Must-Have Free iPhone Apps in 2012

iPhone 4SIt’s been a few years now since I last compiled a list of must-have iPhone apps and a lot has changed. The OS itself has hugely evolved and the app market has grown exponentially along with it. As such, my old must-have apps lists has become a bit outdated. Unlike the last time I did this, when apps were split up in to different posts, I will be covering everything right here, split up in to the following categories: News & Social Media, Reference, Audio/Video, and Utilities. You may notice that the ever-popular category of “Games” is missing. There’s just too many to squeeze in here and that’ll get it’s own post somewhere down the road.

News & Social Media
You might notice a few things missing from the list below, so let me explain before I go forward. I generally hate most official apps from the wide range of popular news outlets. For some reason beyond my understanding, they can’t seem to do it well. News apps tend to be sluggish, clunky, unattractive, or excessively monetized with ads. You also may notice that the Facebook app is missing. You will probably install it if you use Facebook, but it really is a piece of shit. Notifications are flaky, it crashes, it often doesn’t load posts correctly, and is generally slow and unreliable. From what I hear, they put just as much effort in to their mobile apps for other platforms as well. On to the worthwhile stuff.

  • Alien Blue (Free, but there’s a $1.99 Pro Upgrade)
    This is, hands down, the absolute best Reddit client there is on any platform, mobile or otherwise. I honestly can’t tell you whether this would be better described as a news app or a social media app, because it is a fantastic tool for both and is often where I find out about news before I see it anywhere else. The pro upgrade adds a handful of features that, frankly, I don’t use often, but the developer deserves your $1.99 anyways.
  • Flipboard
    Another crossover between social media and news, Flipboard uses an intuitive “flippable” interface to easily flip through the latest news along with (optionally) recently shared news from your Facebook or Twitter feeds. Regardless of whether or not you use the built-in social media features, Flipboard makes quickly checking the latest news as simple as it can possibly be.
  • Twitter
    Twitter isn’t for everyone, but if you’re a fan and want to access it from your phone, there isn’t a better option than the official app, in my humble opinion. It’s feature rich and coordinates nicely with the website. If anything, I find myself longing for features of the iPhone app when using it on the web (easily quoting tweets comes to mind).

Probably the best part of always carrying a tiny computer in my pocket is the access it offers me to the vast reserves of the information superhighway [Insert comment about that clich├ęd 90’s terminology here]. At least a few times a day, I’m curious about something and am instantly able to whip out my phone and immediately find an answer. These are the best tools to help do that.

  • IMDb
    The Internet Movie Database is probably among my favorite websites in the history of the Internet. You can look up just about anything about any actor, movie, or TV show in the history of movies and television. Their iOS app is no exception. It’s fast, easy to use, and just as in-depth as the website.
  • RedLaser
    Scan a barcode on just about any product and you’ll get online pricing, local pricing (if available), reviews, and information about it. I can’t even tell you the number of times I’ve used this to save myself money. I don’t even buy anything at Best Buy anymore, as RedLaser just allows me to window shop, remember what I looked at, then buy it online for significantly less. As if that isn’t awesome enough, it also reads QR Codes.
  • RoadNinja
    I came across this app quite recently and was pleasantly surprised with how awesome it is. At it’s most basic, it tells you what’s near you. Food, gas, lodging, attractions, camping, and pharmacy. When you’re on the highway, however, it kicks it up a notch and allows you to do those same searches, but based on upcoming exits, interchanges, etc. I’ve only needed to use it a few times, but this is a must-have for anyone who travels a lot or is planning on taking a road trip.

Audio & Video Sure you’ve got an iPod and YouTube built in, but 3rd party A/V apps really make the iPhone shine.

  • Pandora
    If you don’t know what Pandora is, you’re really missing out. Listen to music you love and discover similar music and similar musicians. For free. I know it sounds too good to be true, but Pandora really is as great as it sounds and is always a great source when you’re looking for a great playlist.
  • Public Radio Player
    If, like me, you spend a lot of time listening to public radio, this is a must have. It gives you access to a live strem of just about any NPR affiliate station as well as on-demand access to the latest program of just about every show they air. You can take NPR with you wherever you go.
  • Netflix
    If you don’t have Netflix Instant, then feel free to completely ignore this suggestion. If you do, however, then this is a must-have. Put simply, it allows you to watch anything available from Netflix instant streaming on your phone via a user-friendly interface. Do I really need to say more?

Utilities The iPhone has a ton of great utilities that take it far beyond what it’s developers ever thought it would be capable of doing. Here are just a few that I find myself using regularly.

  • Dropbox
    Dropbox embodies what’s missing in iCloud. So much so, in fact, that Apple tried to buy Dropbox but was turned down. This handy little app gives you access to your files and effortlessly syncs them between your computer(s) and the cloud. It’s great to find something on my phone, save it to the Dropbox app, then have it on my computer as soon I next use it.
  • iHandy Level
    It’s exactly what you’d think it is: A level. The iPhone’s built-in technology makes it a surprising accurate level, so this comes in handy when, like myself, you find yourself in need of a level but without actually having one. Just the other day I used it to put up a new key hook in my house.
  • Ruler
    It’s a ruler. You can switch between Inches and Centimeters. If you need to measure small things, this is your app. Do I really need to explain more?

That’s all folks. Are there other apps that belong on this list? You bet there are. Feel free to share in the comments if you have any suggestions.

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