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Best iPhone apps of 2012

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November 29, 2012

We break down the best iPhone apps of 2012

We break down the best iPhone apps of 2012

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Five years ago, the iPhone didn't support third-party apps. Today, it's a fully-fledged computer that fits in your pocket. There are now apps for editing photos and videos, playing recent console games, and composing electronic soundtracks. Which of those stood out from the crowd this year? Let's take a look at the best iPhone apps of 2012.

Google Maps

The iOS Maps crisis is over, as the free Google Maps is in the App Store

Sometimes losing something makes you realize how much you appreciated it. When Apple dropped Google from its Maps back-end in iOS 6, customers revolted. Apple's mapping data wasn't up to snuff, and iPhone owners longed for Google's established service.

After a couple months of melted bridges, misplaced towns, and Australian police warnings, Google saved the day with a standalone Google Maps app. It's iOS' best mapping app ever, with vector-based maps, Street View, voiced navigation, and transit directions.

App Store: Google Maps (free)

Sparrow

Though it's crippled, Sparrow was still one of the biggest new apps of the year

Possibly Mac OS X's best email app came to the iPhone this year, and it's a gem. Sparrow has an attractive interface, and a feature set designed to please volume emailers.

There is, however, one big problem with Sparrow. It lacks push notifications. Google's purchase of Sparrow also means that future support for the iOS app will likely be minimal.

Even with those huge caveats, though, Sparrow is the iPhone's first third-party email client worth having.

App Store: Sparrow (US$2.99)

iPhoto

iPhoto is a gesture-based photo editor from Apple

This year, Apple completed the conversion of its iLife suite to iOS. But iPhoto is nothing like its desktop counterpart. This version is a gesture-based editing suite designed specifically for touch screens. Its controls take some getting used to, but it's easily one of the best apps for enhancing pics on the go.

App Store: iPhoto ($4.99)

Chrome

Chrome's engine doesn't offer anything new, but it has a nice interface and syncs with Chr...

In 2012, Google released a version of its popular Chrome browser for iOS. Its interface and syncing get top marks, but it can't boast any performance improvements over Safari. Through no fault of Google's, it's powered by the same engine (iOS WebKit) as Apple's default browser.

App Store: Chrome (free)

Google Drive

Google Drive is a great alternative to Dropbox - with simple document editing to boot

More than just a Dropbox clone, Google Drive offers cloud storage and simple document editing on the go. Users get 5 GB of free storage, and you can pay $25/year to increase that to 25 GB.

Google's recent update, which adds spreadsheet editing, only reinforces Drive as one of the best apps of 2012.

App Store: Google Drive (free)

iTranslate Voice

If you travel, iTranslate Voice may be the most important app in the App Store

iTranslate Voice lets two people who speak different languages have a conversation. Tap the English button, speak, and listen as your words are spoken in the target language. When your friend taps the other button and speaks, their words are spoken in your language. While results can be hit and miss at times, its support for over 30 languages makes it a handy tool for travelers. However, it does require a constant internet connection.

App Store: iTranslate Voice ($0.99)

Burner

Burner gives you disposable phone numbers

Burner gives you a disposable phone number for calling and texting. It's great for Craigslist transactions, online dating, and all sorts of shady activities (or so I hear).

The only downsides are that each new number is a bit pricey, and you only get limited blocks of minutes and messages. You can also achieve the same ends for free by creating multiple Google Voice accounts.

App Store: Burner ($1.99)

Drafts

Drafts is so simple, you may be surprised at how useful it can be

Drafts is a virtual scratchpad. When you open the app, it's immediately ready for input. When you're finished typing, a couple of taps will copy the text to the clipboard or export it to a variety of popular apps.

App Store: Drafts ($1.99)

Summly

Summly's minimal take on the news is appropriate for phones

Summly is built on a simple idea: you only need quick summaries of the news. It only gives you a couple of short paragraphs for each story. If you want more than the barebones version, you can double-tap on the feed to read the full article.

The app has a terrific interface, and provides all the expected sharing options (though read later services are conspicuously absent). Summly's source variety can be improved, but it still might be the most innovative news app of 2012.

App Store: Summly (free)

Solar

Solar is one of our favorite weather apps for the iPhone

Solar is a simple and beautiful weather app. The color gradient tells you the temperature and weather. Swipe up for the next few hours, swipe down for the next three days, and swipe to the left to change locations.

The only drawback is that the developers still haven't updated Solar for the 4-inch screens of the iPhone 5 and iPod touch 5G.

App Store: Solar ($1.99)

Dark Sky

Dark Sky strips the weather app down to two questions: 'is it raining?' and 'what's the te...

Another elegantly simple weather app is Dark Sky. The app answers three questions: "what's the temperature?", "is it raining?", and "is it going to rain?" Unless you're a weather geek, that may be all you need to know.

For those seeking more detail, a tap or a swipe will show you the radar and the next day's forecast.

App Store: Dark Sky ($3.99)

Pocket, Readability

Readability (above) and Pocket are essentially free versions of Instapaper

These two apps make it harder to justify spending $3.99 on the excellent Instapaper. The free Pocket and Readability apps save lists of web articles, and present them in a clean, clutter-free layout.

App Store: Pocket (free), Readability (free)

Clear

Love it or hate it, Clear offers a bold new take on to-do lists

Clear is the most polarizing app of the year. Depending on who you ask, the gesture-based to-do list is either a breakthrough, or too clever for its own good. Love it or hate it, Clear is worth checking out.

App Store: Clear ($1.99)

Bastion

If you only buy one iPhone game this year, Bastion should be near the top of your list

Bastion is one of the most stylish and imaginative video games in years. Originally released for Xbox Live, the iOS port has stunning graphics, a memorable soundtrack, and surprisingly deep RPG elements. The star of the show, though, is the gravelly-voiced narrator who reacts to your every move.

App Store: Bastion ($4.99)

Max Payne Mobile

Rockstar nailed their port of the original Max Payne

Max Payne was one of the top games of the last decade. Eleven years after its initial release, it's one of the top games on the iPhone. The mobile port has enhanced visuals and some of the best virtual controls in the App Store.

App Store: Max Payne Mobile ($2.99)

Angry Birds Space, Angry Birds Star Wars

Another year, another two Angry Birds games

Long live casual gaming. Rovio gave us two new Angry Birds entries this year: Angry Birds Space and Angry Birds Star Wars. The titles breathed new life into the worn-out formula, with zero-gravity bird-flinging and familiar Lucas characters.

App Store: Angry Birds Space ($0.99), Angry Birds Star Wars ($0.99)

N.O.V.A. 3

Nobody ever accused Gameloft of being original, but N.O.V.A. 3 is still an entertaining sh...

Until Microsoft brings H.A.L.O. to the iPhone (fat chance), Gameloft's copycat N.O.V.A. franchise is as close as you'll get. Despite its cringe-inducing voice acting and lack of originality, N.O.V.A. 3 provides terrific visuals and hours of entertaining first-person shooting.

App Store: N.O.V.A. 3 ($6.99)

Horn

Horn isn't perfect, but it's one of the most console-like games you'll find on iOS

Zynga's Horn is a Zelda-inspired action puzzler. Though it can get repetitive, its striking visuals and RPG leveling make it one of the most console-like games in the App Store.

App Store: Horn ($6.99)

Honorable Mentions

No "best of" list is definitive, and these titles could easily find their way onto your iPhone: Draw Something, Camera Awesome, Amazon Cloud Player, Zeebox, Skitch, Sky Gamblers: Air Supremacy, Amazing Alex, Bad Piggies, and The World Ends With You: Solo Remix.

More to come?

2012 isn't over yet, so we'll keep an eye out for new additions (we're watching you, GTA: Vice City).

To see how the other half lives, check out our list of the Best Android apps of 2012.

About the Author
Will Shanklin Will Shanklin is Gizmag's Mobile Tech Editor, and has been part of the team since 2012. Will has a Master's degree from U.C. Irvine and a Bachelor's from West Virginia University. He currently lives in New Mexico with his wife, Jessica.
  All articles by Will Shanklin
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11 Comments

Great list, I own them all!

Skip Fredricks
30th November, 2012 @ 08:23 am PST

Worth a mention of an app called "soothe My Baby". It plays and lets you record soothing sounds for your baby. It also can be set to standby so that when your baby cries it will start playing soothing noises again. my wife loves it.

Jay Caldwell
1st December, 2012 @ 03:37 am PST

Will,

This sort of Posting is absolutely wonderful, albeit the snarky jab, getting your view is most helpful.

But the one App that really persists as an all time great is the i41CX that Apple has chosen to display so poorly and not list properly.

Steve Wozniac must have worked on the HP41CX which unequivocally destroyed the slide rule in one swell foop and this takes that way beyond and the user group is fantastic. So you have a double dip of Apps some of which once cost as much as $100 but are now all free.

I know that you are not into serious calculating but if you are, nothing anywhere can compare with the reemergence of the original Phaser Icon that was programmable.

Lewis M. Dickens III
1st December, 2012 @ 08:10 pm PST

Great apps! Another worthy contender is Elapsed - http://www.elapsedapp.com. A truly versatile multi timer app that's a serious upgrade on the built-in timer. Plus, it's free.

Buddhika Kottahachchi
2nd December, 2012 @ 10:59 am PST

Another candidate, contender is: Sidecar

Wango Fango
5th December, 2012 @ 05:14 pm PST

iPhone best Jumping game I have Played yet

https://itunes.apple.com/us/app/smile-bounce/id579995940?ls=1&mt=8

Scooby Dobydoo
7th December, 2012 @ 01:29 pm PST

I also want to include an other amazing photography app which allows you to take a group photo even, you take a snap of photographer. Read more about app, its free to try here http://vimeo.com/56497369

Ehsan Mahmood
30th December, 2012 @ 11:20 am PST

Personally, I think the best iPhone app for 2012 is ClipClock. It is more than just a video sharing app because ClipClock lets you watch and create videos instantly. In fact, ClipClock just reached top 5 in the Photo & Video category with the app store. Find out more about it at the app store - www.clipclock.com/download/20065.

Suzanne Parcero Florin
14th January, 2013 @ 09:56 pm PST

Hi,

I have seen a funny fitness app: Heart Beat Rate (www.heartbeaterate.com).

It measure your pulse with the webcam !!!

This app is interesting because Health advice and regular monitoring and follow-up are proposed.

It is user friendly and magic.

See you soon

EF

Emmanuel Fuchs
16th January, 2013 @ 05:38 am PST

I would definatly add ArkMC application to this list. Because I have huge movies library both on my PC and on my NAS. And with the help of ArkMC dlna application I can get access to all the movies and music stored there. I use XBMC media plaer as a server, and Twonky on my NAS.

I like watching videos and listen to music withound any need to copy it!

Here is the link for itunes: https://itunes.apple.com/us/app/arkmc/id405487397?mt=8

Donkin Kimel
19th January, 2013 @ 09:05 am PST

I like to setup my TV to display pics my friends take at the party, kinda fun :) http://snap.dzlabs.com

Mike Judge
31st July, 2013 @ 12:15 pm PDT
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