It’s pretty amazing to think that Apple’s mobile operating system is already nearly 10 years old, with the recently released iPhone 7 shipping with iOS 10. The first iPhone couldn’t even run third-party apps, if you can imagine that, but since then those apps have been paramount to the phone’s success. There are now roughly 2 million apps available, ranging from the excellent to the awful.
It’s not hard to find great lists of the best apps to load into your iPhone and iPad, if you want to load up on crowd favorites such as Facebook, Instagram or Spotify. But the App Store conceals a wealth of apps that might not have gotten any widespread accolades. With the iPhone 7 on its way, we thought we’d sift through the App Store to bring you more hidden gems — apps that don’t always make the “Best Of” lists, but deliver fantastic utility or interesting new features to your iPhone or iPad.
The apps on this list cover the basic functions most of us perform with our phones: communication, entertainment, and finding information, whether local or general. In addition to being among the most widely used and most useful examples of mobile software, most share another welcome attribute: All of them are free to use, though a few have optional subscription pricing for added functionality.
Without the Evernote app for iPhone, we’d be a lot less productive while we’re away from our desks. This free, straightforward note-taking app outdoes the competition thanks to its strong search capabilities and effortless organization. But the real key to its success and popularity is that Evernote synchronizes all your files by saving them to a cloud service, meaning anything you create or alter on your iPhone will be there waiting for you when you log into any other version of Evernote.
Patronus is a personal security app that provides location sharing as well as an enhanced mobile 911 service that helps dispatchers locate you immediately based on your mobile phone’s GPS sensors. An “On My Way” feature allows users to share their location and destination with contacts so they can watch your progress on a map link; when you arrive, the app sends a message to confirm your arrival and shuts off location sharing. Patronus’s standout feature is its enhanced 911 system, which assists in forwarding your location to 911 (rather than having to rely on less precise cell towers), or displays your exact location to easily notify the dispatcher. In addition, trusted contacts are automatically notified of your emergency calls. Lockscreen support, notification widgets and Apple Watch support let you quickly shoot out an emergency call even on a locked phone.
Flipboard, an app initially designed for the iPad that curates content from your social networks and Web partners (think periodicals, blogs, etc.) based on your interests and turns them into stunning magazine-like digital pages, is now available on the iPhone. The app is free to download and requires a free user account. Flipboard absolutely shines on the iPad, taking advantage of swiping gestures with both visual and interactive grace, and it’s still elegant on the iPhone, despite the smaller screen.
Jogging is a great way to get a bit of exercise, but unless you’re a native that knows the lay of the land, it can be tough finding a good and safe jogging route when you’re traveling. Enter RunGo, a mobile app that serves as run tracker and navigation aid, allowing users to discover new jogging routes, complete with voice navigation to help guide you through unfamiliar locales. Users can download routes for offline use, start routes halfway or create their own within the app. Coolest of all, premium subscribers can access “guided tours,” verified routes created by local runners through safe and scenic areas, with the app announcing points of interest and other interesting information.
Of all the music streaming apps in the Apple App Store, Slacker Radio’s beats seem to pound the hardest. The same outstanding service you’ll find in Slacker Radio’s online version is on the iPhone and has been for a long enough time for the company to have massaged the interface and performance to the point that you can appreciate it audibly.
WhatsApp’s move to fully encrypted communication made the headlines recently, but it’s actually a bit late to the party. For something a bit more robust, check out Open Whisper System’s Signal, a free all-in-one messaging and voice-call solution that uses end-to-end encryption. You can send text messages, voice calls, group messages, media and attachments to your phone contacts, all without having to mess with PIN codes or special login credentials. Ease of use and strong, open-source, regularly audited encryption make it a favorite of the security-conscious.
The most comprehensive business-reviewing app, Yelp turns out to be an invaluable tool for finding restaurants, stores, and services nearby, especially when you’re in a town you don’t know well. Yelp’s mobile app has helped Jill find a hairdresser when she was in a pinch in Washington D.C. and a suitable lunch while driving through Ohio. Michael finds the restaurant ratings consistently reliable. And you can find good local spots worldwide with it, not just in the US.
Doorsteps Swipe is real estate Tinder, helping you skim through a variety of nearby rental and for sale properties with a quick swipe on your phone screen. The app puts you in touch with a wealth of up-to-date real estate listings locally and across the country, which you can filter by location, pricing, rental/for sale or other parameters. The app also learns from your swipes to better tailor itself to your preferences. Users can view detailed information on their saved swipes, such as amenities, pet policies and open house schedules.
9.IF by IFTTT
IFTTT is a neat task automation tool built around the idea of If (This), Then (That), from which the app takes its name. IFTTT can take triggers from a variety of channels (which can be everything from popular services such as Facebook or Twitter to smart devices), which can then be set to activate actions on other channels. IFTTT comes with a wealth of templates, available in curated collections, or in featured, trending or all-time favorites. Users can easily pick and choose, modify or create their own recipes to help automate their lives.
Every once and awhile, you may find yourself needing to use public Wi-Fi, even though you’ve read about how unsafe it is. This is why the Cloak VPN service for iOS is so important, as it protects your activity when browsing on unsecured and untrustworthy open networks. The app is a free download, but service plans start at $2.99 per month.