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.
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.
Bandimal: best iOS music app for beginners
Bandimal’s App Store page claims it was made for users of “ages 5 and under”. 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.
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.
Samplebot: best iOS sampling app
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.
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.
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 consumer 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.