It’s difficult to imagine social media without the iPhone.
This list is a look at our favorite social apps to ever grace the iPhone, based on our list of the best 100 iPhone apps of all time. As with the rest of the apps on the list, we evaluated social media and messaging apps based on their design, cultural impact and how they resonated with users. The apps below are ranked in the order in which they appeared on the best 100 list.
FireChat cleverly uses Bluetooth to allow its users to communicate with those nearby even when they don’t have a Wi-Fi or data connection. The app has shortcomings off the grid private messaging may not always be instantaneous and massive anonymous group chats can quickly get unruly but the app has proven particularly useful for activists who can stay in touch when other messaging apps can’t be relied upon. The app became massively popular in Hong Kong when pro-democracy protesters turned to FireChat to exchange messages when local networks were overloaded.
Highlight was that flashpaper kind of app that burns super bright and then disappears in a puff of smoke. Launched at the end of 2011, Highlight was in the vanguard of “near me” apps and also caught the most flack as being the creepiest app idea on the planet. At the time, there were a lot of apps willing to help you find friends nearby. However, none were as polished as Highlight. As for the creep factor… well, that was real.
The app used willingly shared location information to let you know when contacts were close, but the definitions of “willingly” and “contact” were fairly loose. The app is still around, sort of, but thanks to Highlight and other location-tracking apps, we now know that we much prefer to connect to people remotely via social apps like Facebook and would rather not be found in person, especially not by surprise.
The quintessential “dumb” app, Yo briefly captured the collective attention of the Internet when an app that only allowed you to say “yo” topped the App Store charts even if it was for just a few days. The app quickly racked up more than a million users and inspired dozens of copycats (Yo Hodor, anyone?) while helping kick off a new trend of ridiculous and ridiculous-sounding apps.
For a minute, it seemed like everyone was trying to recreate Yo’s success with apps like Push for Pizza (a one-button app that delivered you a pizza) and Ethan (a messaging app that let you talk to a guy named Ethan.)
Later, Yo’s creators proved the app was much more than a joke when they opened it up to third-party developers who started connecting Yo to other services. Today, you can use Yo to turn on your lights, remember where you parked your car, or follow your favorite sports teams, publishers and Instagrammers. There’s also an Apple Watch app, perhaps one of the few apps that reallymakes sense to have on your wrist. Though the app wasn’t able to sustain its early virality, it proved that “dumb” apps can have brains, too.
It was one of those moments where everyone seemed to be talking about the same thing. Perhaps it was because much of the tech press were all gathered at South by Southwest in Austin, Texas, but the impact of Meerkat during that show was real and quite lasting. The app, which actually arrived just weeks before, kicked off the live, social video streaming craze quite a feat since the app was kind of ugly and had an odd name.
Even with those handicaps, it became the app of SXSW, with everyone from journalists to CEOs were using it to broadcast their experiences and engage with their audience in real time. Meerkat took citizen journalism to a whole new level as “reporters” were able to respond to viewer comments, some of whom would direct where they wanted the Meerkatters to point their iPhones.
No one saw Meerkat coming, especially Twitter. Meerkat was using Twitter’s API to give users instant access to all their followers through the app (Twitter eventually shut down that feature). If you had a lot of Twitter followers, that made Meerkat instantly powerful. You could tell thousands of people that you were going live right now. It was instant gratification, on both sides.
No rise was more meteoric and none was shorter-lived. Twitter already had a similar app in the works, and just a few weeks later, it pushed out Periscope. The app looked better than Meerkat, but also felt somewhat incomplete.
In the end, though, Meerkat remains, but has lost its footing to Periscope. Will it survive? No one knows, but it will never lose its place as the app that put mobile-to-mobile video broadcasting on the map.
Periscope was not that first, and initially it was not the best mobile live streaming service But it may be the social video broadcast platform we remember. Owned by Twitter and rushed out the door in response to upstart Meerkat’s instant rock-star status at South By Southwest 2015, Periscope looked like a better-designed version of its competitor, but with curiously different functionality (comments on Periscope don’t post to Twitter, for instance).
However, with Periscope’s good looks, smart interface and heart system (a form of liking the video stream by tapping the screen to add floating hearts, which stood in for Meerkat’s broadcast leaderboard), Periscope immediately put Meerkat on notice. The app has since improved significantly and seems like a somewhat more integrated part of the Twitter universe. It’s also becoming a verb: “Are you “Periscoping” this?”
It can be easy to forget now, but there was a time when group texting wasn’t natively supported in iMessage. Good thing we had GroupMe, which made it possible for groups of friends to seamlessly communicate in one conversation. Better yet, it was cross-platform, so you could message friends whether they were on Android, BlackBerry or who-knows-what. Now group texts are part of iMessage (not to mention every other messaging app) so GroupMe isn’t quite as relevant as it once was. But with advanced notification controls and built-in GIF search, it’s still one of the best ways to keep tabs on giant group message threads.
Timehop’s nostalgia-triggering app launched on iOS in 2012 and on Android in 2014. It pulls archives from your accounts on Facebook, Instagram, Twitter and more to show you what happened on that same day in previous years. Thanks to hashtags like #TBT and #FBF, Timehop had no problem gaining popularity. In fact, it was such a winning concept that Facebook joined in on the blast-from-the-past movement and introduced its “On This Day” feature. Timehop responded with an April Fools’ joke by announcing the fake app Timebook, calling Facebook out for essentially stealing its idea. The app design is relatively simple, but it hasn’t changed much over the years. If Timehop wants to keep up with the times, it’ll have to find new ways to keep users engaged.
Path aimed to capitalize on Facebook backlash by offering a return to the original premise of a social network: Just you and your friends, and that’s it no games, no ads, no losers you met in a bar “poking” you. Path was the private villa to Facebook’s out of control pool party. The idea had merit, but Path was even more notable for its design, brandishing animated action buttons and orderly layering long before the concepts went mainstream with iOS 7 and Google’s Material. Path’s premise was ultimately its undoing, however: By limiting the number of people you could connect with, it never achieved “the network effect” and was ingloriously sold to a South Korean Internet company five years after launch.
An odd little app launched in 2011 with the name Picaboo, and it quickly became known for its signature “ephemeral” messages. A few months later, Picaboo disappeared and was reborn as Snapchat, and its signature ghost was on the way to being a star.
Guided by its young cofounder Evan Spiegel, the app quickly took off with college students and teens who helped buoy the app from obscurity to the top of the charts in the span of a year. Its design was confusing and not intuitive at all and offered little guidance for newcomers but all that was intentional, the app equivalent of a “no parents allowed” sign.
Though its popularity with tweens is frequently attributed to their affinity for PG-13 activities, the reasons for Snapchat’s popularity are much more complex. (If not, then any one of the myriad of better-designed copycat apps would have unseated it by now.)
In a world where Instagram likes can dictate social standing and cyberbullying abounds, Snapchat was able to capitalize on its younger users’ need for authenticity. While Instagram is all about making a moment look perfect, Snapchat is about sharing whatever is happening right now awkward selfies, blurry videos, silly faces and all.
It may sound like a small distinction but it’s one that’s helped the app become one of the most-loved apps among notoriously hard-to-impress teens, an area that Facebook for all its social-media might has struggled with.
When Snapchat turned down what was reportedly a $3 billion offer from Facebook, many onlookers were, predictably, shocked. But with a new media platform in Snapchat Discover, sponsored stories, geofilters, channels, and selfie lenses, the company has shown it has business smarts, too.
Even though Snapchat is now more popular, and more mainstream, than ever, grown ups may never really understand it. But that’s kind of the point.
When the App Store launched in 2008, Twitter apps quickly became a popular app category. The best Twitter client in those early days was Tweetie. How good was Tweetie? So good Twitter straight-up acquired the app in 2010 rather than trying to build its own. Tweetie 2, which launched in 2009, wasn’t just a breakthrough as a Twitter client. It also created the concept of pull to refresh. Today, pull-to-refresh is fundamental to the iPhone’s user experience and has spread to thousands upon thousands of apps, including Apple’s own mail client. Not bad for a measly Twitter client.
Facebook launched Messenger in 2011 as its first spin-off app. With group and photo messaging abilities and nearly instant message delivery, it was a welcome, if not immediately significant addition at the time. Three years later, Facebook caught us by surprise when it shifted gears and made the Messenger app mandatory on mobile devices. The backlash was swift and intense at one point the app was ranked No. 1 in the App Store with a one star rating with users complaining about everything from performance to privacy concerns.
But it was soon clear Facebook had much bigger plans for the app than messaging. Less than a year after the split, Messenger officially became a platform for other services, and the company is using the app as a launchpad for its new digital assistant “M.” Pretty cool for what was once a one-star app.
It can be easy for Americans to forget, but SMS is a finite commodity in much of the world, where unlimited texting plans are nonexistent or prohibitively expensive. For people in those areas,WhatsApp which offered a fast and reliable SMS replacement was life changing. It’s no surprise it topped the App Store charts in dozens of countries within in its first year, even after its founders shifted from a free to a paid app. (It eventually became one of the most-downloaded U.S. apps as well.)
Nearly six years and a $19 billion Facebook acquisition later, the app really hasn’t changed that much. Its design has always erred on the ugly side of minimalist, and new features are rarities. But all that is quite intentional — it’s not easy to make an app that’s reliably fast on the molasses-slow 2G connections used where WhatsApp is an essential part of daily life.
If you still think WeChat is just about messaging, you’re vastly underestimating the platform, which now counts more than 650 million users. Weixin, as it’s known in China, is the most dominant social network in the People’s Republic, where Facebook, Instagram and many other apps are blocked. WeChat is where you go to pay bills, hail rides, play casual games, browse news, send friends money, and much more. Today, there are millions of “official accounts” on the platform which act as mini apps within the app, enabling users to interact with brands, services and even celebrities. Looking at what WeChat is to China, you can’t help but think this is what Facebook wants to be to the world.
It took a little too long for Twitter to deliver an iPhone app. In fact, Twitter never really did. Instead, the company bought popular app Tweetie and built upon its platform (though it’s likely that whatever Tweetie code existed is long since gone). Today, the native Twitter client app’s utility and importance is undeniable. Having a dedicated app that Twitter could focus on and promote helped Twitter, for a time, experience almost meteoric growth. With its tabbed interface and sharp aqua design, it’s a rich app that highlights the best Twitter has to offer, while it makes it easy to discover the service’s newest features (hey, look at those Moments!). Twitter is now struggling to grow its user base, but there’s no question that little aqua bird and the iPhone have helped each other fly high.
As an iPhone app, Facebook has had its ups and downs, but there’s no questioning its influence in app design. That “hamburger” you see in the top corner of many apps is really just an analogue of the Facebook app’s old tiled navigation. Facebook was one of the first apps to link directly with iOS a huge upgrade that let other apps more easily log in with Facebook credentials, not to mention turbocharged sharing photos and videos directly from your phone.
The app used to be notoriously slow (due to a brief and disastrous flirtation with HTML5), but today Facebook provides one of the best mobile experiences you can find, and new features like Instant Articles and 360-degree video promise to take things even further. For many, without that white-on-blue “f” on the home screen, the iPhone feels naked.