The iPhone’s app selection is unparalleled, but it can be frustrating to sift through the thousands of options to find the best. For our third annual Lifehacker Pack for iPhone, we’re highlighting the apps that help you stay productive, connected, informed and entertained.
The Lifehacker Pack is a yearly snapshot of our favorite, must-have applications for each of our favorite platforms. If you’re curious to see how things have changed this year, here’s last year’s Lifehacker Pack for iPhone. For our always-updating directory of all the best apps, be sure to bookmark our iPhone App Directory.
Looking for an app in a specific category? Use the links below to jump around.
- Music, Photos, and Video
- Food and Entertainment
Sparrow may be the best app released for the iPhone this year. While Apple’s built-in mail client is completely serviceable, Sparrow demonstrates what it could. It’s almost indispensable for Gmail users, but Sparrow works with pretty much any other type of account, too. It’s fast, easy to navigate, simple to move mail around, and just generally a pleasure to use. It comes with one caveat, however: it doesn’t support push notifications. This won’t be a bother if you don’t enjoy finding out the very second an email arrives. If you do, you can always jailbreak and install Sparrow+. That’ll get you push notifications and all you to set it as the default client.
Simplenote is a key component in the holy grail of ubiquitous text capture, and rightfully so. It allows for speedy note entry on your iPhone, plus it syncs with the alsofree Simplenote service so your notes are always available wherever you want them.
Cue is a handy app that provides you with a rundown of your day without any input on your part. It scans your email accounts, calendars, and several other web services to get an idea of what’s going on in your life. It then repackages all that data into a more digestible, concise format that you can load up on your iPhone anytime. You can check the weather, see appointments (with contact information for people involved), let you know about birthdays, and more. It’s not an app that necessarily helps you do anything, or involves doing much, but it’s an app that’ll keep you on task and avoid forgetting the things that are important.
Orchestra is a wonderful, simple, to-do management app that you can use by yourself or with virtually anyone else with an email account. When you need to collaborate, you can just add people you know to a task whether they have Orchestra or not. Additionally, you can add tasks with voice recognition if you don’t feel like typing. You can send them in via email, too. Orchestra has lots of great features but it’s also very simple to understand and use. That’s a tough thing to pull off, but Orchestra does it admirably.
Instapaper and Pocket
Instapaper and Pocket both serve the purpose of saving web content for later reading, but both have their differences. Instapaper offers you a straightforward and simple way of reading saved content, but it costs $4. Pocket is a little more feature-rich, and is free. Both are great options, so check them out and see what you prefer.
When it comes to browsing your news feeds, Reeder is the way to go. In addition to a really pleasant, easy-to-use interface it comes with plenty of features to make feed reading better. In addition to Google Reader sync, it provides Readability support so the full text of an article easier on the eyes. You can also quickly share articles and save them to services like Instapaper.
If you haven’t used TripIt to manage your travel itineraries, you’ve been missing out. We’ve already discussed its merits, but the free iPhone app makes it even easier to manage your trip. It’s a natural extensions of the service, since if you’re traveling it’s more than likely that you’re not at your computer.
If you need to book a flight and/or a hotel, Hipmunk provides an agony-free search with lots of great features. You just decide where you want to go and you’ll get results organized any way you want. Hipmunk can even tell you if there’s Wi-Fi on your flight, plus a whole lot more.
Although still in its infancy, Chrome for iPhone is a very promising browser. Aside from a simple user interface and the wonderful omnibar, if you’re already a Chrome user on the desktop you’ll undoubtedly appreciate its ability to sync all your data. If you’re not a Chrome user or you don’t feel the app is quite ready to become your primary mobile browser, check out Doplhin instead. It’s pretty great all-around and offers a wider number of features.
Skype isn’t perfect, but it’s still one of the best ways to make VOIP calls and video chat on a mobile phone, regardless of whether you’re on Wi-Fi or cellular data. Even the pretty video quality is pretty good in either case. While there are plenty of calling alternatives, Skype is the most solid and versatile option.
If you’re a member of Google Voice, the official app will let you tap into your account to check your voicemail and text messages. Additionally, you can send messages and make calls from your Google Voice number. Because the iPhone is pretty much locked down, you can’t use Google Voice as your default dialer. That said, jailbroken iPhones can add the SMS GV Extension and the Phone GV Extension for full integration.
Instant messaging on your phone can get a little bit overwhelming, as a touchscreen phone isn’t made for rapid text-based communication with many people. Nonetheless, Imo does a really good job at helping you keep up with an influx of text messages. It has a really simple interface that’s easy to navigate, support for practically every IM service you could want, keeps a searchable chat history, and a lot more.
LuckyPhone is a great minute-saver, as the app that waits on hold so you don’t have to. If you’re calling a popular business, LucyPhone’s directory may even save you the step of going through the phone tree to get to the right department. While you might confuse the customer service representative on the other end, LucyPhone takes all the pain of waiting on hold—including the loss of your mobile minutes. (For more information, check out our quick review.)
The official Facebook app on the iPhone is great for general updates and messages, but it becomes especially useful when all your contacts flood in. If your address book is missing a number, just find your friend in the Facebook app and click the call button. You can also keep track of events, check your news feed, and edit your profile.
Tweetbot is an excellent Twitter client. It provides many of the features you’d expect and can get for free with the official Twitter app but with a smarter interface and some added functionality. Tweetbot has its own handy gestures for better navigation, customization options, push notifications with Boxcar (also part of this pack), and a lot more. It might be a little pricey for some at $3, but if you’re a Twitter addict you probably won’t mind.
Although Google+ hasn’t attracted a remarkable number of users, it’s still a popular social network. If you’re a member and an iPhone user, the app is kind of a must. Although nothing mindblowing, it’s preferable to using the Google+ site and keeps you up to date with notifications.
Waze is our favorite turn-by-turn navigation app for iPhone, and for good reason. Even though we’re excited to use the new Maps in iOS 6, which will offer up some serious competition, Waze is already ahead of the game in several areas. Because of its large community, you can find out about were police cars are stationed and be warned about accidents and closures. That’s already on top of general traffic reporting. Additionally, the latest version of Waze will help you find a cheap gas station wherever you are and even get you a discount in some cases. Those are just a few of its awesome features, and they’re all completely free.
You have quite a few fitness apps to choose from on the iPhone. One of those happens to be RunKeeper, and lucky us, it has a great free version. RunKeeper uses your iPhone’s GPS to track your run and provide you with statistics, giving you the statistical benefits of a treadmill when you’re outside the gym. It integrates with your music library and lets you share your activities. While the built-in Nike+ app is also pretty nice, RunKeeper doesn’t require the purchase of any additional hardware and lets you choose your brand of shoes.
Even if you’re not a MobileMe subscriber, you’ve probably heard a bit about Find My iPhone in the news. It’s already tracked down a few iPhone thieves, but is probably more commonly used when you’ve just misplaced your phone. It used to cost $99 with MobileMe, but Apple offers it up for free for all iDevices so there’s really no reason not to give it a try.
While it’s not for everyone, jailbreaking your iPhone opens up a world of new possibilities. Cydia is the hub where they reside. Often labeled the jailbreak app store, it allows you to download many more great apps that you can’t get through Apple. If you want full control over your phone, you’ll want to jailbreak it.
Would it truly be a Lifehacker Pack without file-syncing app extraordinaire Dropbox? While the iPhone version of Dropbox isn’t quite as useful as Dropbox on your computer, it makes for a nice companion. If you’re using Dropbox for all sorts of clever things, it’s always nice having access to your sync’d files from your phone. While the Dropbox app can download anything the iPhone (or a third-party app) can display, you can also save key files on your phone as well.
Slice is a phenomenal package tracker that doesn’t involve much effort to use. You simply connect it to your email account(s) and let it look for receipts. When it finds them, it’ll build a history of your purchases and pull any tracking numbers it finds as well. This way, if you want to track a package you simply need to open the app. Slice discovers new purchases as you make them, so if you want to see any updates all you have to do is look. If you want to learn more about what Slice can do, read this.
The iPhone’s file system isn’t available to the end user—at least without jailbreaking. As a result, sending files to and from your device isn’t the easiest thing in the world. Air Sharing makes it pretty simple, offering a variety of ways to get movies, PDFs, music, and other documents from your computer to your iPhone. It also happens to be a pretty good document reader as well. It’s a must for anyone who has a lot of stuff they want to take on their mobile.
Panamp is an alternative music player for your iPhone that uses a tree-based structure for your content. This makes it really easy to quickly navigate through all your songs and queue them up on the fly. If you like creating playlists on the go, Panamp is the music player you’ve always wanted. If you like a more traditional structure, however, the built-in iPod app will still do the trick.
If you listen to a lot of podcasts, you should be listening with Downcast. It does just about everything that’s missing from Apple’s iPod app. For starters, it downloads everything directly from within the app. It’ll work over 3G and Wi-Fi, plus you can set rules for when it uses the 3G connection to download and when it doesn’t. You don’t even have to download the files—you can stream them instead. There are plenty more features and you can read about them here.
Pandora’s always been a favorite on the iPhone, but it was kind of useless before multitasking support came around. Not much has changed since the release allowing it to play in the background, but nothing was really necessary. It’s still the same great Pandora, offering personalized radio stations free of charge.
When it comes to remotely accessing your iTunes library and streaming music via AirPlay, the Remote app is the best there is. It’s basically like using the built-in Music app, but you’re controlling a remote library instead.
StreamToMe and Air Video
StreamToMe and Air Video are both apps that help you stream video from your computer to your iPhone, no matter where you are. They’re especially compelling when you want to watch something at, say, the gym and you didn’t have time to transcode and sync it to your device first. Whether you’re connected to Wi-Fi or 3G, you can stream video directly to your phone from anywhere you are (the quality of your connection permitting, of course). Both apps have some subtle differences, such as StreamToMe’s ability to stream more than just video and Air Video’s option to pre-encode content for easier streaming, and either are worth the price of admission: $2.99.
Although Air Video and StreamToMe offer remote media streaming just like Plex, neither are as easy to set up. With Plex you just set your media folders, create an account, and log in with that account on any device. From there you can stream without any network configuration, plus you get the great home theater experience Plex provides for televisions. While you may prefer just streaming files and not worrying about a fancy interface, if you like what Plex has to offer it’s a must-download. One of my favorite bonuses that the app provides is the ability to watch something at home and then pick up right where you left off on your mobile.
If you’d like to keep your videos in their native format rather than use Air Video or StreamToMe to stream iOS-friendly versions, GoodPlayer can handle the task—if your hardware’s up to it. While GoodPlayer supports pretty much every video format you could need to play, it’s limited by your iPhone’s hardware. It tends to do better using the iPad’s A5 chip, claiming playback of even 720p MKV files. It’s a very capable player, but it’ll be significantly more useful once the hardware catches up.
It’s hard to consider any of the iPhone ebook readers the best choice because they’re pretty similar. They all let you read on your phone, they all let you purchase books, and they’re all free to download. While I’m partial to the Kindle app, it’s mainly because I started with ebooks via the Kindle. Pick the ebook app that works the best for you—or don’t, since they’re all free downloads.
Instagram is a wonderful little social camera app that lets you take pictures, apply neat vintage-style filters, and share your images across the web on various social sites and photo sharing services. It’s fast, it’s free, and it’s pretty addictive.
Camera+ pretty much turns your phone into a feature-rich point-and-shoot camera. Not only is it really fast at snapping photos, but it can enhance them, remove red eye, add special effects, and a whole lot more. It also comes with great features for taking the pictures themselves like stabilization and digital zoom that doesn’t completely suck. It’ll cost you $2 but it’s worth it if you’re really into taking pictures with your phone.
MenuPages isn’t necessarily the best at discovering new food, but choosing a restaurant can often depend on what’s on the menu. This app gives you access to the content of the popular web site when you’re away from the computer.
IMDb is a great resources for movie information, and the app does a good job of focusing a lot of information onto your iPhone’s small screen. What’s also great about the IMDb app is that it also serves as an excellent free option for finding movie showtimes.
TV Forecast performs the simple function of keeping track of when the next episode of any show is going to air. Enter in just about any show that’s currently running and TV Forecast will provide you with an attractive schedule tailored just for you. While you can grab the free version of TV Listings instead and save yourself $1.99, TV Forecast is a better option.
The Netflix app does one important thing: allows you to stream content from your instant queue directly to your iPhone (or other iDevice). You can also search for titles and make (instant) queue adjustments, but those features come second to being able to stream Netflix to your phone. If you’re looking to catch up on a few TV episodes or even want to watch a movie, you’ll piss off David Lynch but you can do it.