10 Essential Free iPhone Apps

| Free on iTunes

Last week I talked about 10 freebies that should find a home on every iPad. True, most of the apps I mentioned have iPhone/iPod touch counterparts and are equally essential on the more mobile of the iOS clan, but the apps I will highlight today work best on the pocketable devices for one very good reason; your iPhone is most likely to be always connected.

Whereas with the iPad, even if you’ve opted for and use 3G, you may decide to rely primarily on WiFi and use your 3G option only when necessary, like when you travel. If you’re using your iPhone as it was intended then it must have a data connection, always, and because it’s required, apps that make use of that connection suddenly become more useful because they are always available.

So, without further preamble, here are 10 apps that I believe should grace your new iPhone.

Instagram: I’ve always been impressed with the iPhone’s ability to take a decent shot. Even back in the day when I was sporting an iPhone 3G, the pix I took with that phone were of decent enough quality for me to not even think about lugging along a pocket cam.


I have an iPhone 4 now and the pix it can take seldom fail to make me smile. There two reasons why I’m happy with my shots: the first is Camera+, an app that’s been around for a while and is a must if you are serious about using your iPhone for photography. The other reason is Instagram.

Taking pix should be a breeze, and sharing them should be breezier, and that’s what Instagram is all about. Point and shoot, then use the included filters to jazz up your shots, but the fun doesn’t end there. Instagram will let you post your pix for all your friends to see and follow via any number of social sites. Through Instagram you can keep up with friends and family as well. It’s a fun concept and works great.

Weather Channel: I mentioned Weather Channel for iPad and felt the app was essential though it seemed to lack some of the features of its iPhone sibling. Well, get the iPhone sibling.

Weather Channel

With the app you get a customizable motion radar map, 36 hour and 10-day forecasts, video forecasts for your area, and severe weather alerts. That last one is most important in my book. Tap the severe button and you get a list of currently active alerts and storms in your area. Why this isn’t included in the iPad app I’ll never know.

Makes no difference, it’s in the iPhone app and you should get it.

IMDB: When Apple released iOS 5 it also released an app called Trailers and it is not bad. It’ll show you trailers, of course, but it’ll also give you showtimes from all your local theaters. The problem with Trailers is that it can be slow when trying the find a movie.


I gave up using the app and went back to my old standby, IMDB.

Here’s an app that just works, especially if you are trying to find movie related info. Any movie related info. The app fires up quickly, has a clean interface, and gets the job done without a lot of ceremony. Need to know where a movie is place and at what time? Boom! it’s done.

Google Voice: There are time when you REALLY don’t want to give someone your mobile phone number, but can still imagine a need to give them some means of contacting you. This is where Google Voice comes in handy.

Google Voice

Get a Google Voice account and you get a useable phone number that you can then give to your shadier contacts. When they call your GV account they can leave a message that GV can translate to text and forward to you. It’s a great way to screen calls. The bonus, of course, is that you now have a second phone number you can use on any of your devices, including your iPad.

Anyone who feels the need to keep their mobile number a bit more private should waste no time getting Google Voice.

Flashlight: There’s a saying in photography: The best camera is the one you have with you. That’s sound logic and applies to many things, including flashlights. Few people carry them, but everyone has run into situations where they wished they had one. With Flashlight you always do.


It’s a simple app. Fire it up and you can turn on the iPhone’s camera flash, which is just a very bright LED. You can opt to have the LED strobe or flash out and S.O.S., or , if you are into Morse Code, you can manually tap out your message. If you need less light, say, just enough to read a menu in a dimly lit restaurant, then switch to the screen light. It’s incredibly handy and you’ll thank me for suggesting this one many times.

Dropbox/PlainText: Yep. These two I mentioned last week for the iPad, I’m lumping them into one here because they simply work well together, and they makes even more sense on your iPhone.


Let’s say you’ve recently had an editing session on your iPad, but you are currently away from your larger device and have been struck by a bolt of inspiration. With DropBox you have access to your PlainText file. You can edit away and be secure in knowing that you inspired prose is now safe and sound.

Dragon Go: Those of you with iPhone 4s(s) can ignore this. The rest of you take note. You can now sate your lust for Siri-like interaction with your iPhone by using Dragon Go. It uses the same engine that gives Siri her smarts.

Dragon Go

Tap the button and ask Dragon Go where the nearest Starbucks is, and it responds with a list of coffee shops near you. Yeah, it’s not as sexy as Siri, but it gets the job done and it’s simple to use.

There’s also Dragon Dictation, which will translate your speech into text which can then be sent to others via SMS or email. Again, it isn’t Siri, but few things are.

NPR News: You’ve got to have a news app, and NPR News is one of my favorites on the iPhone. It has a clean interface, lists all the top news stories, and gives you the option to either read or listen to each story. I like that.

NPR News

You also get access to other NPR programs like Car Talk and All Things Considered. You can save stories for reviewing later, save your favorites, and listen to your local public station. Lots of good stuff in an ad-free app.

WebMD: When should you use a tourniquet? The answer may surprise you.


We sometimes run into situations where medical advice is needed, but it just isn’t available. If you have a medical emergency then call 911, but if the situation isn’t serious enough then consult WebMD. It has a symptom checker which asks you a series of questions and delivers a list of possible causes which you can then explore. This will, in turn, give you more information and perhaps questions to ask your doctor on your next visit.

It also provides first aid advice and help with common ailments. WebMD is a great tool to have.

SoundHound: What’s the name of the song currently playing on the radio? With SoundHound, you’ll know in just a few seconds.


Let the app hear a few seconds of what’s being played and SoundHound scours the Internet to find an answer for you. What’s even better, if you have that song available on your iPhone it’ll point you to it for playing.

It’s great app to have a surprisingly useful.

OK, that’s a wrap for this week. More free iPhone apps below with direct links.

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Paul Robinson

Looking forward to reading the recommendations… but I wanted to mention a small counterpoint to this:

“Your iPhone must have a data connection, always, and because it?s required, apps that make use of that connection suddenly become more useful because they are always available”

That’s actually not true!  Many of us have iPhones that are NOT connected, that do not have data connections.  We either purchased them used or inherited them and have no desire to get locked into a 2-year, expensive cell phone contract.  So, we use them as upgraded, more capable iPod Touches!  Some folks also use them with their GoPhone accounts, turning on the cell service when needed, so that there is no always connected, always on basis! 

(By the way, the Captcha service you’re using is the one where even *humans* can’t read the letter!  grin )

Paul Robinson

Just been reading your round-up!  Good stuff.  I have several and like them so I knew your other recs would be spot on. 

Spotted a typo—it changes the meaning of one recommendation.

“Those of you with iPhone 4?s can ignore this.”  That should be, those with iPhone 4Ss


I am not sure I agree with you about Dragon Go sharing the same engine that gives Siri her smarts. Is Siri’s smarts really her voice recognition abilities or its ability to make use of the speech it recognized? Nuance’s engine doesn’t provide artificial intelligence. It merely recognizes speech. Dragon’s software turns the speech into text, and then runs that text through a variety of search engines. The user then picks what engine best goes with what you asked. You provide the intelligence.


Since we are in the “digital age”, we are becoming a bit forgetful in regard to quality; Some may think a 128 bit mp3 delivers a good sound, and that a photo taken with a iPhone is “decent”. wink


Since we are in the “digital age”, we are becoming a bit forgetful in regard to quality. Some may think a 128 bit mp3 delivers a good sound, and that a photo taken with a iPhone is decent. wink

Vern Seward

That?s actually not true!  Many of us have iPhones that are NOT connected, that do not have data connections.

Hi Terrin,

I’ll concede that there are some iPhones in use that aren’t actually being used as phones or are using a data plan. I wouldn’t say it was “many”. Out of the tens of millions of iPhones worldwide, I’d venture to guess that maybe one to two million are not connected. You’d be surprised how many people still actively use the original iPhone.

Actually, that’s a good question: How many iPhones out there are NOT connected to any phone or data plan? The answer would likely surprise both of us. grin

Still, you are right and I’ll make the edit to correct.

Vern Seward

Vern Seward


I believe the ability to recognize spoken words AND then determine what to do with them IS the smart part of Siri, and Nuance does provide that. The database is Apple’s.

Siri provides that same type of info as Dragon Go, the only difference is that the output from Siri is formatted to give it a more social quality. Not much intelligence there. In fact, I’d say the social output is akin to the old Lisa program, which was popular in the late 80’s and was based on a experiment to see if people can determine in the other person in an online conversation was real or an AI program.

The program parsed your comments and questions, looking for key words and sentence structures, then gave canned responses to what was found.

Being able to recognize speech requires far more smarts. Siri makes mistakes when she first hears some people speak and she learns from those mistakes. THAT’s the smart stuff.

It’s freaky what she understands, and it will only get freakier.

Vern Seward

Vern Seward

@ McV
Quality is relative. It’s my opinion that resolution and other technical specs do not give the full definition of quality.

I can take a low rez shot and it’s may be considered a work of art, and that a hi-rez, tack sharp shot and it be considered crap.

I think there are photos taken with iPhones that are better than decent. They can’t compare to the specs of a high end camera, but often, the best camera is the one you have. iPhones and other smart phone cams have been delivering pix that can give pricier equipment a run.

128 bit audio IS fine for most situations. My car is noisy, so I could never hear the difference in music with better specs.

As I said, it’s relative.

Vern Seward


With the iphone and perfect apps at my hand, forget everything. Thinking that i am in new world.

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