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TUAW's Holiday Gift Guide: Must-have apps for your iPhone 4

Welcome to the TUAW Holiday Gift Guide! We've sorted the treasure from the junk and are serving up suggestions to make your holiday gift-giving a little easier.

It's that time of year again -- we're all giving and receiving gifts, and odds are there's going to be a few new iPhones and iPod touches in your immediate vicinity. Maybe you've been lucky enough to get one, or you've given one to a spouse or family member, or there's someone at work or school who just got one and is looking for app recommendations. For all of those people (and for you if you're just looking for some great new apps), we've compiled this quick list of terrific apps to download and fill out your iOS device's app collection.

These app recommendations come from multiple categories -- some are paid, some are free. There are some games and utility apps. Some are easy to get into right away, while others will require a little more knowledge or an extra service. Some have been around as long as the App Store, while others are newcomers. But if you're starting from scratch and install all of these on your new iPhone, you'll get a nice taste of everything Apple's little handheld piece of magic can do.


Yelp (Free) - There are quite a few check-in and location-based apps, and quite a few more that will let you search or find local restaurants or other amenities near you, including Apple's own Maps app. But Yelp has become my most-used location app. The interface is solid and quick, you have easy and fast access to everything you need to know about whatever location you're looking up, and with a Yelp account, you can easily check-in or post reviews on wherever you happen to be. And the Yelp Monocle augmented reality service is one of the iPhone 4's best demos -- it never fails to make anyone I happen to be out with while restaurant searching say, "Wow."

Instagram (Free) - The Twitter app isn't on this list, because I would presume that if you're using Twitter, you probably already know about it. That app, along with most of the other Twitter clients, will let you easily upload photos to your friends. But Instagram adds some extra special flavor and fun to your photos that other social networking solutions just don't have. It adds the filters of a paid app like Hipstamatic with the social flexibility of an official social network client. It's a rare combination of artsy and practical that the best apps on the store seem to have.

Nimble Strong: Bartender in Training (US$4.99) - This game got a fair amount of press when it came out earlier this year, but it's been criminally overlooked since then, if you ask me. Not only does it provide a terrific, completely original (and iPhone exclusive) game, it actually teaches you the history and the method of making your favorite drinks and cocktails. It is quite literally a bartending school in game form, and the writing is just as brilliant as the touch-based gameplay and the fantastic art. This is probably my favorite iPhone game of 2010 -- you can look for it on many App of the Year lists and install it on your iPhone to see why.

Monster Dash ($0.99) - Nimble Strong is one of my favorite full game experiences, but Monster Dash is probably the title I picked up and played most this year. It's a Canabalt-style title from Halfbrick Studios (makers of Fruit Ninja), and it combines gorgeous art with perfect controls and just enough innovation in the "wallrunning" iPhone genre to earn a place at the top of your game list. Updates have been solid, too, with new monsters and weapons, and full Game Center integration. If I ever have just a minute waiting in a line or sitting at a bar, Monster Dash is usually the game I pull out to play.

Bebot ($1.99) - This is an oldie but a goodie. It astounds me how many iPhones there are out there that don't have Bebot installed on them -- it's the best musical instrument app I've seen on the iPhone since launch. Countless options and scales, perfect sound output quality, and an adorable little robot all mean that anyone who owns an Apple device with a touchscreen should have Bebot installed, no question.

Game Dev Story ($3.99) - This one might not necessarily belong on a list of "must-have apps" -- if you don't know anything about the game industry, this one's not for you. But if you have an interest in gaming at all (and know the difference between Nintendo and Sega), this could be the best strategy game you'll play this year. Quality graphic design, impressively deep mechanics, and a parodic sense of humor make this one one of the best games of 2010 on any platform.

Reeder ($2.99) - If you use Google Reader for your RSS feeds (and you should), then Reeder's a must-have app for your iPhone, no question. Not only is Reeder fast, well-designed, and easy to use, but it means that wherever you go, you'll always have all of your RSS content ready to go in your pocket. That means you can catch up on the news in line at the grocery store, read your favorite webcomics on the bus, or dive into a few good blog posts while picking up a friend. One of the best things about the iPhone is that it's always connected, and Reeder makes sure you take full advantage of that connection.

Dayta ($1.99) - There are a lot of "tracking" apps for the iPhone that will keep track of various things that you do, see, or buy. But Dayta is all of those tracking apps rolled into one. By creating items and records in the app, you can track most anything you need, from your calories consumed or weight lost to hours worked or groceries needed. It requires a little more familiarity with numbers and how they work (it's not quite as easy as a one-stop solution), but if you have something strange you need tracked regularly, Dayta will help you do it.

Corkbin ($0.99) - On the other hand, there are some things that you should use specific apps to track, and Corkbin is one of those. It will not only help you track and log the various wines you drink while out and about, but it'll even let you play sommelier surveyor and see what people in your own local vicinity are drinking lately. A great interface and strong functionality make this app a must for anyone looking to know a little more about good food and better drink. Beer lovers can also check out onTap.

MoneyBook ($2.99) - Financial data is another thing you should probably use a specific app to track, and MoneyBook will do that well and with a lot of smart design. You can use the great-looking interface to keep up to date on your income and expenses every month, and graph out exactly where your money is going and coming from.

Dunnit! ($3.99) - For to-do lists, Dunnit! is the way to go. Not only can you track and schedule whatever tasks you need, but this one offers push notifications (always important for keeping you moving on a procrastinated task), and even a fun points system that actually helps you track productivity.

Netflix (Free, requires subscription) - This one definitely isn't a must-have if you don't have a Netflix subscription. But if you do, this app's incredible -- easy access to all of the movies and TV shows available on Netflix's HD streaming service. And not only does it run great over Wi-Fi or 3G (I love pulling up TV episodes to watch whenever I have a few extra minutes), the app fully allows you to search and rate your favorite shows. This means any time you get a recommendation while out and about, you can easily add it to your queue or give it a rating. There is no better media streaming app for the iPhone than this one.

Super Mega Worm ($0.99) - Here's another game that will probably be showing up on a lot of "best of the year" lists as we get closer to the end of 2010. Super Mega Worm allows you to wreak pixelated havoc with a gigantic alien worm. The analog touchscreen controls are terrific, and the game offers an addictive amount of variety to see and interact with. Game Center integration is great on this one as well, as you chase down achievements and compete with friends for the highest score possible. Great game.

Articles ($2.99) - This app won one of Apple's Design Awards way back at WWDC this year, and there really is no better way to read Wikipedia on the iPhone. Whenever you need a quick answer about a piece of history or just need to browse around the vast user-edited encyclopedia of world knowledge, Articles is the app to pull up and check.

TUAW (Free) - This is mostly just a shameless plug for our own official app. But it's a nice one to have on your iPhone. Not only can you keep up on Apple news and comment on the latest and greatest TUAW posts, you can even share and store our posts for later on if you see something you like. We admit, the dev team hasn't yet released a Retina Display update (it's coming soon!), and the app is iPhone-only for now (an iPad version is coming soon, we promise!).

But even if you don't install the TUAW app, be sure to come back to TUAW all holiday season long. We'll have lots more app and gift recommendations, and everything you need to make your holiday and gift season perfect, Apple style.

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