12 iPhone apps that I can't live without (and why you need them, too)

There are nearly two million apps available on the App Store, but these are the 12 most useful, and I'm not gatekeeping them any longer.
Written by Max Buondonno, Contributing Writer
Apple iPhone 15 Pro homescreen with Nomad case and wallpaper.
Max Buondonno/ZDNET

Whether you're a new iPhone owner or a veteran power user, there's always a new app out there worth checking out. 2 million, in fact, according to Apple, making it somewhat of a challenge to find the ones that are most useful for you. 

Luckily, it's our job to recommend the best in tech, and that goes for the apps you use. Below, we're breaking down the 12 apps every iPhone owner should download once their device is set up.

1. Flighty

Flighty iOS screenshots from Apple App Store.
Global Flight, Airport, & Airline Status Tracker LLC

If you are a frequent flier, you have to check out Flighty. It's one of the most popular (and visually beautiful) flight trackers for the iPhone, with interactive maps, delay predictions, up-to-the-second notifications, pilot-grade FAA data integration, and more. It's an incredibly robust experience and one that no airline's proprietary app comes close to replicating.

Download Flighty (Subscription needed for most features, App Store)

2. Rocket Money

Rocket Money iOS screenshots from Apple App Store.
Rocket Money

Nowadays, there are a lot of different ways of taking control of your finances and building towards a better future. One of the best apps you can use for this is Rocket Money, which lets you connect all of your bank accounts, credit cards, crypto accounts, investments, and more and develop a bird's eye view of where your money is going, how much you're spending, investing, saving, and more. Plus, it can help you track down those pesky subscriptions that, if we're being honest, slip away from even the sharpest among us.

Download Rocket Money (Free with subscription option and upgrades, App Store)

3. Todoist

Todoist iOS screenshots from Apple App Store.

I'm a big believer in using a to-do list app to keep track of my agenda, and I've found that Todoist is perhaps the best one I've ever used. From working on projects to planning what to pack for trips up to New York City, Todoist has every feature you could ask for from a to-do list app, including reminders, recurring due dates, labels, shared workspaces, and most importantly, integration with your calendar and cross-platform support. Plus, the iOS app is clean and simple to use.

Download Todoist (Free w/ subscription option, App Store)

4. Bear

Bear iOS screenshots from Apple App Store.
Shiny Frog Ltd.

When it comes to taking notes, it's easy to fall in love with one app and use it forever, so I don't blame you if you're stuck in your ways. However, if you're looking to switch things up and try something else, check out Bear. It's an Apple-only note-taking app that offers a clean, clutter-free interface that performs equally well at jotting down a grocery list or typing out a research paper. You can organize your notes easily, use tags to keep track of topics, and the whole thing is powered by Markdown for more engaging and content-inclusive notes.

Download Bear (Free with subscription option, App Store)

5. Halide Mark II

Halide Mark II iOS screenshots from Apple App Store.
Lux Optics Incorporated

If you want to take your photography game to the next level, check out Halide Mark II; it's perhaps the best professional-grade camera app on the App Store today. It comes with a bunch of settings to lock in the perfect shot, from focus peaking and manual white balance to various RAW options and histograms. Pros will warm up to its capabilities right away, while novices will have an easy time adapting, as the layout is simple enough to pick up quickly. The only downside is that you'll need to pay for a subscription (which starts at $2.99/month), but trust us, it's worth it.

Download Halide Mark II (Subscription required, App Store)

6. CARROT Weather

CARROT Weather iOS screenshots from Apple App Store.
Grailr LLC

There's a good chance that you've never asked for your weather app to give you snark about today's forecast, but download the CARROT Weather app and that's exactly what you'll find. Not only do you get up-to-date weather information, widgets, and radar maps, you'll be greeted by playful descriptions and captions commenting on the weather and time of year. There's even an AI chatbot you can "bond with" which, by and large, makes this the most dystopian weather app you can get. (We're sure the developers at CARROT won't mind that description whatsoever.)

Download CARROT Weather (Free with subscription option, App Store)

7. Hit The Island

Hit The Island iOS screenshots from Apple App Store.
Funn Media, LLC

Whether I'm sitting at the bus station or have five minutes to burn in between projects, one of the iPhone games I rely on for a distraction is Hit The Island. From developer Funn Media, the game is abundantly simplistic in that it's straight-up pong, but it uses the iPhone's Dynamic Island as the target. The Island grows, it shrinks, there are occasional obstacles, and you can earn points and rewards along the way. It's a lot of fun, whether you invest a lot of time in it or open it every now and then to momentarily switch your brain off.

Download Hit The Island (Free with upgrades, App Store)

8. Alto's Odyssey

Alto's Odyssey iOS screenshots from Apple App Store.

Another great game to drift away with is Alto's Odyssey, which has one of the most beautiful art designs in a mobile game I've ever seen. You snowboard with ease and skill through winding dunes, canyons, and many other scenes, collecting rewards and bonuses along the way. The simplistic one-touch controls, stunning visuals, and relaxing soundtrack make this entry from Team Alto a game that's simultaneously relaxing yet thrilling. 

Download Alto's Odyssey (Free with upgrades, App Store)

9. Gmail

Gmail iOS screenshots from Apple App Store.

Once again, yes, we sense the irony. But let's be honest: the default Apple Mail app hasn't been good since forever, and you probably use Gmail anyway as your primary inbox. So why not just download the Gmail app? Not only will you get the best integrated experience for your email, you'll also get reliable search results, signature syncing, and multi-inbox support. It may not be as robust or trendy as some third-party alternatives, but it gets the job done, and done well.

Download Gmail (Free, App Store)

10. Google Maps

Google Maps iOS screenshots from Apple App Store.

Yes, we're aware of the irony of this as a selection, but it's a must-have. Plenty of folks enjoy the navigation experience provided by the iPhone's default map application, Apple Maps, but the fact is that Google Maps offers a more robust feature set. There's more information on the destinations you visit, more reliable directions, and a reason why so many people prefer it over the competitors.

Download Google Maps (Free, App Store)

11. SpellTower

SpellTower iOS screenshots from Apple App Store.
Zach Gage

If you are more into brain exercise games, check out SpellTower. The game is sort of like if a crossword puzzle and word search had a baby, yet there's enough Scrabble influence that you'll want a paternity test. Basically, your job is to find the longest, highest-scoring words on the board, then outline them and rack up the points. There's a Tetris-style mode, an elimination mode, daily puzzles, and more. While it might look boring on the outside, it's actually a whole lot of fun.

Download SpellTower (Free with upgrades, App Store)

12. Authy

Twilio Authy iOS screenshots from Apple App Store.
Authy Inc.

Authy is perhaps one of the most useful apps you'll ever use. It allows you to sync all of your two-factor authentication settings under one account and app, which means you won't need a million different apps on your phone to secure each account you have. The app also lets you set up an Authy account which syncs your settings across devices, letting you log into an account, even without your phone on you. Trust me when I tell you that this app is truly life-changing, especially for those of us who use 2FA every day.

Download Authy (Free, App Store)

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