Someone must really like you -- otherwise, how did you end up with an iPhone this holiday season? Yeah, we know, iPads don't really fit into stockings. Besides, your parent or significant other got you an arguably better gift in the cheaper (with two-year contract, of course), more compact, and more recently updated iPhone 4. We've given you some app suggestions before when the device first launched, but that was six months ago, and in technology time, that's like seven years. Want a run-down of the best apps, our favorite accessories, and the essential tips and tricks? Just follow along after the break!
Dropbox (free for basic 2GB account). In case you hadn't noticed, getting files to and from your iPhone isn't exactly a walk in the park -- and that's what makes an app like Dropbox so damned valuable. Not only does using Dropbox on your desktop or laptop mean that you've got some simple, integrated cloud storage, but it makes it super easy to ping files back and forth to all of your devices (iPad too). A quick and easy fix for when you need to get content to and from platforms, and a great way to ensure that your files don't get lost in the shuffle. The Dropbox app lets you upload pictures and video, create links to share with others, and enjoy what's already on the server (including text and PDF files). And don't worry about backing out mid-transfer -- the app will keep uploading in the background.
Wikipanion (free; $4.99 for Plus edition). Just think, there was a time in our lives where we'd be at a bar or restaurant arguing over some stupid piece of trivial knowledge and no one could look up the right answer. Man, we'd go on for hours just berating the other person, never as confident in our side as we let on. Times have changed, and if you need a connection to the database of information that is Wikipedia, you can't go wrong with Wikipanion. It bests the official app, in fact, with features like remembering where you last left off in an entry
Kindle (free) and Nook (free). There's no shortage of e-reader apps for iOS, and nothing to stop you from download every single one, but for our money we like to stick with Kindle and Nook. The user interface for both is simple and intuitive and the library of books (backed by Amazon and Barnes & Noble, respectively) is expansive. The best part? Your virtual library syncs to the cloud so you can continue from the page you left off at regardless of which device -- iPhone, iPad, Android, PC, Mac, Blackberry, or of course Kindle / Nook -- you pick up next.
WorldMate (free; $0.99 for Gold edition). Here's hoping you didn't blow all of your savings on a new iPhone -- after all, you'll be needing a vacation after stuffing your face with holiday grub for a solid week. You'll also need $0.99, which you'll promptly spend on the 'Gold' version of WorldMate for iOS. Yeah, there's a free version if you're looking to test the waters, but a mere buck nabs you automatic flight delay notifications, real-time flight stats and loads more information that you never appreciate until you're hurrying through security. This app beautifully lays out your upcoming trips, ingests pretty much every confirmation email ever, and easily manages multiple people on the same flight who got there via different confirmation numbers. If you're looking to get your travel life organized, look no further.
Pandora (free). Still the reigning champ in the music department, next to the iPod app itself. If you're not familiar with the desktop version, Pandora's raison d'être is streaming music stations created based on an artist, song, or genre you pick, and pruned via thumbs up / down ratings you can apply to each song. Better still it works in the background -- with controls available at any time -- so you can keep the beat alive while bouncing around other apps.
iMovie ($4.99). We keep forgetting this is a premium app for download, but Apple's own video editing software is a pretty robust package, letting you take the HD home movie clips you've recorded and turning them into a moderately impressive presentation with transitions, music, even special templates if you so choose. Your family and friends will thank you.
Photoshop Express (free) and Instagram (free). Not every 5 megapixel picture (or VGA self-portrait) you take is gonna be a winner from the get-go. Adobe's Photoshop app provides nowhere near the options you get from the desktop version, but it's good for quick touch-up work and you've got a lot of different options for tweaking, including cropping, rotating, exposure, saturation, tint, and a number of filter effects / borders. Instagram, on the other hand, only gives you about a dozen preset (read: not customizable) filter options to choose from, each designed to give the shot a more vintage look. It's a bit hard to explain, but trust us, people really seem to dig it.
Convert ($1.99) and iHandy Level (free). Think of the iPhone like a toolbox. You've got to have some decent tools in there, and Convert and iHandy Level are two of the simplest and best. The former does just what it says -- converts just about any measurement to any other measurement (including foreign currency) and looks good while doing. The latter is also pretty straightforward -- it's a working level in your pocket for when just eyeballing something doesn't cut the mustard.
Mobile Mouse Pro ($1.99). Have a Mac connected to your TV? Then you need this app. Basically, it's a keyboard, trackpad, and universal remote for almost all of the applications on your computer. Using a simple component installed on your target box, Mobile Mouse Pro connects quickly and easily from anywhere on your wireless network, allowing you to zoom through VLC, iTunes, Safari, or just about anything else you can throw at it. If you're a control freak with a slightly complicated HD setup, this is lifesaver.
Skype (free). C'mon people -- get with the times. Skype is kind of a must have if you're into this new-fangled internacular communicatin' -- and let's be honest, you is. But seriously, Skype is probably the next best thing to an actual phone (and since you've got an iPhone, it may very well be better than your actual phone). If you've got an account already, this will make a lot of sense, and since Apple's added its brand of multitasking, you can not only receive calls when you're in other apps, but keep them going in the background while getting work done.
Angry Birds ($0.99, lite version is free). We're lucky the Angry Birds Seasons (also $0.99) holiday calendar is done, else we'd probably be wasting our morning trying to earn three-stars on the latest available level. It's a simple premise: fling ill-tempered birds of various abilities towards equally-petulant pigs with the express intent on destroying them. Both editions (the original and Seasons) add up to over 250 levels. There's a reason the game's surpassed 50 million downloads in just over a year... and we'd give you that reason, but we just thought of a new strategy for level 11-10.
iDracula ($0.99, lite version is free). Sure, it's a bit long in the tooth now, but iDracula is still one of the most exciting, addictive iPhone games we've played. Think Smash TV with monsters, and you've pretty much got it. From the graphics to the controls and even the audio, iDracula is 100 percent class. We dare you to not get totally wrapped up in this game. Now come on, guys -- isn't it time for the sequel?
Canabalt ($0.99). Just get it. You'll never work again.
The Incident ($1.99). Another work-destroyer. Awesome retro graphics and audio, amazing gameplay. Perfectly suited to those doctor office waits and long subway rides.
Call of Duty Zombies ($4.99). It's Call of Duty. There are zombies. Do we really need to explain further? Amazing graphics and terrific gameplay make for a quality, console-like experience that will have your non-iPhone-owning friends in a deep state of envy.
Infinity Blade ($5.99). While both this and Id Games' Rage HD ($1.99) have raised the bar for 3D gaming on smartphones, we find ourselves going back to Infinity Blade more often. There's something about leveling up our character and mastering a wide variety of weaponry that's become downright addicting. The fights can be repetitive, but the rising difficulty keeps you on your toes for all but the earliest of battles. Did we mention it's freaking gorgeous?
Find My iPhone (free). We really hate to admit how many iPhones we've lost, even when we've had the Mobile Me account and just forgot to set this app up until after the fact (note: it doesn't work that way). Now you can have the location-tracking comfort free of charge without paying for Apple's annual service. The extra Home Screen icon is worth it here.
Shazam (free). "Hey, what the heck is that catchy / addicting / obnoxious / nausea-inducing song playing right now?" Here's your answer. Not good enough for you? Try Soundhound.
There's additionally a number of free apps well worth your time likely go without saying -- if you like the service, you'll likely be just as glued to these apps:
The New York Times
iPhone cases and accessories
As you probably know, there are a million and one accessories on the market for iPhones right now. We're just going to cherry pick a few we're really fond of (and think you guys might like), but make no mistake -- this is a massive market.
Apple's bumper case ($29). We suggest you put something around that iPhone 4, as they're prone to totally shattering if they hit the ground without protective coverings. There are a lot of options for cases, but Apple's homespun version keeps a relatively low profile. When the official solution first hit the scene, all we could find at the time was black. Now there's an assortment of color options to choose from -- may we suggest Engadget-esque blue?
Pantone case (coming soon). Are you the creative type? You'll probably love these Pantone-colored cases from Case Scenario.
Roberu leather case (about $72). Want to go high end? How about this hand-made leather case from Japanese factory Roberu. It'll look great with your Aldens.
Gelaskins ($14.95). Don't want to go the case route, but feel like personalizing your device? Gelaskins has a huge selection of form-fitting skins. We're partial to the eBoy selections, but you can also create your own.
Mophie juice pack ($79.95). We loved this extended battery in our review, and besides giving your new phone a lot more juice when you're out and about, it keeps a low profile (and comes in colors) -- so you can still feel a sense of superiority about your device. We'd also suggest checking out the Exolife Exogear case ($89.95), which is a terrific alternative, though a slight bit pricier.
You've got to have some decent headphones to go with your new smartphone, and Apple's included pair just don't hack it at all. We'd recommend the reasonably priced Klipsch S4i ($99) or Sleek Audio's SA1 ($79.99). If you really want to drop some cash, check into Klipsch's higher end X10i buds ($349.99), or Ultimate Ears' TripleFi 10vi ($334.99 at Amazon, though you can get the TripleFi 10 buds themselves for $184.99 and a separate mic cable for $19.99).
iPhone tips and tricks
Transferring from an old iPhone using a new computer? Connect the retiring device to whatever machine is going to act as a mediator, right click on its name in iTunes and select "Transfer purchases" followed by "Back up." You'll need your iTunes account login.
There's bound to be some bundled apps that you'll rarely (if ever) use but can't delete (e.g., Contacts, Stocks, Game Center), so why not clean up the home screen and throw them all into one easily ignorable folder by pressing down on the banished app until it wiggles and dragging it over another useless square until a folder is made
Want a search alternative to Google? Under the Settings > Safari menu, you can opt for Yahoo or Bing instead
Use the accessibility settings to activate triple click on the home button -- you'll be able to toggle the screen into white on black mode (really just reversed colors), which can make some reading situations easier
Web apps can be your friend, particularly if you're a Google user; use the + button in Mobile Safari to make quick, usable shortcuts to Gmail, Google Voice, and a handful of other HTML5-heavy mobile sites by adding them to the Home Screen.
Customize search in settings under General > Spotlight Search. You can get at nearly every file on the phone this way, or just limit it to more basic searches
iOS 4 gives the iPhone an orientation lock, too -- find it by double tapping the home button and sliding to the left. It's next to your music controls.
English isn't your only keyboard option, you know. Check out Settings > General > International to add an array of input formats for a number of languages, including handwriting options for those who'd prefer to sketch out simple / traditional Chinese.
The above list of apps, accessories, and tricks represents just a handful of what's out there for the iPhone. We're sure you guys have your own ideas, and we'd love to hear them -- so sound off in comments below!
Darren Murph, Joshua Topolsky, and Nilay Patel contributed to this article.