Apps are the cornerstone of the iPhone – what really set it apart from Android. The best iPhone apps are typically best in class.
However, finding the greatest apps among the millions available isn’t easy, and so we’ve done the hard work for you.
Our lists compile the very best the iPhone has to offer, whether using your iPhone for photos, video, drawing, music, office tasks, reading, maps, weather forecasts or keeping kids entertained.
This round-up compiles our favourites, from top-quality creative tools and video editors to the finest productivity kit and social networking clients.
In addition to our ongoing list of the absolute best, every week we're adding our picks for the latest and greatest new or updated apps, so check back often.
Even if you don't have an iPhone right now, it's worth reading up on what's available if you're considering investing in the iPhone XS or even one of the older models (if you need more info, check out our list of the best iPhones) - but note that some of these titles will only work with models from iPhone 5S and later.
Read on below for our free app pick of the week then click through to the following pages for the best iPhone apps across a range of categories.
iPhone app of the week: ChillScape
ChillScape is an interesting curiosity. In a sense, it’s reminiscent of Brian Eno and Peter Chilvers’ Bloom, in that it involves meditative, ambient audio and a screen full of circles. The main difference here is that instead of creating discs that disappear into the background, you’re popping them like bubbles.
The idea is to relax into the audio and visuals. Rather than frantically popping discs, you should approach them thoughtfully and mindfully. Over time, more bubbles appear, and the audio shifts to add frequencies that claim to aid calm and stimulate euphoria, as a background beat gradually slows to reduce your heart rate.
Naturally, audio is subjective, and so the sounds used may not work for you; but if they do, Chillscape should prove a pleasurable yet absorbing way to unwind.
Best iPhone photo editing and camera apps
These are our favorite iPhone apps for editing snaps, capturing photos and video and applying the filters that actually make things look good.
Glitch Art Studio
- Free + $4.99/£4.99/AU$7.99 IAP
Glitch Art Studio is an impressive and arresting photo effects app that brings texture and character to even the most mundane snap. This is achieved by way of slathering on all kinds of distortion effects, up to the point where you’re left with something that’s barely recognizable as a photograph.
We’re not kidding. The first few presets (available in the free app) give you an indication of what’s in store, making videos and stills alike look as if they’re being displayed on an ancient, very broken television. But further filters come across like you’re stuck inside a kaleidoscope or are having a full-on hallucinogenic episode.
If the presets don’t do it for you, you can make custom ones by working with a slew of settings; and when done, you can output your eye-popping miniature masterpieces as stills or videos.
- Free + $1.99/£1.99/AU$2.99
Visionist uses neural networks to ape various types of artwork. Load a photo and it’s instantly reworked as a virtual painting that resembles something expensive you’d find hanging on a gallery wall.
Pay for the IAP and you get 70 styles (10 come for free). They could do with being grouped and labeled, but you do at least get control over how they’re applied: each style offers three levels of abstraction; and there are settings for how it interacts with the original imagery.
Additionally, modern iPhone owners can play with depth – Portrait shots get further options for refinement, and depth data is preserved for the likes of Facebook 3D photos. Canvas prints and high-res exports cement Visionist as more than just another arty filters app.
Camera+ is a combined camera and editor. Despite the wealth of available options, the interface is initially quite minimal, with a modes strip across the top of the screen, a zoom slider, and the shutter. But tap the + button and you reveal further modes, including a timer, a stabilizer and smile detection.
Similarly, tap the viewfinder area and Camera+ enters a ‘pro’ mode, with manual controls, and scene options for shooting under specific lighting conditions. The interface is finicky compared to Obscura 2, but Camera+ is undoubtedly powerful.
Post-shooting, you can edit with adjustment tools, filters, and frames in the Lightbox. This all comes across as impressively friendly and straightforward, and although the range of tools doesn’t compare to Snapseed’s, it’s enough to keep you within the one app for the most part.
Oilist is a generational art app. You feed it something from Photos, choose a style, and it gets to work, continually repainting your image. It’s like someone’s trapped a tiny van Gogh in your iPhone.
In fact, it’s like a slew of artists are stuck in your device, because Oilist has a massive range of styles to choose from, taking in everything from classic oil painters through to modern art. Although the app can be left alone in a dock, you can capture stills for posterity, or fiddle with settings (including brush strokes, mood, ‘chaos’ and gravity) to redirect the virtual artist.
Whether you interact or just sit back and watch, Oilist is mesmerizing – kind of like a painterly lava lamp, only what you see is based on one of your own cherished photographs.
Snapseed is a free photo editor with a feature set that rivals the very best premium apps. It’s geared towards users of any level, from those who fancy applying quick filters to anyone who wants to dig deep into adjustments and powerful editing tools.
The range of options is dazzling, and the interface is smartly conceived. You can crop, make adjustments, and edit curves, all with a few swipes and taps. Often, vertical drags select parameters, and horizontal drags define an effect’s strength – tactile and intuitive. Even better, edits are non-destructive, and can be removed or changed at any point by accessing them in the edits stack.
As a final sign off, the app enables you to save any combination of adjustments as a custom preset, which you can then apply to any image in the future with a single tap. Superb stuff.
Obscura 2 is the best manual camera app for iPhone. It achieves this not with a slew of features, but by providing an interaction model that’s so brilliantly conceived that you simply won’t want to use another iPhone camera.
Echoing manual cameras of old, everything is based around a contextual wheel that sits above the shutter. Initially, you use it to select a tool. When setting focus or exposure, the wheel enables you to make fine adjustments with your thumb. You get a real feel of precision control, with optional haptic feedback confirming your choices.
The app makes the odd concession to modern photography trends with a range of filters, but mostly Obscura 2 wants you to think a little more about what you’re snapping, all while breathing in its minimal yet approachable and deeply pleasing design.
Filmborn is an app for camera obsessives – for those who revel in the joys of film, but come away unimpressed with apps that present an over-saturated, overblown take on old-school photography.
The interface is icon-heavy, but gives you fast access to tools that will improve your photography. There’s manual focusing, a range of grid overlays, and a blown highlights preview that outlines problematic areas of a potential snap.
The film filters will appeal to fans of real-world stock, subtly transforming images in a manner that’s pleasingly realistic. Filmborn even educates you regarding when’s best to use each one. The app also includes basic editing functionality, although a key tool – curves – frustratingly sits behind IAP.
Despite that niggle, Filmborn is well worth checking out if you fancy fusing photography’s past with its present.
- Free + $1.99/£1.99/AU$2.99
Retrospecs is a camera app that wants you to see the world as if it was being rendered by ancient computing and gaming hardware. Load a photo – or take one using the app – and you can select from a wide range of systems, such as the Game Boy, Commodore 64, and original Mac.
But this isn’t just a single-tap filter app for aficionados of pixel art. You can adjust dither, image corruption, and virtual CRT distortion. You get animation effects and video support. And should you get fed up with the included emulated systems, you can even make your own.
So whether you believe all your photos should look like an eight-bit video game or want to add a crazy glitch sequence to your next YouTube video, Retrospecs fits the bill perfectly.
Halide wants you to focus on deliberate, thoughtful photography. Its creator has remarked that many camera apps now have interfaces like airplane cockpits, and Halide was stripped back accordingly.
That’s not to say Halide is bereft of features, but those it has are all about taking better photos. You can adjust focus and exposure manually, and use ‘focus peaking’ to highlight areas of sharp contrast within the frame, and the grid overlay’s central rectangle turns yellow when your phone is held straight.
If you have a modern iPhone, Halide offers a groundbreaking depth mode with ‘depth peaking’ and a depth map preview. You can also view portrait photos in augmented reality.
The net result of all this is a premium camera app that feels like a professional tool – money well spent if your idea of photography isn’t based around filters and stickers.
Afterlight 2 is a powerful photo editor for your iPhone. All the basics are there, including one-tap filters, cropping, and brightness/contrast sliders. Itls more professional features allow you to manipulate curves, selective hue/saturation/tone controls, filter editing, and a double exposure tool for Lomography fiends.
A highlight, though, is the text tool. It’s a cinch to add words to your pictures, and fine-tune everything with custom leading, kerning, and erasing. In fact, the entire interface feels very considered – there’s a lot going on in this app, but it remains approachable throughout.
One misstep is that edits are destructive – although there’s unlimited undo, you can’t remove a specific step unless you eradicate all the work you did afterwards. Otherwise, this is an excellent app, and one that wisely doesn’t mess about with subscriptions and IAPs – even additional pro-designed filter packs are free.
- Free + $1.99/£1.99/AU$2.99 IAP
Pic Collage offers ways to quickly turn some photos into something special, and the best mode is Grids. You select some images, which Pic Collage automatically drops into a grid layout. If you’re not keen on what you get, you can choose something different, add a background, or manually fiddle with the dividers.
Double-tap an individual image and you get further tools, including an ‘effects’ area that’s not far off a fully-fledged photo editor. You can add stickers and text to your masterpiece, and even doodle over the top of everything. If you fancy something more structured, the Cards mode offers predefined card layouts, and Freestyle lets you go entirely freeform.
Everything can be tried entirely for free, but exports have watermarks. Be rid of those for a one-off IAP that’s very much value for money.
ProCam 5 is an iPhone camera app with a lot of options. Not one for minimalists, then, but the app’s design is such that while it could have drowned you in a bewildering array of options, it actually ends up being very usable.
The main camera shoots to RAW, TIFF or JPEG, and optionally shoots HDR. There are several modes (burst, night, slow shutter, and so on), and you can manually tweak ISO, exposure, shutter speed, and focus.
Usefully, you can also opt to shoot only when your iPhone is perfectly still; and there are handy visual guides, too, including a focus peak meter, a grid of thirds, and a tilt meter.
When you’re finished shooting, you can delve into a capable editor for trimming, perspective correction, frame-by-frame video clip review, and the application of lenses and filters. It’s very comprehensive, making for a high-value package.
MaxCurve is a photo editor aimed at people who want more control over adjustments. The app includes the basics – cropping; vignettes; sharpness; grain – but its real power is in the curve tools that afford a huge amount of control over color, lightness, saturation, and other aspects of your photo.
The approach is very different from most of MaxCurve’s contemporaries, and, notably, the curves take up a lot of room, sitting in front of the image you’re editing. But they do provide a very tactile means of making everything from subtle tweaks to dramatic changes.
These effects are all non-destructive, too, applied as layers, to which you can also add colors (with blend modes) and textures. Bar its slightly cluttered interface, the only real problem with MaxCurve is it can be a bit too clever – there are no quick-fix buttons for things like exposure. But perhaps that’s the point.
Modern iPhones have some seriously impressive camera hardware, and are capable of taking clean, vibrant shots. So it’s perhaps no surprise that iPhone users are often hell-bent on slathering said images in filters and messing them up.
Mextures is a decidedly extreme example, providing a theoretically unlimited number of layers to play with, each of which can have some kind of effect applied. These include grit, grain, light leaks, gradients, and more.
Because each layer can be fine-tuned in terms of opacity and blend mode, you can get anything from subtle film textures to seriously eye-popping grunge effects.
Hit upon something particularly amazing and you can share your ‘formulas’ with other people. Or if you’re in need of a quick fix, you can grab something that’s already online to overhaul your snaps.
There are two sides to Hipstamatic. In its ‘native’ form, the app apes old-school point-and-click cameras. You get a tiny viewport inside a virtual plastic camera body, and can swap out lenses, film, and flashes, along with messing about with multiple exposures and manual shutters. It’s pleasingly tactile and twangs your nostalgia gland, but feels a bit cramped.
If you’d rather use your entire iPhone display to show what you’re snapping, you can switch to a ‘pro’ camera mode. That’s closer in nature to Apple’s own Camera, but with Hipstamatic’s huge range of rather lovely filters bolted on – a great mash-up of old and new.
And if you’re wedded to Apple’s camera, Hipstamatic’s still worth a download, given that you can load a photo, slather it in filters, add loads of effects and bask in your creative genius.
Apple offers a burst mode when you hold down the shutter in its camera app, but this is for very rapidly taking many shots in quick succession, in order to select the best one.
By contrast, SoSoCamera is about documenting a lengthier slice of time, taking a series of photos over several seconds and then stitching them together in a grid.
The grid's size maxes out at 48 items and can be fashioned however you like. It's then just a question of selecting a filter, prodding the camera button, and letting SoSoCamera perform its magic.
The resulting images, while low-res in nature, nicely capture the feel of time passing, in many cases better than video; although do experiment first with the filters, because some are a bit too eye-searing.