non-destructive editing capabilities, powerful photo correction, localised adjustments, and many image enhancing effects. Snapseed also works very well when it comes time to share photos, integrating with all the major social networks, and it sports a clear and innovative interface. Moreover, Snapseed is the only iPhone app that even approaches the power of a desktop digital image editing suite, and is a must-have as a result. The fact that it’s now free (it used to be a few quid) is the absolute icing on the cake.

WebMD (free)

The free reference app WebMD is one that hopefully you won't ever need to consult, but the moment you do need it, you'll be glad you downloaded it. WebMD works as a diagnosis app, and contains first aid guides or simple instructions for dealing with all kinds of emergencies. Shouldn't everyone have something like this on them at all times? Parents in particular should have this app, but really, everyone ought to download a copy for those just-in-case moments.

Yelp (free)

I have a love-hate relationship with Yelp. There are aspects of Yelp, as a website and service, that will always make me shake my head, but as an app, it's still one of the most valuable tools available. While its utility varies from city to city – with even more unpredictable results beyond the urban landscape – Yelp pinpoints businesses by location, tells you if they're open right now, and gives you a rough estimation of whether they're places you need to go. Yelp's highly subjective user-written reviews should be read with more than a few grains of salt, but don't let that keep you from reaping the value of an excellent mobile service. When you need anything and you're in unfamiliar territory, Yelp can usually help.