9 best alternatives to Apple's stock iPhone apps | Replace default iOS 10 apps

The iPhone and iPad come with some great preinstalled apps, from Mail and Messages to Safari and Calendar, but there are better replacements out there. We round up the best alternatives to the stock apps in iOS 10

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  • App alternatives
  • Google Maps
  • Google Chrome
  • Microsoft Outlook
  • Simplenote
  • ProCam
  • Wunderlist
  • Alarm Clock HD
  • WhatsApp
  • StumbleUpon
  • More stories
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Best alternatives to Apple's stock iPhone & iPad apps

We're mightily impressed with the range of apps in iOS 10, but they are by no means perfect; and you should never forget that there are many competitor apps out there begging for your finger taps and attention.

In this article we take a look at the best alternatives to Apple's stock apps, the default apps that are preinstalled on your iPhone and iPad, from Mail to Messages.

We cover those alternatives that are either insanely popular, or that tickled our fancy as perfect swap-ins. You might already have heard of some of them, but others… Well, they might come as a nice surprise. And considering that many of them are free, what have you got to lose?

Read next: Best free iPhone apps | Best free iPad apps

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We're mightily impressed with the range of apps in iOS 10, but they are by no means perfect; and you should never forget that there are many competitor apps out there begging for your finger taps and attention.

In this article we take a look at the best alternatives to Apple's stock apps, the default apps that are preinstalled on your iPhone and iPad, from Mail to Messages.

We cover those alternatives that are either insanely popular, or that tickled our fancy as perfect swap-ins. You might already have heard of some of them, but others… Well, they might come as a nice surprise. And considering that many of them are free, what have you got to lose?

Read next: Best free iPhone apps | Best free iPad apps

 

Best alternative to Maps on iPhone & iPad: Google Maps

  • Free (no in-app purchases, but Google account required for full functionality)
  • Download Google Maps

As much as using Google products in this day and age leaves a bad taste in the mouth, its Maps app leaves Apple's native iOS effort spinning in the dust. True, using Google Maps means you sacrifice useful things like quick and easy Siri integration (at least right now), but the app integrates neatly into Google's own chain of apps. If you use the Gmail or Chrome Browser apps, for example, then you'll be switched out to Google Maps whenever you tap an address.

What makes Google Maps superior is not only its better knowledge of traffic conditions, in the UK at least, but also its ability to reroute mid-journey if it spots hold-ups ahead, or even if it simply realises there's a faster route. Speaking personally, Google Maps has taken me on some ingenious routes, particularly during busy periods, with the second sense of a well-seasoned taxi driver. However, undertaking the return journey via Apple's own Maps app cheerily routes me directly through built-up or heavily congested areas, as if this were 1910 and mine is one of only 50 cars on the road.

If you travel by public transport Google Maps can also provide routes via trains, buses or whatever else might be at hand. Once again, Apple’s native Maps app simply lacks transit knowledge for areas outside London (or at least right now - we hope this situation improves, although we've been saying that for a year or two now).

Integration with street view is built in too - just drag up when viewing a location and tap the preview image, then swipe to look around in 3D. This is of astonishing usefulness to familiarise yourself with a place before you get there. In contrast, unless you travel by helicopter Apple's own 3D mapping "flyover" feature is impressive but nowhere near as useful. Once again, it's also limited to major urban areas at the moment and while Google Maps also isn't perfect in this regard, it has a considerable head start.

Add in Google Maps' ability to download maps for those times when you're without an internet connection and, frankly, we're left feeling that Apple needs to pull up its considerably saggy socks. This makes us sad but, well, there you go.

Read more: Apple Maps vs Google Maps comparison review

 

Best alternative to Safari on iPhone & iPad: Google Chrome

We've tried hard not to turn this into a festival of all things Google but in some areas the search giant dominates so much that few even try to compete. It's true that apps like Dolphin and Puffin browsers innovate on iOS by allowing access to Flash video and even Flash games, while Tor Browser promises anonymity online, but none of these reasons are sufficient to use the apps all the time. For full-time browsing on iPhone sensible people opt either for the built-in Safari… Or Google Chrome.

The fundamental limitation of all third-party iOS browsers - that they must use the same UIWebView/Nitro web engine as Safari - means that there's no space for Chrome to best Safari in benchmarks. So, it's all down to additional features. As you'd expect, Google has crammed in lots of these.

Perhaps the key one is syncing with the desktop version of Chrome or, indeed, any version of Chrome running on any platform such as an Android device or Chromebook. Bookmarks, passwords, and more are all just there ready and waiting when you open Chrome, no matter where you are, or what you're holding or typing on at the time. You'll need to sign in with your Google ID for this to work, of course, and in doing let Google rifle through your personal data whenever they wish… But let's not get into that here.

As with the desktop version of Chrome you get also tabbed browsing, incognito (private) tabs, Siri-like voice searching once the app's open, and automatic translation of pages in non-English languages (or, we suppose to/from any language that isn't the system default). Added into this version of Chrome is localised results if you let Chrome use your location. Search for coffee, for example, and results will include not only the Wiki page detailing the history of the Arabica bean but also the location of the nearest Costa.

Despite the fact the use of UIWebView/Nitro web engine means all iOS browsers run at the same performance level, Chrome on iOS makes clever use of preloading to give the impression of even faster speeds. This is actually nothing more than loading webpages before you even get a chance to tap them within search results, but it’s effective. Chrome feels fast, always.

If there's one criticism it's that Chrome copies the same somewhat stark white Material Design look and feel as Android, which rubs against iOS's more elegant native design. In short, Material Design feels clumsy outside of the confines of Google's own OS. On the other hand, it would surely be myopic to use this as an excuse not to use such a fast and fully featured browser that's always one or two steps ahead of the competition.

Read more: Best iPhone web browsers

 

Best alternative to Mail and Calendar on iPhone & iPad: Microsoft Outlook

Once upon a time, during the 1980s and 1990s, nobody laughed at Microsoft. Then Vista arrived, and everybody laughed at Microsoft. When the ship o'mobile sailed without Microsoft aboard, with Captain Ballmer standing on the dock proclaiming "I see no ships!", people laughed even harder.

However, in light of the sheer quality of some of Microsoft's recent apps for iOS - including a very good port of the Microsoft Office suite - only the truly foolish are sniggering.

The fact is that Microsoft Outlook for iOS is very good. But don't think for one minute that Microsoft ported its venerable yet crusty desktop Outlook email and calendaring software. They cheated. They bought the respected Acompli for iOS app, which at the time was already market leading in a number of features.

And this is a defining characteristic of Outlook for iOS: it's always in vogue with the latest cool features that mail and calendaring apps typically sport. You get the fashionable focused inbox, for example, that lets you view your most important emails separately based on how important Outlook thinks they are (if you've corresponded with that individual in the past, for example). With a single swipe right individual emails can be pushed into the future via scheduling, so that an email from your kids might be temporarily shoved out of the inbox until after work when you've got time to deal with it.

Cloud drive attachment support is built in not only for Microsoft's own OneDrive but - somewhat magnanimously - Dropbox, Box and Google Drive too, while the Calendar component of the app can tie-in with not just Exchange and iCloud but also Evernote, Facebook and Wunderlist. You'll receive both email and calendar notifications, of course.

When it comes to the core email functionality Outlook for iOS is fully compatible with Microsoft Exchange, of course, as well as Office 365 work or education accounts. It'll also automatically setup and understand Yahoo, iCloud and Gmail accounts, while you can configure your own IMAP account (but not, notably, POP3; an additional note worth scribbling on the back of your hand is that if you have two-step or two-factor authentication activated for your iCloud account then over at http://id.apple.com you'll need to generate an app-specific password for Outlook for iOS).

And in everyday use, Outlook for iOS is simple yet powerful. Key features of the app are accessible as icons along the bottom of the screen, such as Mail, Calendar, and People (that is, contacts - the app ties in with your iCloud address book). The Files icon allows quick access to various cloud storage services so you can attach files to emails, or view those you're stored there via Outlook for iOS.

To be blunt, we've seen ever better mail clients for iOS come but then go. Many are created by start-ups, whose time on this earth is brief. We miss Mailbox, for example, which was genuine innovative but was killed off by Dropbox not long after they purchased it. In this context, Microsoft's backing of Outlook for iOS matters quite a lot if you don't want to be chopping and changing email client every few months.

Read next: How to change default programs on Mac

 

Best alternative to Notes on iPhone & iPad: Simplenote

  • Free (no in-app purchases, free account required for maximum functionality)
  • Download Simplenote

Notes for iOS is perhaps the weakest of the built-in panoply of apps offered by Apple. It's very capable, without doubt, but feels clunky and unintuitive. Generally speaking, to compete against it other apps head in one of two directions: they add-in even more features, or they take them away. Those that add-in features include Microsoft OneNote and the venerable Evernote, both of which we certainly recommend. One app that keeps things nice and simple, yet offers just the right amount of useful features, is Simplenote - and this is our choice as the best Notes alternative.

Indeed, it's perhaps easier to list what's missing from Simplenote than to list its features. There's no text formatting, for example, so you can't apply bold or italics, or choose an alternative font. You do get Markdown support, the somewhat fashionable alternative to HTML that's designed to be simpler, but you can't insert pictures, videos or audio within your notes. You can’t create folders to organise your notes although you can organise them via tags, which is almost as good. More of that in a minute.

What you do get, and all entirely for free (Simplenote is created by Automattic [sic], the same public-spirited folks behind the Wordpress blogging platform), is cloud syncing of your notes that brings with it the ability to both share and collaborate with others. There are versions of Simplenote for just about every popular computing platform in use today, from Android through to Linux, and including macOS - which allows desktop-to-mobile syncing within the Apple universe. You can also share notes with others for them to edit via any web browser, which is also the destination when you choose to publish a note (which is to say, share it without giving others the ability to edit).

Creating and editing notes is elementary, although some nice tricks are included. Lists are automatically created should you start a line with an asterisk or number, for example. As with most word processors, you can subsequently terminate the list by hitting Enter twice on the on-screen keyboard.

At the bottom of each note any number of word(s) or phrase(s) can be added to tag that note, and you can use these to locate the note in future, either by typing within the instant search field, or by opening the sidebar (tap the down arrow at the top left) and then selecting the tag within the list. Important notes can also be pinned to the top of the list of notes. A particularly nice feature is the ability to step back through the history of the document, which provides the ability to revert to earlier versions of the document. Versions are automatically saved on a minute-by-minute basis as you write.

The app can be secured via Touch ID on compatible phones, but only for when initially opening the app, and notably individual notes can't be protected as with the built-in Notes app. Notes are also stored unencrypted in the cloud for ease of searching, with Automattic warning that you shouldn’t store sensitive information within Simplenote. However, this is true of nearly every note-taking app.

For scribbling quick notes, memos or lists then Simplenote is ideal. The only thing that would improve it would be the ability to attach files to each note, such as photos. However, this would require a fundamental expansion of Simplenote's brief - and we rather like how it keeps things basic.

 

Best alternative to Camera on iPhone & iPad: ProCam

The iOS Camera app is, of course, separate from the Photos app. While the Photos app is about collating your images and editing them, the Camera app is all about snapping photos using the iPhone's built-in lens. As its name suggests, ProCam is a little like upgrading the built-in Camera app to something more like an SLR. Amongst other things you gain full manual control over the exposure, shutter speed, ISO speed, focus, and white balance. This provides significant opportunities to be creative with your photography and perhaps take a little time getting that perfect shot.

A recent update brought shutter priority to the camera, which is to say you can set a shutter speed and have the other settings attempt automatically adjust to create a decent shot.

Although it defaults to JPEG just like the built-in Camera app, ProCam is unusual in that it lets you shoot images in RAW format, provided you're using an iPhone 6S or later (including the SE). Unprocessed RAW image files are preferred by professionals because they contain more image data, and therefore more opportunity for image correction while editing. You can shoot in TIFF format if you're simply after non-JPEG lossless images. Auto-exposure bracketing is also on offer, which takes three shots - one ordinary, one slightly over-exposed, and one slightly under-exposed. Aside from helping get the perfect shot in challenging lighting conditions, this can also be used with high dynamic range photo editing apps – although, as with the iPhone’s built-in Camera app, users can also switch to ProCam’s own attempt at capturing an HDR image via special processing.

The app can be a little off-putting initially because its interface uncompromisingly packs in features. You get an always-onscreen light level histogram, for example, that helps you see how fully illuminated a scene is. Along the bottom are the exposure, shutter speed, ISO, autofocus and white balance controls. Tapping any selects it for adjustment using the slider beneath, while double-tapping any will lock it to that setting.

Tapping the menu button at the bottom of the screen lets you switch between overlay guides that help compose shots, and you can also opt to shoot in specific image ratios such as 4:3 or 1:1 (the latter being the square-framed shots favoured in apps like Instagram).

The app isn’t just about stills photography. It can shoot video too and, as you might expect, it's not going to do this in a basic way either. All resolutions and framerates supported by the camera sensor are supported - our iPhone SE used during testing offered 4K at 25fps, for example - but somewhat amazingly ProCam offers what it calls 4K Max for a £3.99 in-app purchase (again, only if your camera supports it). This pushes the video resolution 10% higher than even 4K video, allowing for 4032x2268. This is done without interpolation and instead is achieved seemingly by clever stitching together of individual JPEG photographs (synced audio is still recorded, though, and the file is still outputted as an MP4 movie file).

We haven't got space here to go into all of ProCam’s other features but, put simply, if you have an itch when it comes to iPhone photography there's a very strong chance it'll scratch it so hard it'll leave a red claw mark behind. It's not free but the small investment really is worth it to squeeze every possibility out of the iPhone’s built-in camera.

Read next: iPhone camera tips

 

Best alternative to Reminders on iPhone & iPad: Wunderlist

  • Free (for basic functionality with in-app subscriptions for additional features)
  • Download Wunderlist

The built-in iOS Reminders app keeps things simple and Wunderlist is built around a similar philosophy but expands the vision to facilitate friends, family and perhaps even colleagues working together on to-do lists.     

The app first asks you to create an account, then suggests some default task lists. The app then switches to the default task list and you can add new items instantly by simply typing them. Tasks can be starred, in which case they’ll appear in the Starred task list for quick reference, and tapping each to-do you type offers the chance to set a due date and reminder (the app is able to notify you of these in the usual way). Tasks can also have subtasks attached to them, and also notes, as well as file attachments such as photos or files from your Dropbox account - but not, sadly, any other cloud storage, including Apple's own iCloud.

Crucial to Wunderlist's raison d’etre, however, is the ability to add comments to notes. Other people who you share the task with can also add comments, and entire conversations can be had in this way. Sharing task lists is done by simply tapping the Share button at the bottom of the screen and entering the email address of another Wunderlist user. Notably, versions of Wunderlist are available for just about every computing device, including Android devices and Macs. You can also log into your account via any web browser and access your lists online.

The Alert and Conversation screens, accessible by tapping the menu icon, let you see when people you're collaborating with have assigned you to-dos, add comments on shared entries, as well as when they add files. The rather neat calendar feed feature allows you to sync certain calendar apps with Wunderlist.

Task lists can be sorted alphabetically, via their due date and by their creation date. You can also sort by whom the task is assigned to, and what its priority is. However, aside from a handful of other smaller features, that's about all there is to say about Wunderlist. It's a sophisticated service that deliberately keeps things simple yet also ticks off most of the feature list you might want.

Wunderlist is free but there are limitations that can be overcome via in-app purchases. You're limited to file attachments no larger than 5MB, for example, and only 25 shares per list. Should you decide to add subtasks then you can add only 25 per each item in the list. If you think that none of this is a drastic reduction in usability, you'd be right. The only people likely to be interested in the $4.99 per month/$49.99 per year "Pro" subscriptions are corporate types, for whom Wunderlist also would be a sound investment. Notably, Wunderlist is now owned by Microsoft thanks to an acquisition back in 2015, although there's no Microsoft branding anywhere on the app.

 

Best alternative to Clock on iPhone & iPad: Alarm Clock HD Free

Skeuomorphic is a dirty word at Apple HQ nowadays, which is to say, Apple dislikes apps that pretend to look like actual things out in the real world. However, regardless of this we rather like Alarm Clock HD, which models its look and feel almost perfectly on a bedside clock radio.

You'll probably want to run the app in landscape orientation because portrait mode means an always-visible ad is shown (79p removes this via an in-app purchase). Landscape mode not only means the ad vanishes but also allows the best emulation of a genuine clock radio display. Cleverly, the app deactivates the iPhone's Auto Lock setting, meaning that it keeps the iPhone awake for as long as it's running. In other words, set up your iPhone on your bedside table or on your desk while it charges, then switch to the app, and it'll stay active until you manually sleep your phone or switch to a different app. It's very neat.

The display is totally authentic recreation of an LED time display and a really lovely touch is the faint outline of the segments of each numeral that aren't active - just like on a real LED display. Swiping left or right on the display lets you adjust the brightness, which is ideal for avoiding being blinded in the dark.

Of course, this being an app connected to the internet, the clock radio LED display has magical abilities. Alongside showing the battery charge of your phone, it tells you what the weather is, for example, and will also scroll through news headlines beneath the time display. Via the settings panel you can also tune into your Twitter feed, so that updates from friends appear within the list. RSS feeds from websites can also be shown via a Feedly account.

Alas, this part of the display is limited to just two lines, with a line above declaring who made the posting (or the source of the headline), so you're only going to see the first sentence or two of a tweet - and nothing at all if they've posted a video or image without a description. It's a nice feature nonetheless. The scrolling headlines disappear after five minutes, so that they stop being a distraction as you head off to sleep.

Tapping the screen at the top and then tapping the torch icon activates torch mode. As you might expect this activates the LED flash, avoiding the need to open the Control Centre should you need a night-time visit to the loo, but the screen is also turned entirely white to provide even more illumination. Shaking the phone or double-tapping the screen turns off the torch.

You can set alarms by tapping the icon at the top right, and alarms can be set to repeat (don't forget to unmute the device before going to sleep). There's also a sleep timer that lets you play music before fading it out after a certain amount of time has passed. So you can drift off to the Land of Nod. Again, we rather liked the authentic recreation of bedside alarm clock buzzers for the alarm tones.

The settings panel lets you modify just about any element of the display, including hiding the seconds update, which might be distracting.

Alarm Clock HD is a classy app that does everything you might need if you're not happy with the built-in iOS alarm function. Use it in landscape mode and it's essentially free, with no requirement to pay up to remove the ads.

Read next: Best clock and alarm apps for iPhone

 

Best alternative to Messages on iPhone & iPad: WhatsApp Messenger

The big thing in messaging right now is end-to-end encryption, which is to say, ensuring nobody can snoop on what you're talking about. Not even the government. Apple's built-in iMessage service offers this, and so does Facebook's wildly popular WhatsApp. Yes, you could argue Telegram is even better - but it hasn't got the several billion people using it that WhatsApp boasts. And Amnesty International reckons WhatsApp is better when it comes to secrecy, anyway.

WhatsApp's original business plan was brilliantly simple: Provide a better SMS than SMS. Make it free, for example, even across national borders. Allow people to send multimedia and photos. Provide notifications of receipt too. The big difference, however, is that SMS relies upon mobile operators whereas WhatsApp uses the Internet to send its messages.

Despite this SMS-emulation, WhatsApp doesn't exist only in the mobile world. There's desktop clients for Mac and Windows, as well as a web interface.

A lot of WhatsApp's success lies in its clever raiding of your existing address book to add others with whom you've already exchanged phone numbers. The result upon first installing the app is an instant favourites list full of people you actually know.

Underneath all the hype of WhatsApp is a clever but reliably rudimentary messaging app. Messages are arranged in conversation view, and you can add recorded audio as an attachment in addition to videos and pictures. A nice feature is the ability to send somebody your location in either "check-in" style (such as "Piccadilly Gardens, Manchester") or as a specific location they can pinpoint using their mapping application.

Group chats are also possible, as are "broadcasts", which is a little like sending BCC email to a group of individuals - they all receive the message, but don't see the other recipients, and reply only to you. A recent addition is the ability to make voice calls, which are again routed over the Internet so save you call costs.

WhatsApp is very configurable in that you can choose wallpaper, for example, and control how notifications are shown (and heard/felt). We really liked how chats can be backed up to the cloud - lose your phone (or have it stolen) and you really can pick up where you left off once you get a replacement.

WhatsApp is a great app. Yes, it's one more way for Facebook to expand their empire into your pocket, but don't forget that encryption, which means your messages are always off limits to them.

 

Best alternative to News on iPhone & iPad: StumbleUpon

Apple only recently got into the content collation and curation business with its News app and, by many opinions, pretty much everybody else is doing it better. There's certainly no shortage of apps designed to help explore interesting online content, and one of them is the StumbleUpon app. That we've chosen it as our choice of swap-in is perhaps appropriate considering StumbleUpon is one of the oldest and most popular website sharing services in existence. In addition to voting up or down things they find interesting, users can "stumble upon" sites or stories proving popular with others, and as such StumbleUpon is a popular jumping off destination for those who want to see what interesting items the web has to read - or who are simply a little bored.

The StumbleUpon app accidentally treads into magazine territory by letting you choose from a series of interest areas, and then presenting to you the most interesting stories pages or sites therein. The big difference compared to magazine apps like News is that no attempt is made to reformat the content of each article to "magazine-ify" it. Clicking a headline takes you to the site itself, still within StumbleUpon, although the page is often reformatted for mobile devices so includes less clutter compared to viewing on a standard browser.

Once the app starts you're invited to create an account. The app then immediately starts loading pages automatically in the background. Swiping left or right will switch to the next "stumbled upon" story, and you can keep doing this until you find something you're interested in reading. Alternatively, rather than swiping you can tap the SU icon at the bottom, which does the same thing.

The sites and stories shown to you are based on your interests but you can also filter what you specifically by interest by tapping the All Interests button at the top and selecting whatever turns you on. Also there you can switch to viewing trending sites and stories from all interest areas, or switch solely to photos, videos or news stories.

You too can be part of the community by voting up or down what you see, and you can also share what you find via the usual methods, including Facebook, iMessage and email. All this is achieved by a small toolbar at the bottom of the screen.

There's already a lot to recommend StumbleUpon as a service for those who need their internet fix in as pure a form as possible. The StumbleUpon app somehow makes it even more fun and accessible.

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