Fifty essential apps for new iOS device owners

Maybe you were lucky enough to wake up Christmas morning to find an iPad under the tree. Maybe one of the first six nights of Hanukkah has brought a brand new iPod touch into your life. Maybe you decided to treat yourself to an iPhone this holiday season. Whatever the reason, you find yourself the happy owner of a brand new iOS device. But still there’s that nagging question:

What now?

Your iPhone, iPod touch, or iPad is pretty powerful right out of the box. Apple has seen fit to load up a number of yourself apps, from the Safari mobile browser all the way down to widget that tells you what the hourly forecast looks like. But your iOS device can do so much more. The App Store is bursting at the seams with great third-party apps that can deliver even greater capabilities to your mobile device. The challenge: Where to start in a store that claims more than 500,000 apps?

We can help. We recently named our top iOS apps of 2011. If those 32 offerings don’t entice you, we named dozens of others as honorable mentions for our App Gems awards. Still, the first-time iOS device owner may have different needs. With that in mind, we asked our editors and app reviewers to name a handful of downloads they’d suggest to someone just getting started with an iPhone, iPod touch, or iPad. We’ve organized those picks by App Store category for easy browsing. We’re sure there’s more than a few apps that can get your iOS experience started on the right foot. (And if you’d rather not pay anything for your new apps, we also recommend 10 great free apps for the iPhone and iPad.)

Books

The Monster at the End of This Book: I hate to break this to you now, but if you have kids, chances are your iOS device is going to spend some significant time in their hands. Why not make sure there’s an app on your iPhone or iPad that they can enjoy? This ebook adaptation of the beloved children’s book makes great use of the iOS interface to draw young readers—and you—into the story.—Philip Michaels

The Monster at the End of This Book: $4; Optimized for iPhone, iPod touch, and iPad

Education

Star Walk

Star Walk: If you’re the kind of person who, at night, looks to the heavens and questions “What’s that?” Star Walk is for you. Also available in an iPad edition ($5), Star Walk is a great app for identifying and learning more about objects in the night sky.—Christopher Breen

Star Walk: $2; Optimized for iPhone and iPod touch

Entertainment

Drawing Pad: Drawing Pad offers a variety of art utensils (markers, paint brushes, crayons) and paper styles—as well as the ability to import your own photos—for endless doodling fun. Harried parents know: It’s a great distraction for young kids.—Joel Mathis

Drawing Pad: $2; Optimized for iPad

Games

Angry Birds: Evil green pigs have stolen a flock of flightless birds’ eggs, and the birds want revenge. In this clever physics-based puzzle app—or its multitude of App Store follow-ups—you need to slingshot several uniquely talented birds towards the pigs’ fortifications, utilizing each bird’s ability in an attempt to clear the stage of pigs before you run out of avian ammo.—Chris Holt

Angry Birds: $1; Optimized for iPhone and iPod touch

Carcassonne

Carcassonne: Featuring gorgeous graphics and excellent gameplay, Carcassonne takes all the fun of the family-friendly board game and puts it on the iPad and iPhone. The app’s best features are its extensive multiplayer support (on a single device, on your local network, or over the Internet) and its ruthlessly good computer opponents.—Jason Snell

Carcassonne: $10; Optimized for iPhone, iPod touch, and iPad

Crosswords: Need a ten-letter word for the best iOS crossword puzzle app around? Crosswords draws puzzles from multiple sources, including The Onion A.V. Club, Chronicle of Higher Education, People Magazine and, if you’ve got a subscription to the New York Times, the Gray Lady herself. The ability to quickly grab all the latest puzzles, support for “ink” or “pencil” entries, and syncing between iOS device make this app an easy solution.—Dan Moren

Crosswords: $10; Optimized for iPhone, iPod touch, and iPad

Cut the Rope: In this adorable kid-friendly puzzle game, your goal is to guide a piece of candy to a hungry dinosaur named Om Nom. But cutting the rope is only part of the challenge, as you’ll need to circumvent obstacles, plan your moves, and time your actions with little margin for error. You wouldn’t want Om Nom to go hungry, would you?—Chris Holt

Cut the Rope: $1: Optimized for iPhone and iPod touch

Flight Control: In Flight Control, you play as an air traffic controller who needs to draw a route for every aircraft on the screen to land safely, ensuring that each craft avoids the others in an increasingly-crowded sky. Quick reflexes and the ability to multi-task will help you excel in this iPhone game (or its iPad counterpart) that escalates quickly but never stops being fun.—Chris Holt

Flight Control: $1; Optimized for iPhone and iPod touch

Fruit Ninja

Fruit Ninja: Whether on the iPad or in this iPhone offering, Fruit Ninja brings out the katana-wielding maniac in all of us. Simply flick your finger across the screen and watch as you expertly carve up a piece of produce. But as each stage devolves into a chaotic display of flying fruit, exploding juices, and deadly bombs— only then will you know if you are truly a Fruit Ninja master.—Chris Holt

Fruit Ninja: $1; Optimized for iPhone and iPod touch

Quordy: My favorite iPhone game is basically Boggle, in which you form words from a random collection of letters by tracing them out with your finger. It’s beautifully implemented, especially in how it handles head-to-head play with your friends. (My Quordy record against my wife is currently 35-78, but that hasn’t stopped me from playing. It’s fun even when I’m being beaten into a pulp.)—Jason Snell

Quordy: $3; Optimized for iPhone and iPod touch

Scrabble for iPad

Scrabble for iPad: Pricey? Yes. Worth it? Absolutely. (And if you time your purchase right, you might be able to get this game or its iPhone counterpart for just $1 as part of a holiday-themed sale for Electronic Arts apps.) Challenge the computer, or play against friends via Facebook or over Wi-Fi networks. And you can use your iPhone as the tile rack for your letters and “flick” them to the gameboard on the tablet.—Joel Mathis

Scrabble for iPad: $10; Optimized for iPad

Super Stickman Golf: Every iOS device needs a game, and few can rival the combination of hilarity and frustration that Super Stickman Golf offers—particularly when you try out the powerful multiplayer capability. It’s all about your aim and physics as you navigate the game’s plentiful, colorful courses.—Lex Friedman

Super Stickman Golf: $1; Optimized for iPhone, iPod touch, and iPad

Tiny Wings: Tiny Wings demonstrates that the simplest of games can often be the most challenging. Utilizing a simplistic “one button” control scheme that is easy to pick up and tough to master, you must guide a tiny flightless bird as it hops, skips, and slides through multiple islands before the end of each day.—Chris Holt

Tiny Wings: $1; Optimized for iPhone and iPod touch

Words With Friends: Fans of word games will love this Scrabble-like game, which lets you play multiple games—with friends or complete strangers—simultaneously over the Internet. When it’s your turn in any game, the app uses an iOS notification to alert you; an in-game chat feature lets you trash talk (using big words, of course). I’m highlighting the iPhone version here, but iPad owners take note that there’s also a Words With Friends specifically for your device.—Dan Frakes

Words With Friends: $3; Optimized for iPhone and iPod touch

Lifestyle

Day One: I’ve kept a journal intermittently for a long time, but have always struggled with making it a regular habit. Day One has changed that. The simple journaling app helps me keep on keeping on by popping up occasional reminders to write. No matter where I write, the entry syncs across my iOS devices and the separate Mac version of the software automatically through Dropbox.—Jeff Merron

InMyBar

Day One: $2; Optimized for iPhone, iPod touch, and iPad

InMyBar: I enjoy a good cocktail every now and again, but I’m not always sure if I have the makings for any cocktail, let alone a good one. Fortunately, by logging the contents of my liquor cabinet in the clever InMyBar, the app can inform me what I’m capable of whipping up based on the ingredients at hand. It’s a great addition to any amateur bartender’s iPhone.—Philip Michaels

InMyBar: $1; Optimized for iPhone and iPod touch

Music

FluxTunes: FluxTunes lets you play your tunes in the car safely: It fills your iPhone’s screen with the current track’s album art and info, letting you control playback and adjust volume with no-look swipes and gestures.—Dan Frakes

FluxTunes: $1; Optimized for iPhone and iPod touch

GarageBand

GarageBand: Apple proved that iPads (and iPhones) are for creation just as much as consumption. For $5, you get a powerful array of synthesizers, samplers, drum machines, guitars, and basses. The app makes it simple for beginners to create music, and for experts to create masterpieces. No iOS device should be without it.—Lex Friedman

GarageBand: $5; Optimized for iPhone, iPod touch, and iPad

Moodagent: The shuffle mode in your Music app serves up a variety of music, but going from Coldplay to Cole Porter can be a jarring transition for even the most eclectic music lover. For more seamless mixes, check out Moodagent, which uses sliders to create playlists that fit your mood.—Philip Michaels

Moodagent: $5; Optimized for iPhone and iPod touch

Shazam Encore: Whenever I’m out and about and hear an interesting song that I just can’t recognize, I no longer have to wallow in ignorance. I just whip out my iPhone, launch Shazam Encore, and tap the app to capture a snippet of the song. Within a few seconds, Shazam returns the name of the song and artist along with a link to track in iTunes and—in some cases—lyrics. While there’s a free version of Shazam available, this paid version lets you tag and ID an unlimited number of songs.—Philip Michaels

Shazam Encore: $6; Optimized for iPhone and iPod touch

Navigation

AutoPark: If you routinely forget where you’ve parked your car or need reminding when the meter’s about the run out, you need AutoPark. Using location services AutoPark can help guide you back to your vehicle.—Christopher Breen

AutoPark: $5; Optimized for iPhone and iPod touch

Navigon USA: I would literally be lost without my iPhone. Armed with it, and Navigon, I’ll never need another GPS unit. Navigon offers excellently rendered 3-D maps, text-to-speech for pronouncing street names, and all the other niceties you’d expect from a full-featured navigation system.—Lex Friedman

Navigon USA: $30; Optimized for iPhone, iPod touch, and iPad

News

Instacast

Instacast: If you listen to podcasts, get Instacast. It lets you download and listen to podcasts without doing what Apple wants you to do—namely hooking your iOS device up to a computer and syncing new episodes from there. Cut the cord and enjoy the latest podcasts wherever you are.—Jason Snell

Instacast: $2; Optimized for iPhone and iPod touch

Instapaper: There’s no shortage of interesting information to read on the Web, but never enough time in which to read it. Let Instapaper help you save and catalog those lengthy articles for later online or offline reading.—Serenity Caldwell

Instapaper: $5; Optimized for iPhone, iPod touch, and iPad

The New Yorker Magazine: Many magazine apps for iPad are simply glorified PDFs of the print publication. They should instead emulate The New Yorker, which offers all the great content of its real-world predecessor, plus iPad-appropriate navigation and multimedia.—Joel Mathis

The New Yorker Magazine: $6 monthly subscription; Optimized for iPad

Reeder for iPad: If you subscribe to news feeds, there’s no more pleasant way to navigate those feeds than with Reeder. Available for the iPhone as well in this iPad incarnation, Reeder provides an elegant way to read and share stories from around the Web.—Lex Friedman

Reeder for iPad: $5; Optimized for iPad

Photo & Video

iMovie: With iMovie, you can wow your relatives and cut together funny moments from your holiday party right on your iOS device. Record video directly and cut it, add transitions, and score it with a song from your iTunes library, theme music, or sound effects.—Serenity Caldwell

iMovie: $5; Optimized for iPhone and iPod touch

Instagallery

Instagallery: Instagram is one of the most popular iPhone photo apps, but viewing its photos can be difficult away from the handset. Instagallery lets you share and view photos from your iOS device, making them look especially attractive when you’re displaying them on an iPad.—Joel Mathis

Instagallery: $2; Optimized for iPhone, iPod touch, and iPad

Snapseed: If you’re looking for an easy way to edit and enhance the photos you take with your iOS device’s camera, Snapseed’s got you covered. Not only are the many effects impressive, but the app couldn’t be much easier to use.—Christopher Breen

Snapseed: $5; Optimized for iPhone, iPod touch, and iPad

Productivity

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