In the battle for mobile supremacy, Apple’s trump card is the App Store. If you want to do anything interesting with a smartphone or tablet, iOS is where it’s at.
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 iOS apps to buy.
Music and video
Korg Gadget: best iOS music-making app
With over 20 miniature synths (‘gadgets’) and fantastic music production workflow, Korg Gadget is the king of music-making apps on iOS. 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 and iM1 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.
Model 15: best iOS synth
One of the best things about iOS has been developers enabling you to get your hands on recreations of classic synths for peanuts. You might stare wide-eyed at that statement, given that Model 15 costs 23 quid, but that’s a far cry from the hardware reissue that was priced at a cool ten grand. And what you get for your money is in our estimation the best synth on the platform.
Model 15 is a superb mix of old and new. For modular synth aficionados there are hours of joy to be had messing with virtual patch leads. But if you want to bypass such fiddling around, you can delve into loads of superb presets. There are piano and gestural ‘Animoog’ on-screen keyboards and inter-app connectivity, and by some minor miracle the app even works pretty well on an iPhone.
Fugue Machine: most innovative iPad music app
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 iPad music-creation app that everyone should buy.
BIAS FX: best iPad app for guitarists
If your inner musician prefers picking and strumming to tapping away on virtual keyboards and drum pads, BIAS FX lets you rock out with your iPad. Connect a guitar (using an iRig or JAM), and you gain access to amp and stomp-box set-ups that would make the average guitarist want to solo until their fingers fall off.
Although BIAS FX lacks the tactile quality of real pedals (top tip: very much don’t stomp on your iPad), the sounds make up for this, especially once you start constructing monster set-ups across dual-signal paths. And if you’re feeling lazy, you can pilfer other users’ pedalboards and rigs.
KRFT: best iOS virtual instrument
There are other great music-making tools in this list, but they are typically traditional in terms of interface design. By contrast, KRFT invites you not only to make music, but also the instrument you use to compose.
It’s not a free-for-all. Essentially, you have a small selection of geometric shapes that can be used to trigger samples, loops, and effects. But the end result provides scope for creating neon play surfaces that point to the future of music creation while also offering a playful nod to the likes of Tron and retro gaming.
djay Pro: best iOS DJ app
Should you be in the mood to spin some virtual decks, djay Pro 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 a bit fiddly (if wildly impressive on such a tiny device), but on an iPad Pro, djay Pro is almost good enough to make you fling your decks in the bin.
Cesium: best iPhone music player
The iOS 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 Cesium exists, marrying an old-school player with modern iOS 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 just want a better way to play your iCloud Music Library.
iMovie: best iOS video editor
20 years ago, you needed various bits of expensive kit and a hard drive as big as your head to have a fighting chance of editing digital video. Now, iMovie and your iOS device is enough to edit and share 4K video. Let that sink in, because it is, quite frankly, mad.
We also love iMovie because it’s a joy to use. Aping its desktop cousin’s features, iMovie makes it simple to quickly cut footage, integrate transitions, add a soundtrack, and send the results to everyone you know who doesn’t yet block your emails due to having received one too many videos of your cat. And if you’re feeling cheesy, there are trailer templates for creating a knock-off Hollywood edition of Mr Whiskers And His Amusing Tumble Off Of The Sofa.
Pinnacle Studio Pro: best pro video editor
If you hanker for something a touch more desktop-like in your iOS video-editing, Pinnacle’s app should appeal. Although there’s some clutter to the interface and a lack of elegance compared to Apple’s app, Pinnacle Studio Pro’s feature set and workflow go beyond what iMovie can offer.
On opening a clip, you can pre-trim, marking in and out points, before sending it to the storyboard – a thumbnail strip that provides a glanceable view of your project. Below this sits a traditional timeline, for fine-tuning, adding transitions, and working with multiple audio tracks – perfect for those times when you just have to add a Hollywood soundtrack and loads of effects to that video of you finally nailing flying your drone successfully around a tree.
LumaFX: best video fixer
Although iMovie is stuffed full of tools and effects, LumaFX is a must-have install as well. Essentially, it’s all about fixing single clips, whether you were holding your iPhone wrong, meaning everything plays sideways, or your footage ended up with a colour cast that makes everyone look like they’re about to vomit.
With a few taps, LumaFX lets you flip, reorient and rotate footage, adjust its speed and aspect ratio, and apply all manner of effects. Whether you want to subtly adjust contrast and shadows or transform a home movie into a deranged 1970s Eastern European animation, LumaFX is a few quid well-spent.