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Supercharge your iPhone with these 11 incredibly useful free apps

These essential apps help make your iPhone faster, handier, more efficient, and more secure—and you don’t have to spend a dime for them.

Supercharge your iPhone with these 11 incredibly useful free apps
[Photo: Sara Kurfeß/Unsplash]

The iPhone is a powerful device right out of the box, with slick apps to handle browsing, calling, typing, photography, and more. But with third-party apps, your iPhone can do so much more. Some, such as keyboard apps, extend its basic capabilities. Others integrate key cloud services such as Google Drive. Yet others, such as password managers and VPNs, keep your phone and your online life secure.

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These 11 apps let you get the most out of your iPhone. All offer plenty of useful functionality for free; I’ve detailed any extra-cost versions.

Gboard

Google right from your keyboard

The iOS keyboard has come a long way, especially with the introduction last year of QuickPath “swipe” typing. But Google’s Gboard keyboard leverages the search giant’s power to enable a whole new class of features. In addition to searching for emoji, GIFs, and stickers, you can also easily find and insert links to YouTube videos. Or you can look up any term or name you’re having a hard time remembering, such as the name of a movie you wanted to mention in your email. You can also look up addresses in Google Maps or your Google address book, or foreign words in Google Translate, all without leaving the message you’re typing.

Firefox Focus

Shield your browsing from snoops

Just the facts, without the tracks. Mozilla’s Firefox Focus privacy-first mobile browser automatically blocks advertising, social media, and website analytics trackers on the sites you visit. It also erases browsing history every time you close the app. To avoid accidentally sending you to a sketchy site, autocomplete only works for several hundred of the web’s top destinations, vetted by Mozilla for safety. Focus is an extremely lightweight app, without bookmarks or the tabs that pile up ad infinitum in Safari. It lets you quickly get the info you need without leaving a trace for others to follow.

LastPass
LastPass

Forget all your passwords

It’s nearly impossible to formulate, let alone remember, strong passwords for the dozens of sites and online services you use. This is a job for a password manager, and LastPass is the best deal out there, offering a free version with all the features you’ll need. (You can pay for options such as family accounts.) It generates and stores an unlimited number of passwords and autofills them in website and app login screens. LastPass also stores handy information such as credit card numbers for easy entry into online forms. All the logins and other info are encrypted and synced through the cloud so you can also access them from your computer through apps or a browser.

Cloudflare 1.1.1.1

Use free Wi-Fi without worries

Switching to the coffee shop Wi-Fi is a great way to save on your wireless bill, but it also leaves your web traffic vulnerable to anyone else who logs into that unsecured network and might want to sniff out your traffic. Cloudflare’s 1.1.1.1 provides a basic virtual private network, encrypting connections between your iPhone and cloud-based security service Cloudflare. (Unlike full-fledged VPNs, the app doesn’t mask your IP address, so it enhances security but doesn’t provide sweeping privacy protections.) Cloudflare’s network also optimizes internet traffic routing, so 1.1.1.1 Warp could speed up your surfing. The paid version of the app promises a bigger speed boost for $4.99/month.

Speedtest

Do a quick speed check

Why is this app taking so long to download? Or why is this video so choppy? The free Ookla Speedtest app lets you determine if your connection is to blame. It pings a server near your location and both uploads and downloads bundles of data to gauge the average speeds your connection is achieving. Speedtest can be a handy tool to determine, for instance, if you can still get respectable bandwidth when you switch over from your data-capped cellular service to a free Wi-Fi hotspot connection.

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MultiTimer

Time anything and everything

Apple’s clock app has a single timer that I’m constantly changing depending on what I need it for—time to cook pasta, time to meditate, time till the laundry is ready. MultiTimer eliminates this hassle by providing six timers (in its free version) that can be set to different lengths and even run simultaneously. They come by default with set labels and intervals, such as five minutes for tea to steep, but the label, duration, color, and many other parameters are fully configurable.

Weather Underground

Watch the weather like a pro

Apple’s Weather app is fine for the basics, such as: What’s the temperature now, and what will the high and low be in two days? But if you need details for planning, Weather Underground is the right app. Say you want to go stargazing in two days. You can scroll through the upcoming week to see the expected cloud cover, chance of precipitation, temperature, and even humidity—hour by hour. You can also check the phase of the moon for that time. Planning to fly a kite or a drone? Check the expected wind speed and direction before you set out. You get plenty of functionality for free; $3.99/month paid memberships allow you to build smart forecasts that alert you to ideal conditions, such as moderate temperature and minimal wind for taking a bike ride.

Google Drive

Get more storage for no extra moolah

Google’s cloud storage plan starts with 15 GB for free—three times as much as iCloud provides. And it works across platforms, so you can share files between your iPhone and a Windows PC or Chromebook, or a friend’s or colleague’s Android phone. The Google Drive app also allows you to upload unlimited cloud backups to Google Photos of all images and videos shot on your phone (at reduced but still crisp quality). If you use Docs and Sheets as your business apps, Drive’s iPhone app allows you to view and share (and in a pinch, edit) work documents from anywhere.

Overcast

Take a more direct route to great podcasts

Apple’s Podcasts app can get messy quickly. Tapping the name of a podcast from your lists of subscriptions immediately starts playing the latest podcast, for instance, instead of letting you see all the episodes there are to hear. In Overcast, tapping instead brings up a great summary page describing the overall podcast series and a listing of episodes you can sort in either ascending or descending chronological order. Tapping a simple “i” icon replaces the multiple steps to get to a summary of an episode in Apple’s app, and the share and delete buttons sit conveniently in a toolbar right below the currently playing episode. In short, Overcast provides the sensible navigation that Apple Podcasts lacks.

Jumbo

Lock down your online accounts

Google and social media sites know a lot about you, but you can restrict some of that info. This free app guides you quickly through the process of upgrading your security settings. Jumbo hooks into a growing list of mobile apps (nine so far) including Twitter, Amazon Alexa, Facebook, Google, Gmail, and Chrome. Jumbo automatically pulls up and explains privacy options for each app—such as turning off location tracking in Twitter or deleting recent searches in YouTube and Google Maps—that you can implement with the press of a button. It also monitors whether your email address has been involved in any known data breaches.

Apple Support

Seek Apple help right from the source

Apple Support didn’t come preinstalled on your iPhone. But it’s the quickest way to resolve a problem with your phone or any other Apple device or service you have, such as a MacBook or an iCloud account. You can scroll through lists of common problems with your phone, such as crashing apps, and get quick advice on how to remedy them. Best of all, the app provides direct links to text or call Apple support. It’s a much faster way to get help than searching through Apple’s forums and support pages or trying to find a phone number for tech support. The app also features handy tips and how-tos for making better use of your iPhone, such as an overview of new features in iOS 13 and advice on using portrait mode in the camera app.

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About the author

Sean Captain is a Bay Area technology, science, and policy journalist. Follow him on Twitter @seancaptain.

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