And here at Stuff, we’re only interested in the best. This list isn’t about amassing the biggest number of apps nor doubling down on current fads. Instead, we’ve ruthlessly refined our selection until only the finest products remain.
Whether you’re keen on photography, music, digital art, bashing out a novel, or exploring the night sky, these are the best premium iPhone and iPad apps to buy.
The best new iPhone and iPad apps
Get an instant fix with the best premium iOS and iPadOS apps tickling our fancy right now.
This plain text editor starts off looking simple to the degree you might view the price tag with suspicion. At its most minimal, it’s just you, a blank canvas and a cursor, as you hammer out words. But what makes iA Writer essential for iPad-based writers is its depth and customisation.
As of version 6, you get an optional split view mode on iPad, for a live preview of your markdown. You can save all your work to iCloud and link documents. There’s a ‘Lightning’ menu to surface favourite commands, integrated document metadata with variables, and blazing fast library navigation.
You might not need all those tools when smashing out copy. But you’ll be glad they exist at the point when you do.
Apple bangs on about machine learning a lot, but it’s with apps like Pixelmator Photo where this technology proves its worth. Load a snap, prod the ML Enhance button and adjustments are instantly made, based on the app having been ‘trained’ on 20 million professional photos.
Pixelmator Photo doesn’t get things right every time, sometimes ‘normalising’ late evening light and sunrises/sunsets. Fortunately, you can tweak the app’s efforts by way of a slew of sliders that sit behind an adjustments button.
As a one-click photo editor for newcomers or a time-saver for pros, Pixelmator Photo is superb – and at under a tenner, it’s a ridiculous bargain on iPad and iPhone alike.
Halide – or Halide Mark II – Pro Camera, to use its full name – gives you a full suite of tools to squeeze more power out of your iPhone’s snapper. There are guides and manual controls for focus and exposure – although the app’s hardly alone in that.
Where Halide excels and earns its price tag is with features you find when you dig deeper: a focus loupe to ensure captured subjects are sharp; zebra exposure stripes; Instant RAW processing; simultaneous multi-format capture; and far more.
Remarkably, this all comes to iPad too, with a fully optimised tablet-first interface, rather than blown-up iPhone controls. You might baulk at the outlay, but you won’t find a better camera for Apple devices, and what you get represents great value.
Dial up: Obscura 3
Taking inspiration from dials on real-world cameras, Obscura 3 (£8.99) bases many interactions around a thumbable control wheel. It feels amazing to use – cutting-edge app tech combined with echos of tactility from classic cameras. Similar user-friendliness pervades the remainder of the interface, giving you more control than Apple’s Camera, without the relative complexity or subscription of Halide.
Along with taking on Adobe on the desktop, Serif’s launched itself at the iPad with Affinity Photo. The app’s a full-fledged image editor for iPad, marrying the features of the desktop version with the touchscreen and Pencil smarts of Apple’s tablet.
On an iPad Pro in particular, you get a fast, immersive, tactile experience, whether fiddling with adjustment layers or smushing live effects with your fingers. And this is no cut-down take on desktop fare – this is desktop-quality software but with an eye on the future rather than the past.
There are two sides to retro-snapper Hipstamatic Classic. Hold your phone in landscape, and it goes properly old-school. You get an analogue camera with tiny viewfinder, the main nod to modernity being able to swipe to access new lenses and flashes. It’s skeuomorphism like Apple used to love!
If you hate textures, there’s a pro mode, too, which is so minimal Jony Ive could eat his dinner off of it. As if that’s not enough, there’s a darkroom editing suite as well, in which you can delve into a slew of adjustment tools and presets. Flashy and fun, then, whichever way you’re holding it.
Art and design
Back in 2009, Jorge Colombo created a New Yorker cover using Brushes for iPhone. That was pretty darn mind-blowing at the time, but there are now countless apps for digital artists, battling for your affections and your wallet. Procreate is our absolute favourite — a desktop-class app that’s suitable for pros and dabblers alike.
The app excels because it has enough features and brushes to be flexible, provides quick and easy access to them all, and then gets out of your way when you’re creating a masterpiece. If you’ve an iPad Pro, a Pencil and an artistic bent, you’re going to be in heaven.
Mini-me: Procreate Pocket
For a long while, the iPhone take on Procreate was a limited version of its iPad sibling. But the revamped Procreate Pocket (£4.49)includes a full feature set, an interface cleverly optimised for the smaller screen, and customisable brushes that can be exported, shared, and imported.
Affinity Designer for iPad
If your creative endeavours rely on vectors, you won’t find a better editor for iPad than Affinity Designer. It’s primarily geared towards precision vector art, logos and illustration, but has the chops for crafting technical drawings and UI design too.
Given how ambitious this all is, the app’s surprisingly fluid to use, making heavy use of gestures, whether you’re flicking a panel icon to adjust a setting, or using multitouch to instantly access contextual controls for the current tool. It’s just the job for freeing mobile illustrators from the chains of a desktop, especially when armed with an iPad Pro and an Apple Pencil.
Quick draw: Linia Sketch
If you just want to doodle, Linia Sketch (free+IAP) focuses on getting ideas down quickly. Power’s there when you need it, though, with grids, layers, and a Zipline feature for easily drawing shapes and lines.
Pixaki 4 Pro
For some, video art isn’t a thing unless the pixels are sharp enough to cut yourself on. But there’s more to pixel art than nostalgia – you also feel the artist laboured over the position of every dot. On iPad, nothing beats Pixaki for fashioning your own retro graphics.
This desktop-quality app is packed full of features and tools – shaped and dither brushes; a lockable line tool; layers and onion skinning for animation; multiple selection modes and transforms. It’s ideal whether you’re working up a delicate isometric landscape masterpiece, or want to try your hand at crafting animation that resembles something that could have once lived on a Commodore Amiga.
If you’re not quite ready to take the plunge, try Pixaki Intro, which is a free version of the app that limits you to 160px images and three layers. Got the previous version of Pixaki? Grab the upgrade bundle to save a few quid.
Emulation station: Retrospecs
Rather than drawing your own old-school pics, transform existing photos and videos into pixel art with Retrospecs (£free + £2.49 IAP). Loads of systems and effects are available; and for anyone wanting to get properly geeky, it’s even possible to create bespoke emulations.
As iPhone cameras become increasingly powerful, you get higher quality and more detailed photos. But there’s a sense the character within photography is being lost – a problem Mextures aims to resolve.
The app includes some editing tools, but is mostly of interest for its selection of textures. Elements include film scans, grunge and gradients, all of which can be added and experimented with in a non-destructive manner using a robust layers system.
If you create something amazing, share your ‘formula’ with the Mextures community. Feeling lazy? Just grab a particularly dazzling formula someone else has uploaded.
Video and podcast creation
Should Apple’s iMovie not be enough for your Hollywood ambitions, LumaFusion brings desktop-grade editing to your iPad – and even your iPhone. Sure, things are a squeeze on the latter, but whatever device you use you gain access to multiple video and audio tracks, a slew of transitions and effects and a powerful titler.
On an iPad Pro in particular, LumaFusion shines. We’ve seen pro video editors wide-eyed at the combination of software and hardware, scything through 4K footage in a manner that doesn’t make logical sense when staring at a tablet rather than a powerful desktop PC. And if you miss one aspect of a PC set-up – the bigger screen – LumaFusion is one of the rare iPad apps that can fully utilise an external display, using it for your preview.
You can edit movies on your iPhone or iPad, but how about shooting one? There’s always the Camera app, but it’s a bit basic. FiLMiC Pro might have creators whose Shift key keeps getting stuck when naming products, but it’s a bit of alright for ramping up your camera to pro-grade level.
Dual arc slider controls give you quick access to manual focus and exposure. You can pack the screen with clipping and peaking analytics. There are controls for adjusting shadows, highlights, vibrance, saturation, frame rates, aspect ratios and modes. It supports external lenses and mics as well – although twinned with your Apple device alone, FiLMiC Pro still gives you the extra oomph to become the next Spielberg. Probably.
Ferrite Recording Studio
First impressions of Ferrite put you in mind of every other voice recorder you’ve ever used. Stab a record button. Speak into your device or wave it about to capture local ambience. Stop, share, and wonder momentarily about the futility of existence.
But this app has an entire other app lurking beneath the surface. Edit any clip and Ferrite transforms into a mobile podcast studio, enabling you to add and edit multiple tracks, tweaking effects, adjusting panning, and hastily deleting the terrible radio-station intro you thought was hilarious at the time.
With IAP, it shifts from ‘good’ to ‘amazing’. £12.99 gets you unlimited recording time and 32 tracks (up from, respectively, one hour and three tracks). Feeling flush? Go for the £25.99 option, which adds effects for making recordings sound properly professional.
Korg Gadget 2
With over 20 miniature synths (‘gadgets’) and fantastic music production workflow, Korg Gadget is the king of music-making apps on iPhone and iPad. Each gadget has its own flavour, giving you anything from drum machines and delicate bells to monster bass and searing chip-tune screaches. Owners of Module, iM1 and other Korg apps can import their sounds as additional gadgets too. Bonus!
To lay down tracks, you record live or tap out notes on a piano roll. Your loops are then arranged into ‘scenes’, enabling you to construct entire songs in a manner that makes GarageBand’s equivalent features seem comparatively archaic. Gaudy interface aside, it’s superb.
With Fugue Machine describing itself as a “tool inspired by composition techniques used in Baroque music and Serialism” (or, more snappily, “Bach in a box”), anyone lacking a classical music bone might feel ready for a little snooze. But Fugue Machine should not be dismissed, because it’s a hypnotic and brilliant music-creation app.
You get up to four playheads that can ping back and forth over notes tapped out on a piano roll. Pitch, speed and direction can be adjusted for each, and interactions between the playheads allow melodies to form. Newcomers will be amazed how quickly they can create some beautiful music; pros will love how they can route each playhead to other apps and devices. In short, it’s the iPhone and iPad music-creation app that everyone should buy.
Bandimal’s App Store page claims it’s a music composer for kids. Don’t believe a word of it. Instead, Bandimal should be considered a colourful, bonkers, intuitive, entertaining way to make music, whatever your age.
The set-up’s basic: three tracks, on to which you tap out notes. Instruments are emitted from animals – everything from bass-belching whales to body-popping electro-pandas. You can add effects, fire up some drums and gleefully watch your trio of critters count in when loading one of your prior auto-saved compositions.
It’s not so much Crocodile Rock as an entire menagerie – and it’s wonderful.
Animoog Z Synthesizer
The original Animoog was an exciting vision of the future of synths, combining rich Moog sounds with a modern touchscreen interface that let you sculpt audio with your fingers. This follow-up takes things further and brings an added dimension.
We mean this broadly literally, since you can now navigate through the X, Y and Z axes of sound. As you play, lights zip around in the app’s visualiser, providing a treat for your eyes as well as your ears.
Even if you never pay up, the plethora of presets with the free version will keep you occupied for weeks. But splash out and you unlock the synth’s full pro-power, giving you knobs aplenty to twiddle as you dream of headlining Glasto.
Get your robo-boogie on with Samplebot, which is all about making songs from whatever comes to hand. Using the app’s 15 pads, you can quickly record yourself smacking the living daylights out of pots and pans. The built-in sequencer then enables you to transform the cacophony into something approaching music.
Of a more musical bent? Then use Samplebot as a scratchpad, for sketching out ideas on the move without the distraction of a full-fledged music-creation app. You can even import samples from elsewhere or record snippets from other apps, if you feel beatboxing with your face doesn’t quite cut it when crafting a top-ten hit.
Should you be in the mood to spin some virtual decks, djay provides some seriously powerful features for getting an audience (or just yourself) leaping about like a loon.
You get four decks, video support, and a slew of buttons and sliders for all kinds of things. You can mix with jog wheels or delve into waveforms, adding sync and cue points. Effects can be applied using X-Y pads, and if you’re feeling lazy, sync buttons will make the app deal with tricky beat-matching.
On iPhone, this is all admittedly fiddly (if wildly impressive on such a tiny device), but on an iPad Pro, djay is almost good enough to make you fling your decks in the bin. The one snag: you’ll need to keep paying a subscription for those lovely pro features…
Media and weather
Cs Music Player
Apple’s own Music app evolved from an elegant and simple player into an app that may as well have a photo of Tim Cook glaring menacingly at you if you’re not signed up to Apple Music. Its relative complexity and the manner in which it sidelines your own music is irksome.
So we’re thrilled Cs Music Player exists, marrying an old-school player with modern iOS/iPadOS design smarts. The result is a breath of fresh air, providing speedy access to artists, albums, songs and playlists. It’s a straightforward, intuitive app that’s an excellent purchase, whether you’re syncing songs to your iPhone or iPad or just want a better way to play your iCloud Music Library.
If you’re more of a collector than a streamer when it comes to video, you’ve probably got a load of files stashed away on local network drives and cloud storage. Should you want to get them playing on an iPhone or iPad, Infuse is a must. This app will delve into folders, live-convert videos when it needs to, and even grab cover art and subtitle files.
There’s support for local downloads, streaming to your telly by way of AirPlay and Google Cast, cloud sync to keep your place across devices, and even DVD file support, so you needn’t bother converting old DVD rips to MKV or MP4. If you’re feeling a bit cheap, you can avoid paying entirely, although that means you’ll miss some key features (sync; cloud library support; streaming over AirPlay/Google Cast). Otherwise, splash out for a subscription.
All those books you have lying around aren’t going to read themselves. But rather than glancing guiltily at the piles, get organised with Book Tracker. Scan in your tomes – or use the built-in search to add titles from a browser – and you can keep tabs on your collection. Then you can use the app to track your reading – and more.
With each title, you can set which page you’re up to, and dig into statistics to see how much you’re reading on a daily basis. Favourite quotes can be saved, and you can record when you loan books to friends. The app’s wish list gives you a place to stash books you’d like to buy as well – once you’ve got through some of those you already own first, of course.
Plenty of weather apps are informative and beautiful, but only CARROT is snarky. The AI that sends forecasts your way’s gone a bit HAL, making threats, laughing when it’s pouring down outside, and hoping you get embarrassing tan-lines when it’s sunny.
Fortunately, the app’s useful too – packed full of colourful forecasts, accessible data, widgets that are actually good, and a ton of customisation – including a full layout builder. It’s also a rare iPad weather app that feels like the creator cares about how app layouts work on a tablet.
The only real drawback is CARROT’s subscription being a bit wallet-thumpy if you go for a top tier. Otherwise we’re one with the snark – although admittedly in part because we’re scared CARROT will kill us in our sleep.
Health and wellbeing
Tired of making the same old dishes? Annoyed that cookbooks don’t feel written specifically for you? Mela deftly deals with such issues by combining a recipe manager with RSS. (Mela’s developer has form in this space, having created RSS client Reeder – see box.)
This means although you can use a built-in browser to visit favourite sites, clipping and editing recipes to add to your growing collection, you can also subscribe to recipe website feeds. On a daily basis, you’ll get loads of new ideas from favourite sources, for zero effort.
Venture into the real world and Mela can help there too, whether by scanning recipes from paper tomes or by populating Reminders with ingredients for whatever you fancy making next. Sadly, it won’t do the actual cooking for you – but perhaps Apple CEO Tim Cook has an iCook waiting in the wings.
People generate billions of tons of food waste. In the UK, estimates suggest this costs the average household 500 quid every year. That’s bad for the environment – and your wallet. Kiff can help you change bad habits by tracking fresh food.
There’s no need to add all your shopping to the app. Instead, scan or manually add items that quickly spoil, prioritising those you often throw away. Kiff will present a vibrant scrolling pane of goodies that can optionally be added to your Home Screen to ensure they don’t slip your mind.
Over time, stats build to let you know what you eat – and guilt you into avoiding buying food you mostly later bin. Handy for your bank account, your fridge space and the planet.
Portal – Immersive Escapes
There are loads of great ambient noise apps for iPhone and iPad, but Portal takes things a step further with the addition of visuals. The idea is to transport you to idyllic locations, providing a more holistic way to relax.
It’s effective – especially if you have an iPad. Having a little window to another world – and a far more tranquil one than the one you otherwise exist in – on your desk can prove to be a calming experience.
The variety on offer in the full app (which, natch, requires a fairly hefty annual fee) is welcome too, letting you zip between, for example, blissing out on a beach, immersing yourself in an Amazonian thunderstorm or gawping at a starry night sky.
A lot of wellbeing apps go a bit overboard with pastel colours and endless imagery of perfectly toned people smiling on beaches. White Noise+ has no interest in such fluff, instead offering a minimal, modern interface for creating your own ambient sound mixes.
In short, you get a grid, to which you drag icons. Those towards the top and right, respectively, play louder and with added complexity. You can try the app for free, for which you get white noise, rain, wind, thunder and wind chimes. But pay the IAP and you get every sound unlocked, a sleep timer, and the peace of mind that comes from supporting a great app.
If the idea of going outside to exercise fills you with dread, you may have chanced upon indoor personal training apps. But sometimes they try and contort you into strange shapes, or make you exercise with a chair, like you’re starring in a baffling furniture-oriented round of Strictly.
Streaks Workout smacks the excuses out of you, shortly before punching your energy reserves in the face. You get 18 equipment-free exercises to toggle, which are then hurled at you randomly throughout your routine. Stats are logged and tips are offered – but be aware that the 30-minute routine is called ‘pain’ for good reason.
Sister app to Streaks Workout, Streaks (£4.49) is all about forming good habits, whether that’s actually doing your exercises, eating well, taking breaks or quitting something that’s bad for you. The bold interface is designed to make you focus on a small number of daily wins, which means it never overwhelms. Now you’ve no excuse for forgetting to walk the dog.
Popular desktop word processors feel like products from a bygone era. Increasingly, they try to be desktop publishing tools, full of complexity and suspicious clip art. Ulysses Mobile wants no truck with such things, stripping back writing to the important bit: words.
What you get here is a distraction-free writing environment that boosts efficiency. You can write in Markdown, stash, store and organise notes, and export whatever you write to a variety of formats. On iPad, it’s disarmingly similar to the equally excellent macOS app; and even on iPhone, Ulysses is usable enough to stab out a quick article with your thumbs. Naturally, iCloud syncs everything you write and stores it across devices.
While Ulysses is excellent for notes, short articles, and working in Markdown, Scrivener has long been the darling of desktop users tasked with long-form writing – scripts, novels, never-ending corporate plans, and the like.
Astonishingly, the iPad incarnation mirrors its desktop cousin, providing a rich-text editing system that includes powerful organisation tools, research stashing, two-up display of research and writing, a ‘corkboard’ for shuffling synopses about, and robust export.
Sync is a touch clunky (the app locks you out while flinging projects to and from Dropbox), but otherwise Scrivener is one of those apps where you occasionally have to check you’re using an iPad and not a Mac or PC. And although we wouldn’t use it to write a novel on an iPhone, the slightly stripped-back Scrivener on Apple’s smartphone is surprisingly useable too.
Do you write code rather than words? Then try Textastic, which knocks down another barrier to Apple devices replacing traditional computers, by giving you a full-fledged toolkit for when you’re on the move. The app includes a built-in file manager and SSH terminal, along with a robust text editor with syntax highlighting, powerful find/replace, and a smart keyboard row and configurable shortcuts for more rapidly tapping out lines of code.
On iPhone, this is a capable editor when you quickly need to tweak a website or other project and can’t get at your main workstation. But on an iPad, it’s transformative. Connect to Git repositories and servers, run it in Split View with Safari alongside, and you’re sorted.
We’re not in particularly sexy territory with PDFs, but most people end up needing to fiddle around with them at some point. If that’s you and ‘some point’ is actually ‘all the damn time’, PDF Expert’s your app.
On the iPad, you can quickly and easily make annotations, sign documents, shift pages about, and fling the result in someone’s general direction. Grab the pro IAP and you can go further, directly updating text, replacing images, adding links, and redacting text like you’re some kind of government agent.
It doesn’t matter what size Apple device you plump for, the Calendar and Reminders apps are going to be mediocre. You’re better off replacing them with Fantastical, which boasts an infinite scrolling events ticker twinned with a month calendar for quickly snapping the list to specific dates. On iPad, the extra space nets you a full calendar view next to the ticker. Lovely.
Regardless of your device, though, this app hugely impresses with its natural-language smarts, accurately interpreting your input (such as ‘Team lunch on Friday at 12 for two hours’), building your event as you type. Beyond that, there’s other clever stuff, including integrated weather forecasts, smart meeting organisation, and calendars based around telly, holidays and sports.
Furry focussed: Bear Focus Timer
It’s easy to get distracted during your working day. Bear Focus Timer (£1.79) keeps you on track by splitting your time into work/rest sprints. Place your phone face down to start the timer – a nice psychological trick that puts your device ‘out of reach’. Pick it up before a break and the bear growls at you.
The internet is full of cruft. 1Blocker lets you eradicate bits that annoy you – assuming you cough up 15 quid a year. Still, for that outlay, you can block ads, trackers and obtrusive elements like cookie notices, widgets and comments. An additional optional firewall provides further protection against tracking.
1Blocker is no blunt instrument, though. Head to the Custom tab and you can tweak all the settings. This might mean whitelisting websites you don’t want to deprive of ad revenue, hiding specific web page elements, and downloading pre-made rule sets to fine-tune how sites behave. In short, the app tames the worst excesses of the internet, making browsing a pleasurable experience once again.
We’re doffing our ‘business’ hat for this entry, given that the idea of mind-mapping usually evokes thoughts of conference rooms and wanting to drown yourself in a vat of coffee just to escape endless meeting hell.
But wait, because MindNode is really lovely to use, and fantastic for sketching out ideas about almost anything. You place your idea in the middle of the screen, and grow it from there, adding pathways, images and icons, styling everything, and finally exporting your creation. And when you have to get properly corporate, there’s even an editable outliner and a vertical mode for org charts. (Where’s that coffee?)
When it comes to stargazing on an Apple device, Sky Guide is unparalleled. Other apps may match its feature set, but Sky Guide has a kind of elegant beauty and usability that makes it a joy to interact with.
You swipe about to explore the stars, tap to get some more info, and use the time-travel function to travel back or forward in time — or, if you hit just the right settings, go all ‘sci-fi swirly sky’ with time-lapse star trails, until you accidentally hypnotise yourself and fall off of your chair.
If you’ve any tiny humans toddling about the place, you’ll know they are very much of the opinion iOS devices shouldn’t be hogged by adults. Send them into a state of quiet glee with the quirky, playful and charming Metamorphabet.
In this educational app’s oddball universe, letters transform in ways you’d almost certainly not have foreseen: an A grows antlers, turns into an arch, and then goes for an amble. Then a B grows a beard, sprouts a beak, and spews an endless stream of bugs. It’s deranged and imaginative — like CBeebies employed Terry Gilliam as controller — and marvellous to explore for kids and adults alike.
Journeys of Invention
On seeing the original Elements app, it was very clear Touchpress had nailed digital books. The app was packed full of content and beautiful photography, but also infused with interactive components. But Journeys of Invention takes everything a stage further, in terms of ambition and interactivity.
In this app, you explore how science and invention interconnect, often by way of beautifully photographed objects you rotate and study. And unless science is dead to you, it’s hard to not feel a thrill on scrolling around the inside of the Apollo 10 command module, or using an Enigma Machine to send encoded messages to friends.