With the recent release of a pair of new iPhones and hanukkah just behind us, and the holiday season just ahead, many of my friends, neighbors, and peers have become or expect to become the owner of a new iOS device. When that happens, they’ll usually ask me if I “know any good apps.” Well, Charlie’s a pretty good app. Bob’s a pretty good app too.
All kidding aside, I don’t like keeping a million apps on my phone at once, but I do have a steady list.

There is one rule: I don’t mention prices because they shouldn’t matter. As someone who make software for a living, it isn’t fun to hear people complaining about stupidly low prices. If you don’t want to pay for an app, find a free alternative. These are the apps I think are worth your time and money. Now that we’ve got that out of the way, let’s go.

Let’s start with music apps, because, the iPhone is, after all, an iPod, a phone, and an internet communicator.

Music Apps

I’m a huge fan of the built in Music app on iOS. So much so that I don’t spend a lot of time inside other music apps. That said, there are a few that worth your time, especially if you’re not interested in paying up front for your entire music library.

  • Spotify: Spotify is popular, and they’ve recently revamped their mobile app with tiered subscriptions.
  • Pandora: Another name that is preceded by its reputation, Pandora has been around online since before the iPhone. This app is just the icing on the cake.
  • TuneIn Radio: TuneInRadio lets you listen to radio stations all over the world. You can filter by language, country, genre, and more. There’s a pro version as well.
  • Audible: I’ve seen Audible ads on the New York City subway. If you want to listen to books, this is a good app.
  • SoundCloud: SoundCloud is a music discovery service. Some friends publish on SoundCloud, so I’ve downloaded the app.
  • Shazam: Shazam is great for when you’re in a coffee shop or an elevator and want to know the name of the song you’re listening to. (Shazam Encore is the premium version.)
  • SoundHound: This is just like Shazam. The premium version is called SoundHound ∞.
  • musiXmatch: Of all the music apps, this is absolutely the coolest. As you’re listening to a song, it plays back the lyrics, so you can sing along. The best part is that if you quit musiXmatch, your music continues playing in the default Music app.

Productivity

The best part about a smartphone is being able to be productive with it. These apps will get you started with office work and schoolwork.

  • Google Drive: If you have a Google account, this is going to come in handy, especially when collaborating with coworkers. I use this all the time.
  • Dropbox: If you’re collaborating, Dropbox is another must-have. This also comes in handy when trying to push files from your email to desktop while you’re on the road.
  • join.me There’s a website called http://join.me. (The .me is the extension – there’s no .com at the end of it.) Join.me lets you share someone’s screen remotely. This is a fantastic tool to have when you need it.
  • Pages: This is Microsoft Word for your iPhone. The best part: Apple’s been giving it away to drive hardware sales. Since you (or someone you know) has already ponied up for your shiny new, just grab Pages and don’t think twice!
  • Keynote: While I don’t anticipate editing presentations on my phone, Keynote is still to have in a pinch. If you sync your documents over iCloud from the Mac, this will be that much more useful. Keynote is the PowerPoint of the Apple world. (Office for Mac doesn’t count.)
  • Numbers: As much as I dislike spreadsheets on a small screen, Numbers is the go-to if you need it.

Reference & Learning

I don’t have too many of these, but there are some ridiculously cool apps in this category.

  • Wolfram Alpha: If you want to look up just about anything that can be quantified, Wolfram is your man. I use this to verify homework problems.
  • Khan Academy: Khan Academy has video tutorials on many science and math subject. This is a great way to learn.
  • Languages: This is a beautiful inter-language dictionary that is worth a look.
  • Podcasts: There’s a whole genre of podcast apps, but Apple’s got one too. It’s the only one I use, and I do so sparingly. It got a redesign for iOS 7 too.

Travel

These are the apps that get you where you need to go. I do love Apple Maps, but here are some of my favorite alternatives and supplements:

  • Google Maps: I don’t think much needs to be said here, except that Google Maps does one thing that Apple Maps doesn’t, and that’s public transit directions. Google Maps is also a little more flexible with input, but other than that, they’re roughly the same.
  • Waze: Waze is one of my favorites because it’s made in Israel. Recently acquired by Google, Waze is the one app you need with you in the car. The design is a little kitschy, but it’s the best driving app.
  • Transit: The subway app I wish I had designed. This is a really beautiful subway map. I just wish that it had a full offline map mode.
  • CityMaps: CityMaps is a map that shows you what venues are nearby. I did an internship with these guys last year over winter break. They really pulled this product together. You can make custom maps and follow other users.
  • NYC Bikes: I tested this one before it hit the store. It’s a neat utility that locates the nearest CitiBike stations in New York City, and also includes a timer. This one was really well done, so check it out.
  • FlightTrack: These guys got a nice overhaul for iOS 7, and I haven’t used it in a while. It looks polished, and you should consider it if you travel a lot.
  • Uber: One of the first car service apps, these guys carved out a niche in the app industry. Dani Klein can tell you all about why you’ll like Uber.

Utilities

This is the “to-do list” genre. Like features that install on your phone, these apps help you make the most of your new shiny. I mostly use the built in guys, so this category is a little thin.

  • CARROT To-Do: Carrot To-Do is a witty (and sarcastic) to- do list. CARROT To-Do makes being productive fun.
  • CARROT Alarm: CARROT Alarm is an alarm clock made by the same folks who make CARROT To-Do. CARROT alarm is equally satirical, equally useful, and equally fun.
  • Tydig: This really cool calculator app was only recently released. It lets you graph equations and edit equations inside of equations.

Finance

Your new phone can help you save money, and even serve as your bank. Aside from your bank’s app, there are four apps that are worth the pixels they’re painted on.

  • Simple: Simple is actually a debit card that attaches to a Bancorp account. (It’s FDIC insured.) You can scan checks with your iPhone, as well as set saving goals. It also generates a meaningful list of purchases and deposits. Simple is invite only, but you can sign up for an invite.
  • Level Money: This app hooks up to your existing bank account to help you budget your finances.
  • Square Wallet: With an external piece of hardware, Square Wallet lets you accept credit and debit card payments from anyone with a card. The card reader is available for free online, or in many retailers for ten bucks. Look out for it in Target, Walmart, Best Buy, and Radioshack.
  • Paypal: The traditional online payments mogul has an app. If you use PayPal, this app is a pleasure to use/

Shopping

Now that you’ve balanced your books, it’s time to spend some of that hard earned cash on Amazon or Etsy. (There’s a Barnes and Noble app but it’s really dated. Consider downloading the app for your local pharmacy franchise. In New York we’ve got Walgreens and Duane Reade with fantastic apps.

  • Amazon: This app has allowed me to order sneakers while walking in the snow. I realized that my sneakers had holes in them. Good times. Terrible for impulse shopping though.
  • Delivery Status Touch: Now that you’ve ordered all those things, you’re going to want to track them. Enter Delivery Status Touch. There are some notable features, like detection of a tracking number that’s on your clipboard.
  • Apple Store: This app won’t sell you as many things as Amazon, but it’ll help with things like looking up different Apple products and store locations. I’ve found this to be handy when dealing with Genius Bar appointments.
  • Etsy: Etsy sells handmade crafts. I got a really nice wallet there for $2. (I had a $100 gift card which covered everything besides shipping/tax.)
  • RedLaser: At some point you’re going to realize that your phone can double as a barcode scanner, because it’s got an amazing camera. RedLaser is your one-stop shop for that kind of thing.
  • Kickstarter: Kickstarter is a website where you pledge to pay money to support a project and receive something from the project’s founders in return. Usually, this is a good place to essentially buy cool gadgets before they’re out at lower-than-retail prices.

Games

Now that you’re done shopping, it’s time to kick back and relax. If you’re waiting for your purchases to arrive, these games will tide you over.

  • Angry Birds: It got old fast, but if you’re new to the iPhone, get Angry Birds now. Then you’ll understand. There are several variations, including a lackluster racing game, but I won’t link to them here.
  • Chess.com: If you’re a chess player like me, you’re going to love this app. They’ve got a website too.
  • Tetris: There’s an officially licensed Tetris app. That is all.
  • Octogon: This is a hand-eye coordination game. There’s a 2 dimensional version out there, but I find the 3D one more appealing, as well as easier to play.
  • Clumsy Ninja: This game is a new one, in which you train a ninja over time. It reminds me of Pokémon in the sense that you’re training a character through repetitive tasks, but the gameplay is totally different. Really fun game.
  • Terraria: Terraria is a game where you mine for elements and then use them to build things. (It’s like MineCraft in two dimensions.) In version 1.4 one of my favorite games got multiplayer support.

News

This app will keep you informed. It’s the only one I use. (Most news sites have decent mobile websites.)

  • The New York Times: I did a summer internship here, and it’s truly a well built app. I can’t begin to describe the well oiled machine that built it. Keep in mind that it’s a Newsstand app, so it’s going to appear inside the Newsstand icon on your home screen. As a bonus though, check out FlipBoard.

Health

These apps will keep you healthy, or at least help you keep yourself healthy.

  • Runtastic Abs: I haven’t found too many good workout apps. This one seems promising.
  • Nike+: This app is made by Nike, and it works with the Nike Fuelband.

Social

These are the apps I use the most. Full Stop.

  • Facebook: This app got rave reviews when it was rebuilt to be “native” about a year ago. (That means they stopped using a packaged website and built an actual app.) It’s no surprise why.
  • Facebook Messenger: Recently redesigned for iOS 7, I spend a lot of my day communicating with this thing.
  • TweetBot 3: This is the best Twitter app that there is. (Well, TweetBot 2 is nicer, in my opinion.)
  • EventBrite: If you attend events, or are looking for more, EventBrite is one of the nicest apps you can get. Passbook support means that your phone can be your ticket. Literally.
  • IM+ Pro 7: This app can technically replace all or most of my other social apps. It’s got support for many messaging services.
  • Skype: Another well known product that I find indispensable to have on my phone.
  • Foursquare: These guys invented the check-in, and I still love their app after using it for so long.

My Friends’ Apps

I’ve got friends, you know, and some of them make apps.

  • Denominations: This is a cool currency converter by Abraham Vegh. He and I go way back.
  • AirWeb: If you’ve got an Apple TV, you’re going to love being able to use it a browser, right from your iPhone. This one’s by Christian Strommen.
  • Breathometer: Along with a hardware accessory, your phone can be a breathalyzer. Jacob Relkin worked on this.
  • ConnectNow: ConnectNow is a cool app for real life networking. By Ben Honig.

My Apps

I encourage you to go ahead and check out my apps too.