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Essential Apps for iOS

Looking for the best iPhone apps? Here are our top picks, from social networking tools to entertainment programs.

Whether you're a longtime iPhone user or the proud owner of a new iPhone 4, you know that great apps are the key to taking full advantage of your handset. Our package of essentials should be more than enough to get you started.

In this article we've assembled the top software for iPhones; if you have a different mobile OS, be sure to see our picks for Android, BlackBerry, or Windows Phone 7.

You can easily find these apps by searching in the App Store. You'll need to have an account there, and the apps may cost a dollar or two. Before you buy, read the minimum requirements for each app to confirm that it will run on your phone. Remember that downloading apps counts against your monthly data-usage limit. And for the latest reviews, be sure to visit the iPhone AppGuide.

Social Networking

Beluga The easy-to-use Beluga group text service allows friends to join conversations, coordinate activities, and update their locations on a map, making this app a perfect tool for organizing group gatherings in new places.

Imo Have tons of friends? Do they all use different instant messaging services? No problem: Imo eliminates the hassle by allowing you to sign in to the most popular instant messengers all at the same time.

Loopt Users check in at locations, and can post questions such as "How much are museum tickets?" Other users in the know then answer in real time. Currently Loopt covers only big cities.

Productivity and Security

Bump Pass information easily from one smartphone to another with Bump. When two devices both running the app are physically "bumped" together, the selected content transfers over, even if one is an iPhone and the other is an Android-based handset.

Dropbox If you use Dropbox on your desktop PC, you already know that it's the easiest way to sync files across multiple systems. With Dropbox for your mobile device, you can quickly move files from your PC to your phone without having to plug your handset into the computer.

Find My iPhone Apple recently made this useful app free for all iPhone/iPod/iPad users. The easiest way to track down your lost or stolen handset, Find My iPhone shows the device's approximate location on a map.

Springpad With Springpad you can create to-do lists, and set reminders for yourself to increase your productivity. In addition, you can "bookmark" books, movies, or other items that have yet to be released so that you can remember to buy them later.

News and Information

Flud The people behind Flud say that their app reflects "the sexy news ecosystem." Flipping through feeds is simple and aesthetically pleasing, and sharing favorite stories with pals on Facebook or Twitter is a breeze.

Pulse One of the best-looking RSS readers out there, Pulse even imports Google Reader feeds so you don't have to build the mobile reader from scratch. You can separate feeds by category, and post interesting stories to Facebook or Twitter from the app.

Taptu Much like Flud, Taptu is an aggregated newsreader that looks great and is easy to use. You can pick and choose which news items to read, as well as mark interesting stories for later. The app works well even in areas with bad reception, so you can almost always get to your news.

Weather

AccuWeather Unlike the Weather Channel app, AccuWeather lets you manually refresh the screen to update weather data on demand. The app also boasts a GPS feature that permits you to check the forecast for a spot on the map that you don't have a name for--very practical if you are out traveling or camping.

MyRadar Pro This gorgeous app for map nerds shows color-coded weather patterns in 10-minute intervals, so you can see how quickly systems are moving. It's especially useful for outdoor types and budding meteorologists.

WeatherBug Elite Look to this app for local meteorological stats such as temperature, humidity, barometric pressure, and wind speed. It also provides radar maps, pollen conditions, and forecast videos.

Weather Channel The most trusted name in weather updates has an easy-to-use app. Weather news refreshes every time you move between screens, and weather tips and trivia can help you pass the time if you happen to be caught in a storm.

Travel

Hipmunk You can find plane tickets from your iPhone with this neat price-aggregation app, which helps you compare prices from dozens of airlines. Graphical flight timelines help you assess not only the prices but also inconvenient times and stops.

Poynt If you're exploring a new town and you want to know what establishments are close to your location, Poynt is the perfect app for you. It can find nearby businesses, restaurants, gas stations, and even people and events. The app will provide basic weather info about your current location, as well.

Urbanspoon If you're visiting an unfamiliar city and don't know where to eat, give Urbanspoon's slot machine a whirl: It'll choose a place for you. And if you already know where you want to dine out, you can quickly reserve a table through the app and obtain directions to the restaurant.

Waze Hate sitting around in traffic? Turn to Waze for help. You can easily see where traffic is at a standstill, and the app can reroute you to bypass the mess if possible. Maps update in real time, so you'll be able to see traffic jams right as they begin to form. The app does use your phone's GPS, so keep an eye on the battery level to make sure it doesn't run dry.

Video and Photo

Instagram Half photo editor, half social network, Instagram allows you to add artsy filters--for instance, a hazy atmosphere or a green tint--to your pics. You can also check the Instagram feed and see what photos your friends have been snapping lately.

Thumba Edit photos using effects, filters, adjustments, and borders. This app has more options than you'll likely ever use, so doctoring photos becomes as much of an art as taking them.

Viddy Our sister publication Macworld calls Viddy the "Instagram for video" because it lets you add your own filters and effects to video that you shoot on your iPhone. The ability to connect with other Viddy users and watch their creations makes this the best mobile video-editing app, period.

Entertainment

Hulu Plus Netflix may be the king of movies, but Hulu rules when it comes to current TV shows. With Hulu Plus, you can rewatch entire seasons of shows such as Arrested Development and The Simpsons (a decade's worth, no less) wherever you roam.

Netflix Just grab some popcorn and settle in: Now you can watch David Bowie's Labyrinth (or other guilty pleasures) on the bus, in the airport, or anywhere, over and over again!

Pandora When it comes to Internet radio, Pandora is the leader. The app helps you discover new music by creating radio stations based on your favorite artists or songs, and it homes in on your tastes by learning from the thumbs-ups and thumbs-downs that you assign to the songs it selects.

Shazam When you hear a song and you just have to know who the artist is, Shazam saves the day. It will "listen" to the song for a minute and then deliver surprisingly accurate results--it works even if your musical tastes are a little eccentric.

WatchESPN Devoted sports fans never want to miss a game, of course, but sometimes life simply gets in the way. No longer: Check with your TV provider to see if you can access ESPN's live video-streaming app, and let the games begin.

Words With Friends Move over, Scrabble: Words With Friends is the new word-game champion. In the game, you build words for points, and challenge your friends to see who has the biggest vocabulary.


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