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20 best apps of all time

It’s two years since Apple’s App Store cut the ribbon and set out its stall. Around 15,000 apps are now submitted to Apple every week. That’s a lot

It’s two years since Apple’s App Store cut the ribbon and set out its stall. Around 15,000 apps are now submitted to Apple every week. That’s a lot of apps. Here are 20 that have innovated, excelled or otherwise impressed…

Brushes (from £3, iPhone, iPad)

You could describe Brushes as an evolution of Microsoft Paint. And it is, but a painting app on its own doesn’t warrant a place in this chart. A painting app that’s drawn the cover of the New Yorker on more than one occasion, though… that’s good enough.

Buy it


Angry Birds (59p, iPhone, iPad)

Inexplicably, green pigs have stolen the angry birds’ eggs, and boy has that irked ’em. Use a massive catapult and the birds’ individual destructive talents to smash the pigs and their fortifications into oblivion. 150 levels of highly addictive bird-slinging fun.

Buy it


Do Not Press the Red Button (from free, iPhone, iPad)

Of all the pointless apps, the most pointless was this, a big red button… in a box. Goading us on with reverse psychology, the lure was so irresistable that we all finished it, despite the lack of obvious gaming hooks like puzzling challenges or skill tests. And for what? We still don’t know.

Buy it


Facebook (free, iPhone)

Love or hate the world’s biggest social network, by the time Facebook launched its iPhone app, it was obvious it hadn’t had its fill of taking over our lives. Smartly interfaced with on-the-fly notifications from outside the app, it brought its desktop dominance to our pockets.

Buy it

Opera Mini (free, iPhone)

We’ll admit, we were pretty shocked when Apple stamped ‘approved’ across Opera’s app submission, moreso when we saw how much speedier it was than the iPhone’s native Safari browser. It isn’t perfect, but rendering the pages on servers before sending them out is a smart idea that’s saved our bacon in plenty of low-speed data situations.

Buy it


iHandy Level (free, iPhone)

If you thought of the App Store as a custom shop for the Swiss Army Knife of phones, then iHandy Level cemented that reputation, bringing a much-needed man-size feel to the iPhone’s tool kit. You couldn’t saw a branch off a tree, but using the accelerometer as a spirit level was a great idea.

Buy it


Epicurious (free, iPhone, iPad)

There are close to 1000 results returned in an App Store search for ‘recipe’. You only need one. And it’s free. Searchable by season, event, diet, dish type, ingredients and course, it’ll turn your culinary world upside down. No guarantees it’ll turn you into the next Ramsay, mind.

Buy it


iBooks (free, iPhone, iPad)

In many ways, books are the final frontier of the digital revolution, and Apple wasn’t going to be left out. In launching the iPad, it finally introduced what many of us had been waiting for – a reading device with support for colour and multimedia. Comics and magazines got a new lease of life, and that’s just the start.

Buy it


iWork (£6 per app, iPad only)

There’s talk of iWork hitting iOS 4 phones soon, and – like iBooks – it may, only to be exposed as a diverting amusement, rather than something genuinely useful. Meanwhile the iPad version is a powerful reminder that Apple, for all its hardware expertise, still has the beating heart of a software dev.

Buy it


iBeer (60p, iPhone)

For a time, many people seemed to think that drinking from the virtual pint glass of the iBeer app was better than supping from a real-world vessel. Hindsight has put paid to that, soapy residual suds and all, but we’ll happily pay homage to this important chapter in the App Store story.

Buy it


Football Manager Handheld 2010 (£6.99, iPhone)

Formerly known as Championship Manager, the Football Manager series is as engrossing as games get – and the iPhone version is no exception. Take charge of your favourite team and guide them to glory from the sidelines. But remember, it’s no fun starting at the top.

Buy it


Layar (free, iPhone)

Augmented reality is a cool concept, but also one that hasn’t penetrated the mainstream as it might have, probably due to yet another inaccessible sci-fi name. Layar, though, proved the worth of the concept, laying down its searchable grids on our field of vision in real time. Sci-fi, indeed.

Buy it


Dropbox (free, iPhone, iPad)

You might get 2GB of anything-goes file storage in Google Docs these days, but does it have a neat iPhone/iPad app to browse through your cloudy repository? It does not. Does it sync with your desktop(s) without an active browser? It does not. Was it first? It was not.

Buy it


Gorillacam (free, iPhone)

Your shiny new iPhone 4 has all sorts of fancy photographic tricks up its 5MP lens, we know. But Gorillacam offers a self-timer, time-lapse, anti-shake, a spirit level, a thirds grid, a three-shot burst and a touch-anywhere-to-shoot mode. Not bad for the price of a tripod ad.

Buy it


Shazam (free, iPhone, iPad)

With the advent of Shazam, the days of frustratingly trying to place the song you were listening to were over. You booted up the app, pointed your phone in the direction of the speakers and – bam! – your curiosity was sated. Okay, it doesn’t always work like that, but come on… have the decency to be amazed.

Buy it


The Guardian (£2.40, iPhone)

While The Times’ website persists with its painful new paywall, the Guardian has taken a more progressive approach to new media by building a pay-once-use-forever app that uses the technology available and also recognises its limitations. Anyone want a bet on which tactic will win in the long run?

Buy it


Paper Toss (from free, iPhone, iPad)

Although Angry Birds, Flight Control and, to some extent, the Real Racing games were in the running for this spot, Paper Toss came first. You might question how much fun it can be throwing scrunched-up balls of paper into a waste basket versus catapulting birds, landing planes or racing cars. Play Paper Toss, and you’ll find out.

Buy it


Fring (free, iPhone)

Bringing VoIP into the smartphone realm was supposed to be Skype’s job, and the grandaddy of internet calling was loitering about in the App Store. But Fring was first with 3G calling, and that made all the difference. Networks permitting, this is a future battleground.

Buy it


Wikipedia (from free, iPhone, iPad)

There are tons of reference apps, but Wikipedia is now the world’s de facto reference tool, and the biggest reference brand on Earth. So it’s more than a little impressive that its app manages to shoehorn those vaults of knowledge into a format that’s easy to reference on a 3.5in screen.

Buy it


Hipstamatic (£1.20, iPhone)

Until recently, iPhone cameras were underwhelmingly specced. Hipstamatic spotted an opportunity to appeal to our lo-fi photography roots, introducing a range of virtual lenses to mimic Lomo cameras and their ilk. At a stroke, the iPhone’s snapper went from wanting to wanted.

Buy it

Check out Hipstamatic in Stuff’s Cool List 2010

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Profile image of Dan Grabham Dan Grabham Editor-in-Chief


Dan is Editor-in-chief of Stuff, working across the magazine and the Stuff.tv website.  Our Editor-in-Chief is a regular at tech shows such as CES in Las Vegas, IFA in Berlin and Mobile World Congress in Barcelona as well as at other launches and events. He has been a CES Innovation Awards judge. Dan is completely platform agnostic and very at home using and writing about Windows, macOS, Android and iOS/iPadOS plus lots and lots of gadgets including audio and smart home gear, laptops and smartphones. He's also been interviewed and quoted in a wide variety of places including The Sun, BBC World Service, BBC News Online, BBC Radio 5Live, BBC Radio 4, Sky News Radio and BBC Local Radio.

Areas of expertise

Computing, mobile, audio, smart home

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