The 25 best iOS apps and games of 2015
There are around 1.5 million apps for iOS devices available in the Apple App Store, and picking out the gems from the pile isn't always easy. To save you the time and effort of searching yourself, we put our heads together to bring you the very best apps and games released this year: no matter what your tastes, you should find plenty of useful and entertaining apps here.
Hooks wants to give you "alerts and notifications for everything" and it can really make a difference in trying to stay on top of the flood of news and information that arrives on the web each day. Stories you're interested in are pushed to your device as simple alerts you can dismiss or tap through on.
Of course an app like this sinks or swims on how well you can customize it to suit your own preferences, but fortunately telling Hooks about the topics you want is very easy. From new episodes of your favorite show to breaking news alerts in specific categories, Hooks is a great way of keeping tabs on everything.
LuckyTrip tries to take most of the hassle out of planning a holiday by making a few decisions for you based on how much you want to spend. It plugs into various third-party services (like SkyScanner and Booking.com) to sort out flights and a hotel, then offers hand-picked ideas for activities as well.
You don't even need to choose where you're going. Select your budget, tap the button, and see what comes up. Some might feel uneasy at leaving so much to the whims of the app's algorithms but, for some, this could be a fun and spontaneous way to vacation. It certainly saves a lot of searching and planning time.
Essentially, MakerBot PrintShop lets you turn two-dimensional drawings into three-dimensional objects, via a MakerBot 3D printer. Of course you need access to such a printer, which may limit its appeal somewhat, but the app is still an impressive piece of software engineering and worth a spot on our list.
By starting with a selection of basic templates (type, bracelet, ring, vase, medal or shape) and then adding your own customizations, it's possible to create some eye-catching designs without any 3D programming skills at all. Note the app is only available for iPads right now, though we hope that changes soon.
MakerBot PrintShop (free, with in-app purchases)
If you own an iPhone then you probably take a lot of snaps with your mobile: but are they looking their best? Enlight is a professional photo editing and retouching tool you can use on iOS phones and tablets to enhance your pictures in various ways, and it's packed with an impressive array of features.
From simple crops and filter overlays to more advanced level adjustments and layered effects, Enlight is well worth the entry fee if you want to get serious about photo editing on mobile. It's accessible enough for beginners and you'll find you can get some professional-looking results out of the app very quickly.
Another excellent photo editor that launched this year, Darkroom is worth a look even if you think you've seen it all in iOS image editing. It's crammed with tools and features that serious photographers are going to find useful, some of which are available as paid-for upgrades inside the app.
Whether you want to add a drastically different filter or need to tweak the shadows and highlights of your picture ever so slightly, Darkroom makes the process feel natural and smooth. It's like having a fully featured photo editor in your pocket, and you can save custom-made filters as well.
Darkroom (free, with in-app purchases)
It's not easy for independent email clients to compete against Apple Mail and Gmail, but Readdle's Spark is giving it a good go. First and foremost the app provides a clean, uncluttered and elegant interface that makes it easy to see your messages at a glance and sift through them with a couple of flicks.
On top of that you get snoozing capabilities (to dismiss messages until a specified point in the future), quick replies, gesture customization and smart search (e.g. "emails with attachments this month"). Multiple email accounts can be added and it's simple to integrate just about every popular email service.
Adobe Photoshop Fix
Adobe now has quite a collection of mobile apps with Photoshop in the title, and Fix is the latest addition, focusing on removing blemishes and other imperfections from your images. The app also enables you to tweak the lighting, color and focus of an image with a few well-placed taps of your finger.
A couple of basic painting tools are included as well, but this is an app focused on refining existing images with a few adjustments on your iOS device. It plays nicely with the desktop Photoshop software but you don't have to own a copy of Photoshop to use this mobile spin-off app.
Adobe Photoshop Fix (free)
This year Tandem jumped into a crowded language learning app market and managed to stand out straight away, which says something about its novel approach: it connects you to other members of the 3 million+ strong community so you can chat one-on-one with another language learner.
It sounds a little scary at first, but you can browse available profiles to find someone you think you'll get on with, and you might make a few friends along the way. You get unlimited amounts of text, audio and video chat for free, and ultimately it's as much about helping others as it is about helping yourself.
If you're not much of an Instagrammer then Layout may have passed you by – but if you do happen to be one of the platform's 400 million active users then Layout is likely to be in your favorite apps of the year list. It finally brings official support for multi-photo collages rather than leaving you to rely on third-party alternatives.
The app's interface comes with the familiar Instagram aesthetic built-in, and finding photos, choosing a layout and cropping and zooming is all very straightforward. When you've finished there are options to post your picture to Instagram (natch), Facebook or any other service on the iOS Share menu.
The frequent fliers among you will know that finding the best fares for a particular journey can be something of a lottery, but Hopper wants to ensure the odds are stacked in your favor, as it monitors billions of changing flight prices on a daily basis to predict the best time to buy your tickets.
The app, which launched at the start of 2015 on iOS, is backed up by the main Hopper website, and like all the best mobile apps it's a breeze to use. You can run searches in seconds, get alerts when prices change on routes you're interested in and even book flights directly from inside the app.
Google has had a series of photo tools in the past, but 2015 was the year it came out with a dedicated app that puts everything else in the shade. Intelligent sorting, unlimited storage (if you don't mind a bit of resizing), access from pretty much any device you can imagine ... the feature list is a long one.
Since its launch the app's developers have improved the way you can share photos and albums with other people, and you can also hide pictures you don't want to see from the general stream. As you would expect, the search features work impressively, and it's the photo manager to beat right now.
Google Photos (free)
Meerkat might have been the first major livestreaming app, but Periscope is now the more polished and feature-packed of the pair. If you're new to Periscope, it lets you broadcast a livestream of anything you're seeing to whoever wants to watch.
Using the Twitter-owned app to tap into other people's public broadcasts from around the world can be just as diverting as setting up your own streams (and much less daunting), and as you would expect there's the option to follow other users, be followed in return, and leave comments during a livestream.
Whether you're a heavy GIF user or not, there's no doubting its importance and popularity on the modern-day web (not bad for a file format that's nearly 30 years old), and Giphy is one of the biggest online repositories of these mini moving pictures. This year it released an iOS app for hunting for GIFs on the go.
Anyone who thinks a GIF is worth a thousand words is going to love Giphy the mobile app. You can sift through images that are currently popular using tags or your own search terms. Meanwhile, if you're interested in creating your own customized GIFs from scratch, check out the Giphy Cam app for iOS.
Apple tends to release new apps at the same time as it updates iOS and News was one of the major highlights in iOS 9: a personalized, easy-to-read summary of the day's news, taken from some of the biggest publications on the web. The idea is that the app becomes better tailored to your tastes over time.
Whatever you think of these walled-in standalone reader apps, there's no doubt that News is nicely presented (no matter what size of screen you're using), simple to navigate, and a little more polished than Apple Music (the other major app launched by the Cupertino company this year).
Outlook isn't a new app but Microsoft released a brand new version of it this year (influenced by an acquisition or two) and it's finally worth checking out on mobile. The interface is clean and slick, the integrated gesture support works well, and you get a very capable calendar app thrown into the mix as well.
What's more, Outlook can manage multiple email accounts (including Yahoo, iCloud and Gmail ones) so it might just be the only mobile mail client you ever need. The Focused tab shown in the inbox is a welcome innovation, letting you jump straight to the messages that Outlook thinks are most important to you.
Lara Croft Go
Just as it did with Hitman, Square Enix took a turn-based puzzle approach when transferring the Tomb Raider franchise to mobile earlier this year. The pace slows as a result but this is still an absorbing challenge and one of the year's best games, whether or not you're already a fan of the series.
Players are once again tasked with raiding tombs with Lara Croft, but in a more thoughtful and strategic way than you might be used to. The visuals are consistently gorgeous to look at and the variety in the levels is enough to keep your interest. A free expansion pack was pushed out in November.
Lara Croft Go ($1.99)
Prune is something a little different from the norm. Gamers have to carefully cultivate (or prune) a different tree on each level, cutting away growing branches at just the right time to reach the target and progress further.
Prune has a visual look and an atmosphere that's all its own and you can tell that a lot of time and care has gone into the graphics and sounds here. Think of it as Fruit Ninja for grown-ups, or those who want a calm and reflective gaming experience rather than something that moves at breakneck speed.
Halo: Spartan Strike
Another major video game franchise in our list adapted to better suit smaller displays and touchscreen-friendly controls, Spartan Strike uses a different point of view and control system to the main Microsoft Halo series, while still managing to keep up the sense of frenetic sci-fi shooting fun along the way.
There are 30 missions to work through in all, plus a wealth of weapons, vehicles and abilities to experiment with. The variety of levels on offer (from city to forest) help to keep the gameplay fresh and enjoyable, though it's probably most appealing if you're already familiar with the Halo universe.
Halo: Spartan Strike ($5.99)
Getting the beautiful game of soccer (or football, if you aren't an Americano) right on a tiny mobile screen isn't easy – even with the increasing size of smartphone displays. So it's refreshing to find Score! Hero sacrificing some detail to make the whole experience a lot more fun, even if some players will find it too shallow and straightforward for their tastes.
Each level introduces a different game and a different scenario, and your job is to get the ball in the net through a succession of swipes and taps. You get to be more creative than that description might suggest, and the overarching storyline is enough to make you feel like you're making genuine progress.
Score! Hero (free, with in-app purchases)
A Good Snowman Is Hard To Build
One from the quirky puzzle game genre, A Good Snowman Is Hard To Build turned up at the end of the year and quickly won a lot of admirers. Your job is to – you've guessed it – build a snowman by shifting around blocks on screen, but the game is a lot more interesting and engaging than it sounds.
The cartoon-ish graphics are wonderfully done for a start, with each snowman having its own unique features. Increasing amounts of concentration are required to roll each part of the snowman's body and get everything stacked together in the right order, and it's a wonderful gaming experience throughout.
A Good Snowman Is Hard To Find ($4.99)
There's nothing original about the idea behind Alto's Adventure – an endless runner where you're snowboarding instead of running – but it pulls the idea off with such charm and attention to detail that you have to be impressed. From the graphics to the audio and everything in between, it's a top-quality title.
It's a pleasure to play too, with a tap of the screen being all that's needed to avoid rocks, jump from bunting to rooftop and back, and spin in mid-air. The advancing difficulty of the levels is well-judged, with the gradually changing weather and time of day another touch that makes Alto's Adventure so special.
Alto's Adventure ($2.99)
HoPiKo is an unashamedly retro game in all the best senses of the term. If you ever went near an arcade machine or primitive console in the 1980s then you're going to love the look, feel and sound of this one. New gamers should also get plenty out of this fast-paced and cleverly designed title.
It manages to do what all the best mobile games do, offering a straightforward control system that still feels fluid and engaging (there's no D-pad in sight, as the developers point out). You need to rely on fast reactions and intuition as you bounce and fly your HoPiKos from one side of each level to the other.
Bethesda wisely chose to do something completely different with its Fallout franchise when adapting it for the smaller screen, creating a 2D simulation and strategy game that's absorbing in its own right. You can still get a lot of enjoyment out of this even if you've never played another Fallout title.
It uses the same nuclear wasteland backdrop as the full games, but here your challenge is to keep your small community of sheltered survivors healthy and prospering. It's packed with delightful details and flourishes, and with the latest updates you can add Pets to keep your underground Dwellers company.
Fallout Shelter (free, with in-app purchases)
Quality games that veer from the norm are always appealing, and Shadowmatic brought something new to the table right at the start of 2015. The aim of the game is to manipulate and rotate a series of floating shapes so that their shadows form recognizable shapes against the wall.
Some of the puzzles can be infuriating at times, but the progress bar and the hint system stop you from getting completely stuck at any point. What's more, there's a great sense of achievement when you finally figure out a particular level, and it's one of those games you can get happily lost in for hours.
Does Not Commute
A game that's perfect for a five- or ten-minute burst of action that you don't have to think too much about, Does Not Commute asks you to guide a succession of commuters along the roads of a small town. It starts off easy enough but gets difficult very quickly, and you'll keep coming back for more.
The beauty of the game lies in the gameplay (though the visuals and sounds are great too): tap left and right to control your cars and get them to the designated spots in time. Each motor has to dodge past all the others from the same level, so each scene quickly fills up with a series of speeding vehicles.
Does Not Commute (free, with in-app purchases)