There’s an ongoing argument in the technology world about whether tablets and smartphones are more focused on consumption than creativity.
As time has gone on, though, the number of apps helping us do more than passively read, watch and listen has grown. Many also fall into a longer heritage of technology that democratises activities like film-making, photography and music-making. Video and photography apps now contain editing features based on those used in professional software, but made accessible enough for anyone to use in a couple of taps, and music-making apps are reducing the barrier to making listenable sounds. In all cases, this isn’t about you suddenly becoming a professional just because an app is holding your hand – instead, it’s about opening up the experience of artistic creation to a wider audience.
Creativity means different things to different people. Apps such as Instagram and Magic Piano do not assume any prior experience in photography and music respectively, but are designed to help novices explore some of the intricacies of both art forms. For example, the grid that Instagram overlays on your photos as you edit them is subtly making you think about the composition of your shots, while its manual controls allow you to apply filters and processes such as vignette or tilt shift, once the preserve of professional photographers.
Other apps, such as Vine, cater to different levels of skill. Shooting a six-second loop and sharing it can be done by anyone, but creative micro-film-makers experimenting with stop-motion and visual trickery are producing genuinely imaginative work with it.
Similarly, music apps such as Figure are pitched at both a casual audience of music-makers who want to enjoy stringing some beats and melodies together, and professional musicians who want to use it as the audio equivalent of a doodle-pad when waiting for inspiration to strike. Meanwhile, apps like Korg Gadget for musicians and Photoshop Touch for designers are proving that smart devices can fit in to professional creatives’ working lives as useful tools, rather than mobile novelties.
Some apps are giving a new digital lease of life to older creative techniques – Dubble with double-exposure photographs, for example, – while others are creating new formats, like Frontback, with its focus on capturing the photographer as well as the scene in front of them.
So, you’re not David Bailey just because Instagram helped you share a nice photo of your cat, and you’re not Aphex Twin because a music app helped you make a nice beat. But you’ve had fun enjoying a little bit of the creative experience that those and other artists have made their work. With that in mind, here are 50 of the apps to unlock your creativity – and that of your children too, from coding to storytelling.
Magic Piano is a marvellously creative way to learn to play songs on a virtual piano, or simply to doodle around creating your own. There’s a sizeable catalogue of pop and classical tunes to play along to, and good social features too.
If techno bloops and beats are your thing, Figure is brilliant. Anyone can use it to create beats, bass lines and melodies in minutes, but it’s also good for professionals, as it can export sounds to other music-making apps.
Like Figure, this iPad app takes complex musical tools and makes them accessible to anyone with a slick interface. You create beats and loops by tapping and dragging on the screen, and can then export them to work elsewhere.
The price should tell you that this is an app for committed music-makers: it styles itself as “the ultimate mobile synth collection”. Once you know what you’re doing, its virtual machines can produce all manner of enticing noises.
Everybody wants to be a DJ, as the song goes, and djay 2 brings that ambition within reach. It’s a virtual pair of steel wheels on which to mix songs from your collection, or even from Spotify, if you’re a paying subscriber.
From the maker of Magic Piano, this has a similar focus on getting you to share your musical talents with the world. You can bellow along to a range of well-known songs alone, or over the network with others.
Music Maker Jam
On PC, Music Maker was one of the first popular mainstream music-making applications. Its modern mobile incarnation is well worth a look: a collection of loops and beats to arrange into tracks.
Apple’s music creation app isn’t quite as powerful as the desktop version, but it’s perfect for working on songs, and then exporting them for a polish later. For beginners, its “smart” instruments help you make a listenable racket, too.
Launched as a way to share short video clips on Twitter, Vine has evolved into an inventive community toying with stop motion, jump cuts and other tricks. Master its editing features and the results can be excellent.
Replay is pitched as a video editor for Instagram but that sells it short: it’s an accessible yet powerful way to blend your photos and clips into short films for social sharing, adding text, music and filters to make them stand out.
Some apps catch on with the technorati, but Dubsmash is different: it’s a mainstream mini-craze. The app gets you to lip-sync to short audio clips from famous songs, films and speeches, then share. Often silly, but fun.
This really is a technorati craze: an app for broadcasting video live from your iPhone to Twitter for all to see. Big with tech journalists and Silicon Valley types, it could catch on more widely if people stream more interesting events.
That’s vjay as in video DJ for this app, which allows you to mix together tunes and videos too. You can import your own clips or use preloaded videos from Snoop Dogg and other artists, and results can be shared online.
Apple’s video-editing app is an essential download for iOS film-makers of all abilities. It has many of the powerful features of its desktop parent, but the redesigned touchscreen interface makes it accessible to novices too.
Movie Edit Touch
If you’re looking for a good iMovie alternative, Magix’s Movie Edit Touch is well worth a try. Importing clips, cutting them together and adding a soundtrack is simple, with extra features available as in-app purchases.
This should be more popular than it is: when you and several friends are all shooting clips at the same event, it stitches together your footage into multi-angle videos. It’s particularly good for parties and weddings.
If you’re keen to just shoot and share on YouTube, the online video service’s app is very handy. You can capture several clips, then rearrange them, add a soundtrack, and let the app tweak the colour and de-wobble your footage.
This is made by the company behind photography app Hipstamatic, with a similar focus on retro visual effects. Record clips up to 60 seconds long, apply a range of filters and then share to YouTube and various social networks.
The most popular photo-sharing app, and a more powerful creative tool than many realise. You can choose from its preset filters, but try diving deeper and adjusting your shots’ tone, warmth, shadows and other attributes.
It’s coming to iOS soon, but for now this clever app is Android-only. Its schtick is automatic composition: detecting faces and other key attributes in view, and using that data to guide the shot. It really does work well.
This could be in the art category, since it includes painting and drawing features. But Pixelmator’s strength is as much about editing your own photographs, adding text, frames, and using one-tap image-improving tools.
The name says it all. Frontback takes two pictures when you tap the shutter: one using the front camera on your smartphone, the other using the back camera. It then puts them into one image for sharing.
Another editing app, which walks the line between accessibility and complexity perfectly. It has a range of tools for gussying up your snaps, including overlaying one on another, with a view towards social sharing.
Hats off to developer SmugMug for coming up with a feature named “Awesomize” – a one-tap process to improve your photo. But it has plenty of smarts beyond that, with filters and presets available.
VSCO Cam is one of the most established mobile apps: a powerful replacement for the default camera app on your device, with tools to capture shots in the styles you prefer, and a gallery of inspiration from other snappers.
The idea of a dedicated selfie editor will send many people running for the hills, but Facetune isn’t just for digital narcissists. It’s good for tweaking any portrait shot. You can even remove grey hairs.
A number of apps help you to create double exposures. Dubble’s twist is that it helps you do it with random strangers around the world. It sounds like a novelty, but the results are frequently rather wonderful.
Visual sharing site Pinterest isn’t just about photography, but the ability to post new “pins” from your phone using its camera is one of its best features. If you thrive on spotting beautiful things, create a board and try it.
Paper by FiftyThree
Like a digital version of an artist’s sketchbook, with a range of virtual pens and tools to sketch, write and scribble whatever you like – from artworks to diagrams. There’s also a stylus – Pencil – to go with it.
Autodesk has plenty of history with graphics apps on computers, and its tablet products reflect that. This is an excellent painting and drawing app at its basic level, with in-app purchases of tools expanding it for pros.
Like Paper by FiftyThree but also available for Android, this is another digital sketchbook for creatives of all abilities, with plenty of drawing and writing tools, and the ability to share to social networks.
A lot of artists swear by this over better-known drawing and painting apps. In the right hands, it can produce beautiful images, while its support for pressure-sensitive styli gives it another layer of flexibility.
Loop is a joy: it makes “hand-drawn animations” where your scribblings come to life, and can then be shared on Tumblr or saved for other kinds of social sharing. The more you play with it, the more potential you’ll find.
Adobe’s Photoshop remains one of the most popular art and editing applications for computers. Its touchscreen-friendly version is impressive too: very good for working on your images on the move, then exporting them.
One for the professionals, here, with the well-known computer-aided design software translating well to touchscreens. It ties in to a cloud service, so you can easily share your drawings and look at your archives.
There are more brushes than you can shake a stick at in this illustration app – more than 120 in total. Something for every artist, then, and it’s more than capable of handling large, complex work as well as quick sketches.
Journalists and writers alike swear by this minimalist app, with its interface that gets out of the way when you’re typing, and a “focus mode” that cuts out everything around the current sentence when you really need to concentrate.
There’s great potential in the idea of collaborative writing using apps, even when it’s just for fun. This gets you writing poetry and stories with other people – friends and strangers alike – as well as reading others’ attempts.
This is another collaborative app, but one based purely on haiku writing. You come up with a line, then invite friends to write the next one, before adding an image and sharing the results. There’s something special about the experience.
Got writer’s block? This app may help. It gives you a prompt to start writing a story, then throws more ideas in at preset intervals. The results may or may not be good, but it should at least get you back in the rhythm of writing.
A community for free, short and episodic fiction, with a huge catalogue of stories to read. But it’s also a place to write: you can use the app to tap out tales whenever inspiration strikes, then share them.
Do Note by IFTTT
If you’re the kind of writer who comes up with lots of ideas, Do Note could be very handy. You set up “recipes” to take action on your notes – whether that’s emailing them to yourself or saving them to Evernote.
Can children show flair as catwalk designers? They can in Makies Fashion, which encourages kids to create patterns and outfits for virtual characters, then take virtual photos of them posing.
Just in case there are a few parents who haven’t heard of Minecraft yet, this isn’t just a game of survival against creepers, spiders and other nasties. It’s a wonderful creative sandbox for building and digital dreaming.
Available as a web app rather than a native app – Google it to find it – this is creative drawing and storytelling for children based at a magical zoo. It aims to unlock kids’ imaginations with careful prompting and gameplay.
One of a flurry of apps teaching children programming skills. It takes the form of a series of challenges where they use logic to solve the puzzles. There’s also a sandbox mode where they can make their own games.
Even children can be film-makers with mobile devices, as TeleStory shows. It gets youngsters to make their own “TV shows” and music videos, with a range of themes and digital costumes to superimpose.
More video here: Curious Words gets children to record one-second video clips in response to random words, then turns them into short films with music. The idea is to get them out into the real world looking for material.
Hopefully your children don’t have terrible claws, teeth or tusks, but they can get some of that into their photos with this official Gruffalo app. It lets them take photos, then add in digital stickers of the book’s characters.
Disney Frozen: Story Theater
Disney’s apps are like puppet shows where children pick scenes and characters, then make up their own stories. This does the trick for Frozen, encouraging them to invent new tales involving Elsa, Anna, Olaf and co.
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