Apple rightly takes a lot of pride in the size of its App Store—more than 750,000 apps are available for the iPhone and iPad, according to the company’s last count. But the risk of having such a massive emporium for mobile software is that the sheer volume of not-so-hot apps pushes the truly great offerings out of the spotlight. Not to worry, though: Plenty of iOS apps still combine great design and must-have features to help you get even more out of your iPhone and iPad. We’ve discovered nearly two dozen apps in the past year that remind us how the App Store and the iOS universe are about quality, not just quantity.
Any.do is an iPhone-only to-do app that stands out in a very crowded field of to-do apps thanks to its clean look and simplicity: To rearrange tasks, just tap, hold, and then drag. Tapping a task causes a palette of options—priority, note, alarm, contact, and folder—to slide down. The app integrates voice input and syncs task lists with other iOS or Android devices. And you can manage your lists in any browser. Any.do is one taskmaster I’d recommend to almost anyone.—Dan Miller 4.5 out of 5 rating; $1; Any.do
Barefoot World Atlas
Check the Weather
Weather apps have long been either ugly but functional or beautiful but noncomprehensive. Apple’s built-in iOS app falls in the latter camp. Check the Weather may be the first app that succeeds in both categories. It’s a beautifully layered app, with a clean look and easy-to-read data. But looks aside, the heart of any weather app is its data—and Check the Weather scores there, too. In the United States, the app uses data from Weather Underground; it integrates that with the brilliant Dark Sky service for short-term rain and snow forecasts and the Doppler Radar overlay; and it gets weather alerts from the National Weather Service. For all countries, Check the Weather offers current conditions, hourly forecasts, up to 16-day outlooks, and data for sunrises, sunsets, and moon phases. There’s no better weather app.—Serenity Caldwell 4 out of 5 rating; $2; David Smith
If you have an iOS device, you probably compose email messages inside an email client, tweets in a Twitter client, and so on, based on the text’s destination. But what do you do if you want to jot down some words before you know where they’re going? My favorite way to deal with such bits is Drafts. Just open Drafts and start typing (or dictating) your text. When you’re done, you can save your draft for later use or opt for one of over 50 actions to handle it: Post it to Twitter or Facebook, use it for a Web search, create a calendar event, send it as an email or SMS—the choices are many. You can even print your text directly (using AirPrint) and create your own email actions (for example, for sending yourself text). It’s as close to a do-it-all text tool as you can find for iOS.—Dan Frakes 4 out of 5 rating; $2 (iPhone), $3 (iPad); Agile Tortoise
Echograph seeks to occupy a unique junction between photography and cinema. This photo app for iOS devices lets you create animated GIFs and MPEG-4 videos that leave parts of a still image static while animating specific areas of the frame for emphasis or whimsy. The idea is not unique, but Echograph’s execution of the concept is. Echograph is the only app that lets you animate parts of the tableau and export the results in high resolution. Rather than emphasizing its social networking features, Echograph focuses on helping users create high-quality cinemagraphs (still shots with some moving elements). There’s no telling whether this type of video hybrid is a lasting art form or an Internet fad, but Echograph offers a wonderful way to create imagery.—Jackie Dove 4 out of 5 rating; $1; Clear-Media
Hipmunk Flight & Hotel Search
When Apple switched from Google Maps in iOS 6, it not only cost some Apple execs their jobs, but also deprived us of public transportation maps. Fortunately, HopStop stepped in to fill that void, offering directions on getting places by subway, bus, train, and foot for more than 100 cities in the United States, Canada, and Europe. Besides directions, the app offers transit-system maps for several cities, service advisories (in New York), and biking directions (in New York, Washington D.C., Chicago, and San Francisco); it can even estimate taxi fares. As a replacement for iOS 5’s Maps app, HopStop offers many of the same features, including transit schedules and the ability to calculate trip times at particular hours of the day. It also lets you find subway stations and bus stops near any location, and allows you to bookmark certain frequently used routes. Advanced search features even let you specify which types of transit to use or not use.—Dan Moren 4.5 out of 5 rating; free; HopStop.com
iPhoto for iOS
Kingdom Rush HD
Kingdom Rush raises the bar for tower defense iOS games, with its mix of challenging gameplay and a charmingly goofy soundtrack. Waves of bad guys try to get from point A to point B, while you try to stop them. I wasted more time with Kingdom Rush than any other game last year.—Dan Miller 4 out of 5 rating; $1; Armor Games
National Parks by National Geographic
National Parks combines a great travel guide with incredible photos that show off the beauty of the U.S. national parks. It provides the basic info you need to know about visiting a park: fees, the best time to visit, hiking conditions, and more. This app is available for the iPhone and the iPad, but it really excels when viewed on an iPad with a Retina display. All that’s missing is more parks: At this writing, the app includes details for just 20.—Leah Yamshon 4 out of 5 rating; free; National Geographic Society
Paper, FiftyThree’s iPad journaling app, lets you create sketches, notes, diagrams, storyboards, and much more. Its strength is the simplicity of its tools, which make you feel like you’re truly sketching a pencil line or mixing together a blue-green watercolor sky. It also supports pressure sensitivity through its integration with Pogo Connect.—Serenity Caldwell 3.5 out of 5 rating; free (with in-app purchases); FiftyThree
Pear Note, a note-taking app for iOS devices, lets you take rich-text notes. Even better, it records the audio of the presentation you’re documenting and synchronizes your notes with the audio. As you play back the audio, the app highlights the text that you were typing at each point in the recording; conversely, you can tap anywhere in your notes to jump to that spot in the audio. A Mac version (go.macworld.com/pearnotemac) is also available, so you can sync notes and audio between Macs and iOS devices via Dropbox.—Dan Frakes 4 out of 5 rating; $5; Useful Fruit Software
Ski Safari doesn’t break new ground when it comes to the world of unending side-scrolling games. But Defiant Development gets the elements right in its Nordic-themed adventure, in which you have to keep a skier named Sven one step ahead of an onrushing avalanche. As with many iOS apps, a series of in-game challenges keep the gameplay interesting while also helping you to level up. But Ski Safari lets you tackle those challenges one at a time; if one is too hard, you can knock off other achievements instead of getting stuck on the impossible. Ski Safari lets you make in-app purchases, but it also makes it easy enough to collect in-game currency via regular gameplay. And Defiant Development has rolled out a steady stream of updates in the past year—new costumes, power-ups, and race courses that keep you coming back to aide Sven.—Philip Michaels 4.5 out of 5 rating; $1; Defiant Development
App Gems Hall of Fame
A few iOS apps have excelled for so long, have become so essential for so many of us, they’ve become classics. Here are this year’s Hall of Fame inductees.
Evernote has developed an avid following. Evernote devotees use it for everything from keeping to-do lists to preserving photos of favorite bottles of wine. This year, the iOS version got a needed face-lift. It’s still the do-it-all info-storage utility, able to store text, images, PDFs, and audio recordings, and it can still tag all that input for easier searching. But it now does all that with a friendlier design: Page-wide tabs organize notes by place, tag, and notebook, and search is more accessible.
Apple might have forgone a file system on its iOS devices, but sometimes you still need one. Good.iWare’s GoodReader fills that role and more, offering the ability to organize files into folders, easily share them, and secure them with high-security encryption. It’s also great for reading files—you can annotate PDFs, add bookmarks, and convert PDFs into plain text. You can load text files, audio, video, images, and anything else iOS natively supports. You can also transfer files via iTunes File Sharing, the app’s built-in Wi-Fi file-sharing, or services such as Dropbox, Google Drive, and more. GoodReader isn’t just good—it’s great. 4.5 out of 5 rating; $5; Good.iWare
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