Cool alternatives to your iPhone’s default apps

Sure, you love your iPhone's native apps, but there's no harm in mixing it up

iPhone XR
Julian Chokkattu/Digital Trends

Most iPhone owners rely on their handset’s built-in apps to get them through the day. Old standbys, updated periodically, become so familiar as to sort of feel like old friends after a while. But as with most things, iPhone owners also crave variety and may like to mix things up with new sleek, functional, third-party apps that add some special sauce to the old routine. It’s no mystery why Apple’s App Store stocks more than 2.2 million apps.

Before we dig into some of the best alternatives to your iPhone’s default apps, it’s worth considering what happens when you remove a native app.

Removing native apps

With iOS 12, you can actually remove 27 native Apple apps from your phone, but be careful when doing so. Many of them form the core functionality of iOS and could throw some unexpected behavior into the mix if removed. When you excise a built-in app from your Home screen, its user data and configuration files go with it, which can affect system functions or information on your Apple Watch. Because apps built into iOS are designed to be space-efficient, removing built-in iOS apps will not free up space on your device.

Not all apps respond the same way. If you delete the Stocks or Weather apps, they vanish from the Notification Center or as Complications or Glances on your Apple Watch. If you remove the Calculator, it disappears from the Control Center. If you have an Apple Watch, deleting an app from your iPhone also deletes the app from your watch. Removing the Contacts app leaves your contact information in the Phone app. If you delete the FaceTime app, you can still make and receive FaceTime calls in Contacts and with the Phone. If you delete the Apple Books, Maps, Music, or Podcasts apps, they won’t be available with CarPlay. If you delete the Music app, you won’t be able to play the audio in its library with Apple apps or third-party apps on some car stereos or standalone stereos.

To delete a built-in app from your device, tap and lightly press the app icon until it jiggles and then tap the X at the upper right of the icon. If you change your mind, no problem. Just go to the App Store, search for the app, and download it again. All native iPhone apps are free. Restoring an app to your iPhone also restores it on your watch. Here are just a few of the major apps we can sub — or even use alongside the iPhone’s native apps.

Messages vs. WhatsApp Messenger

WhatsApp Messenger

WhatsApp Messenger is a free messaging app that uses your phone’s internet connection rather than your cellular minutes to let you message and call friends and family. Use WhatsApp instead of SMS to send and receive messages, calls, photos, videos, and voice messages so you don’t have to pay for every message or call, even in a foreign country. There are no subscription fees. Set up group chats with contacts to easily stay in touch with people worldwide. You can also send and receive WhatsApp messages right from your computer’s browser. WhatsApp works with your phone number, just like SMS, and integrates with your phone’s existing address book. With WhatsApp, you’re always logged in. The app uses your address book to quickly and easily connect you with your contacts who have WhatsApp, so there’s no need to add usernames. You can’t access 911 and other emergency service numbers with the app.

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Mail vs. GmailGmail for iOS

The official Gmail app competes with Apple’s Mail when it comes to certain advanced and customizable features. Not only does it deliver real-time notifications, multiple account support, and powerful search, you can undo send, use predictive type, swipe to archive or delete, read your mail in threaded conversations, auto-complete contact names, respond to Google Calendar invites, organize mail by archiving, labeling, starring, deleting and reporting spam, and more.

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Camera vs. Camera+ 2

Camera+2

Camera+ 2 is one of the most advanced and fully featured camera apps that is still easy to use. The app’s manual controls let you select precise settings like shutter speed, ISO, and white balance via on-screen controls. In dual-lens iPhones, you can easily select Wide or Tele and controls don’t have to be constantly on-screen if you don’t need them. The app enables raw for the exact image captured by the sensor for maximum editing flexibility. Dual camera devices like the iPhone 7 Plus, iPhone 8 Plus or iPhone X and beyond get a depth-capture mode. A Smile mode detects smiles and shoots for you, while a Stabilizer mode shoots only when your iPhone is steady enough for a sharp shot. The Slow Shutter mode gives you long exposures, even during the day and functions alongside burst and timer modes. The app’s editing tools are also available for all the photos in your Camera Roll.

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Photos vs. Google PhotosGoogle Photos

When it comes to storing and backing up photos, Google Photos is no slouch. It frees up space on your phone, lets you visually search for people, places, and objects, and offers smart sharing suggestions for family and friends to send and receive photos. You can back up an unlimited number of photos and videos for free up to 16 megapixels and 1080p HD in quality and access them from any device. The app facilitates safe backups so you can remove them from your device’s storage. The app’s automated features have evolved to create movies, collages, GIFs, and more from your photos and provide intuitive photo and video editing tools like content-aware filters and adjusted lighting. Automatically see a new album with your best shots after an event or trip, then invite others to add their photos or share your latest photos with Live Albums. You can also view your photos and videos on your TV with Airplay support.

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Maps vs. Waze

Waze app for iOS

With Waze, you not only see where you’re going, you know what’s happening on the street as you drive. Even if you know the way, Waze gives you the instant lowdown on traffic, construction, police, accidents, and other immediate conditions that affect your trip. If traffic is bad on your route, Waze will offer an alternative route to save you time. Play your favorite apps for music, podcasts, and as you drive right from Waze. Your estimated arrival time is based on live traffic data, and the app helps you find the cheapest gas along your route. If you use Apple CarPlay Waze can be used on your car’s display.

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Weather vs. Weather Kitty

Weather Kitty

Y’all get ready for a massive overdose of cuteness — we’re talking kittens here. Weather Kitty can put you in a great mood no matter what the weather is up to outside. The kittens change based on the weather and time, and of course, you can add your own fluff ball to the rotation (with the premium version). Over 800 kittens are organized into 12 themes with Outdoorsy and CrazyCatArt for free. Share your weather kitten with friends on social media. Oh yeah, and it’s a genuine weather app too. It features weather forecasts from around the world, a seven-day weather forecast, hourly weather, today’s high and low, feels like, humidity, wind, sunrise and set, and animated radar. Meow Prime for $1 per month lets you access all content, use the “add your own cat theme,” and remove ads.

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Clock vs. Nightstand Central

Nightstand central

Wake up, sleepyhead. Nightstand Central, the iPhone’s bedside hub, is on the case with music alarms, a built-in sleep timer, weather, photo backgrounds, and a shake on-off flashlight. The app lets you wake up to your favorite songs or drift off to sleep with a sleep timer. You can play music playlists or relaxing sounds, with additional support for audio from third-party apps. When you awaken, you’ll immediately see the current weather before you can even move. Nightstand Central can multitask with the best of them: Stand your iPhone on a desk or end table and use it as a photo frame with heads-up time and weather information display. Pick wallpapers from your photo album and Nightstand Central will automatically cycle the background image among them. Set your iPhone to vibrate for an alarm, either with sound or vibration.

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Voice Memos vs. Voice Record Pro

Voice Record Pro

If you need something a bit beyond what Voice Memos can deliver, have a look at Voice Record Pro a professional voice recorder that lets you lay down tracks and sounds of any length and quality. The app records voices in standard AAC, MP4, or M4A format and can record directly in MP4 (AAC), MP3 (MPEG) and WAV (PCM) formats and convert to and from supported formats. You can export and import to Google Drive, DropBox, Microsoft OneDrive. Box Cloud, iCloud, FTP, and more. Upload or download your audio file directly to your computer using the app’s built-in web server via Wi-Fi. You can also export to other apps on your device that can handle audio, as well as add notes, photos, and bookmarks, to recordings, join or split recordings, add sound effects, and equalize.

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