Best of 2017: iOS Apps

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See all the 2017 roundups!

Can you feel the nervous excitement? It’s that time of year again. You know, time for Brett’s Yearly Top Apps Lists. Here’s the first list of apps I loved using in 2017, starting on iOS. You’d think I’d start writing these sooner and have them already to go by now, but no. I didn’t. I’ll be working on the Mac edition next.

As always, these are highlights, not complete lists. Of course I had to leave many out. There are hundreds of apps on my phone. Nobody has time to talk about all of them, no matter how good they are.

Staying Fit and Sane
I have now completed enough “quantified self” data entry in Exist to really start seeing correlations. With the addition of custom tags, it’s become a great insight into my daily habits.
Momento Diary/Journal
I’ve switched entirely to short journal entries in Exist, but I love the Slogger-esque way that Momento pulls in all of my social media and gives me a calendar format of it. For me, my social media activity is the best journal of a day.
Still my favorite sleep app, works every time. Unless I drink caffeine too late in the day. Then there’s no helping me. New voice packs and sleep modes were added this year.
Insight Timer
The best meditation timer, and flexible enough to be useful for all kinds of sequenced, timed events. Also see TimeGlass, an excellent timer utility with multiple timers and a lot of flexibility.

Making Music

Tab Pro
I miss the older guitar tab apps I used that have since disappeared, but Tab Pro offers a pretty good set of tools for finding and playing tabs. Best I’ve found so far.
Tonebridge interfaces with Tab Pro, generating a set of guitar effects to match the original recording of a song. Use it with any guitar interface to practice some Guns N’ Roses with appropriate Slash effects (or whatever you’re into).
This is the best guitar (and any stringed instrument) tuner I’ve found.
Pro Metronome
This has been my favorite metronome app for some time, and the addition of an Apple Watch app and even an Apple TV app have made it my go-to. The TV app is more useful than you might think, by the way.

Keeping Up

I’ve found Nuzzle to be extremely good at gathering content I want to see. It’s not great for breaking out of my bubble, but I’ve been heading to AllSides to even things out.
I love Skimm for catching up on news in a hurry. My daily breakfast reading.
Highlight and save text in any web article you read. I especially like the social aspect of seeing highlights from other users.

Noting and Prosing


Google’s iOS keyboard kind of changed my iOS typing game. I’d used a bunch of 3rd party keyboards, some really good, but Gboard connected more dots that any other keyboard has for me. It does cause you to miss out on some basic iOS features like snippet completions and dictation1, so I do find myself switching back and forth, but the swipe typing is pretty amazing. And the GIF search and inline emoji suggestions while you type…
If you have a preference for proper grammar and spelling, this one’s worth checking out. Also see Hemingway.


Still my go-to for quick notes. A force press on the app icon gives me instant access to type or dictate a note on the go, with extensive options for filing it elsewhere when I have time to sit and sort.
1Writer has been my nvALT companion of choice since 2015.

Text Editing

You still can’t beat Editorial in the realm of advanced, extensible iOS text editors. Not that there aren’t enough to choose from…

Mind Mapping

I find it tough to pick a single mind map editor. I use all three of these for varying types of work:

Nerdier Stuff

Screens VNC
The best screen sharing app on iOS (and Mac, too).
The best SSH client on iOS.
My current favorite Git/GitHub client on iOS (there are a few great ones, including Working Copy.)
I love using my iPad as a second display for my MacBook Pro. Even on my aging iPad Air 2, it’s snappy.
Shazam for fonts. No more snapping a picture, editing it for contrast, and uploading it to MyFonts. Just point your iPhone camera and get font guesses.
Night Sky
Shazam for stars. Point your phone at the sky and find out what star/planet/constellation you’re looking at.

Capturing and Editing

A camera app that gives you full control over focus, exposure, white balance, ISO and image format.
Even with iOS 11 screen annotation features, I still find this tool great for quickly marking up and editing screens/photos for people.
Momento Gif Maker
Not to be confused with the journaling app (see the “Staying Fit and Sane” section), this one detects Live Photos and short videos in your camera roll and generates GIFs. Speed, direction, photo filters, and other effects are available when editing. I also like the “1 Year Ago Today” feature that surfaces older photos automatically and sends a notification.
I’ve used a lot of photo editors on my iPad, but Pixelmator has been the best one yet for complex, layer-based image editing. Enlight Photofox is a close second for image compositing, and I’m eager to try Affinity Photo but haven’t taken the plunge on the iOS version yet.

Goofing Off

I generally prefer puzzle games, but this year saw me get into a few really great story-based games as well.


Never Alone: Ki Edition
This story-based game is gorgeous and the gameplay is unique and fantastic to maneuver.
My other favorite story-based game this year. A girl on a mission with a blend of quest and battle.


Mini Metro
A puzzle game, but one with multiple solutions to every problem as you build transit systems for various cities.
This puzzle game has a perfect blend of relaxed discovery and frustrating challenge.


Leap On
An arcade style game, and one that’s great for quick “waiting room” play.
This one is tough, but not so tough you can’t obsess over beating level after level. Plus, daily challenges to keep things fresh.

Passive Entertainment

Not much to say on Plex other than it’s solid and I love it on iOS and my Apple TV.
I’ve been using this one for years. It streams video to your device over WiFi, handling all of the encoding on the Mac that its server is running on. It’s fast, uses minimal battery on your device, and it can handle a ton of video formats.

Augmenting Reality

I’m including a mix of apps from utilities to games here, separate because they not only use AR, the only work because of AR. I’m really excited about this future.

Conduct AR!
A game of model railroads. I love that it requires physically moving around to see what’s happening on the other side of the tracks.
This one blew me away. It’s a tool for measuring rooms. You point it at the floor, then draw out the floor plan by tapping the screen as you look at each corner. Then drag the outline up to the ceiling, and you get dimensions for every plane in the room. Export a wireframe and start planning out furniture (or writing off home office space on your taxes).
Similar to TapMeasure but even better for objects. I measured the underside of some cabinets in about 30 seconds and went to the hardware store with accurate measurements for every section.
IKEA Place
Look at your room and drop any IKEA product into it. You can see how it will fit, and even walk around to see it from different angles. Every store in the world should do this.

Someone needs to make an AR tea party app for kids. Sit at a table and drop characters into the other seats and actually be able to interact with them. Kids and lonely adults, I suppose.

Other Stuff

When you don’t have enough related apps to make a category for it…

Paprika 3
Paprika recently updated to version 3 and I upgraded immediately. It’s my absolute favorite recipe management app. I’ve probably mentioned it before.
Sure, there are some interface elements I would love to see moved around, but I can’t deny that I love shopping with Amazon’s app. It’s so easy…
I tried Slice for package tracking for a while and loved the convenience. Then I found out about their privacy policies after it shifted hands, and it was immediately deleted from my phone. Deliveries requires a little more manual entry, but it’s a great way to track packages from my Today view on both Mac and iOS.
A brilliant, secure, ad-blocking browser.
Background and Vellum Wallpapers
Two exceptional Unsplash clients. If you’re looking to expand your iOS wallpaper selection, these will do the trick.

Stay tuned for the Mac apps!

See all the 2017 roundups!

  1. Yes, you can use Google’s dictation, but it’s inconvenient compared to the built-in tools.