With all the time I spend sifting through the iOS App Store and writing reviews, there simply isn't time to use every app regularly. Still, I find that just about every month there are a new handful of apps and games that I keep coming back to.
These aren't the best apps of all time and I'm not declaring them as the best apps even for right now; these are simply the ones that have grabbed my attention and have been getting the most use on my personal home screen.
If you see something here and think, "Hey! I have an app that's way better than what Jason picked!" please tell me about it in the comments so I can check it out.
Editors' note: This post was updated on July 2, 2013, with new apps.
Battery Saver (free)
There are a ton of battery life "boosting" apps in the App Store, but Battery Saver features useful tools and tips that actually help you conserve energy and make your iPhone last longer before the next charge.
Not only does the app give you tips about what services to disable to increase battery life; it also shows you the amount of time you'll gain with each disabled service. Not so useful are the medals you earn for charging your battery at the proper time, but maybe some people will take the medals as encouragement to keep maintaining their battery life.
Still, if you want to squeeze more time out of your iPhone when your charge is low, this is a great app to have.
Voxer Walkie-Talkie (free)
This communications app lets you use push-to-talk walkie-talkie features, send text messages and images, and share your location.
With interface that's set up like a standard chat app, you need only to touch a large button at the bottom to start speaking, and let go when you're done. The app sends your voice in near-real time so your recipient can hear you as you're talking. You also can send standard text messages, and there's a camera button if you want to take a picture to send, or you can pick one from your library.
In my recent review of the app (linked above), I pointed out that it's probably smart to disable the location features (activated by default) when you don't want to send that information to questionable chat buddies. But for a quick way to communicate, I still think this app is a good choice.
You can also get Voxer Walkie-Talkie for Android.
($4.99; iOS only)
This app does a great job of giving your photos and videos that miniaturized effect, but you'll have to get past one glaring feature omission to enjoy it.
TiltShift Video lets you make a number of adjustments to give your image or video the tilt-shift effect. Using buttons on the left side of the interface, you can adjust blur, saturation, contrast, and brightness, and you can apply a vignette to make the edges of the photo or video fade to black. You also can set the width of the focal area with pinch gestures using an onscreen overlay as a guide. All the onscreen controls are intuitive, and the app produces great results.
So what's the problem? There's no way to share from within the app. You'll need to download your video or photo to your iPhone photo library, then use the iOS sharing options there. It definitely requires a few extra steps, but when you see the feature set for making cool-looking miniaturized photos and videos, you'll see why I keep coming back to it.
Running with Friends (free; iOS only)
You might find it surprising that I would include a widely known Zynga game, but frankly I can't get enough of this one.
Running with Friends takes one of my favorite game genres -- perpetual running -- and lets you take turns with friends online to see who gets the highest score. The running with the bulls in Pamplona theme is cute and cartoonlike, but very well thought out, with tons of ways to rack up points (stars) while you go for the longest distance.
Like Zynga's game, Scramble with Friends, you and your opponent get three rounds to add to your overall score. A boost system lets you spend gems to get three random boosts that help you get the most stars possible. But with randomly generated levels and competition from your friends, no two games are the same, giving you plenty of reasons to come back for one more run.
Like other free-to-play Zynga games, you have the option to buy gems to spend on boosts and continues, but I found the game very enjoyable without spending a cent.
Stickman Tennis (free)
Following a long history of surprisingly good Stickman games, Stickman Tennis won't dazzle you with realistic graphics, but the gameplay is tight and offers up one of the best tennis experiences in the App Store.
You can choose to play either a quick game or play through a world tour, and you'll get to play on each of the different standard court surfaces. You'll need to be on your toes, too -- despite the simple graphics, Stickman Tennis is extremely challenging, letting you perform regular, slice, and lob shots against capable AI players.
One thing Stickman Tennis is sorely missing is a multiplayer mode, but for a quick game of tennis on the go, this one is a lot of fun.
You can also get Stickman Tennis for Android.
Contra Evolution (99 cents; iOS only)
I grabbed this classic remake of the megahit arcade game only recently, but I've been trying to master the control scheme ever since to relive one of my favorites of all time.
Whether you grind through levels in Arcade mode or perfect your strategy on single levels in Mission mode, Contra Evolution gives you a lot of the same side-scrolling combat action of the original. As you blow away enemies, you'll be able to pickup new weapon types that require you to switch your strategy on the fly. You'll also need to jump up and down to different platforms to stay out of the way of swarming enemy fire. Finally, you'll need to pass a boss that requires you to hit several damage areas before you can finish each mission.
I've been playing this game a lot, but it can definitely get frustrating with the default control scheme (frankly, this game screams to be played with a controller). But I did have more success choosing the classic control pad option with autofiring.