My Top iOS Subscription Apps for 2021

I have a love-hate relationship with iOS subscription apps.

On the one hand, I resent paying for an ever-growing list of subscriptions because they require you to keep paying while developers keep fiddling with features to justify the annual charge.

But alternatively, I don’t want to see innovative creations or creators go to the wall.

I will hardly endear myself to the app world when I admit to reviewing my subscriptions nearly every month.

In choosing apps, I will consider which services benefit me the most in workflow or entertainment.

For my latest review, I cancelled some subscriptions and started new ones. Here’s a flavour of what’s in and what’s out.

New iOS Subscription Apps

  • Spotify (and previously Apple Music, and Deezer before that)
  • Bear Notes
  • Endel
  • Halide Mark ii
  • Timefully
  • Paste Clipboard Manager

Subscriptions Dropped

  • Drafts; because it offers more than I’ll ever use
  • Pro Camera; because the image quality was poor
  • Ulysses; because the developers won’t stop tinkering and won’t improve the poor URL link management
  • Pocket; because it’s overpriced for a read-later service
  • 1Blocker; because it stopped blocking YouTube adverts
  • Twitterific; because I abandoned Twitter
  • Overcast; because I don’t listen to many Podcasts and the stock Apple app is good enough
  • Unread; because Reeder is better and only requires a one-off payment.

My Top New iOS Subscription Apps

Spotify £9.99 per month /£100 per year

I have enjoyed several music streaming apps, and there is little to distinguish them apart.

Although I keep trying out Apple Music, I am never satisfied with the sound quality. Spotify allows users to choose the streaming quality up to 320 kbits/second, and I notice. Deezer also sounded better than Apple Music, and I enjoyed a premium account for nearly a year with my new car purchase.

However, Deezer’s safety feature of not letting you choose music when the car’s ignition is on was downright annoying. Understandable but annoying.

For integration and downloads to Apple Watch, Apple Music was a simple choice. However, I find Spotify’s app easier to navigate, the service finds music I like better than Apple’s, and I prefer to support the streaming industry’s innovator. The Apple Watch app now lets you stream from your wrist.

Bear Notes £1.49 per month/£14 per year

Bear is my kind of app. Beautiful and intuitive.

Syncing across devices just works, and the subscription offers super value at a modest cost. I had flirted with Bear a few times but never entirely found where it sat in my workflow. But there was something about the app that made me want to love it: the themes, overall aesthetic or just the simplicity. I hooked up with Bear again, and we are friends.

This year the penny dropped. Bear is an app for notes, long-form writing and bookmarking. You can do it all.

As a result, Bear replaced my previous go-to markdown writing app, iA Writer. Bear also replaced Drafts, Ulysses and Apple Notes. All for only £14 per year.

Endel – Personalised Sounds and Noises £23 per year

I’ve always been dubious about sound apps. The idea of paying to hear oriental spa music or something that sounds like a child learning to play the synth never appealed.

However, with an ever-growing dependence on YouTube-based ASMR, I needed to find an alternative. A guy in his fifties meditating to the sound of a young woman blowing and kissing in his ear just doesn’t seem right. And that’s my public position.

Endel offers AI machine learning to provide the listener with sounds for concentration, meditation, reading and other moods. With location access, the app will use weather and other environmental factors to shape what you hear. If you give the app access to your Apple Watch, it records your heart rate.

The developers recently halved the price, and at £23 per year, the app is affordable. At the original cost of nearly £50, I wouldn’t have paid.

However, as I write this post, Endel delivers a soothing and peaceful mood through my AirPods. The app also helps me concentrate on deep work. I may not use it every day, but it has proven to be particularly helpful after a few months.

Halide Mark iI – Pro Raw and Manual Camera £12 per year

When I want to take more control of picture taking with the iPhone, Halide Mark ii offers complete control of the camera.

From focus, exposure and the use of RAW. Admittedly, when I want to take a picture quickly, I still use Apple’s stock camera app for its point and shoot speed.

With Halide, I have the assurance of complete control when I’m planning pictures or want to take time over composition. Perhaps I need to spend more time using Halide to be confident with it in more situations. The app includes two built-in tutorials, so I have no excuse not to become more experienced with the app.

Timefully – Meditation Timer £5 per year

Timefully is a meditation timer and probably the lowest annual subscription in the world.

The app logs your sessions, streaks and a few other statistics. It took me a long time to find the app because the app store is packed with high-cost subscription apps for meditation.

The app works well and integrates with the Apple Watch. The Apple Watch version only has essentials, and I usually forget about using the iPhone. The iPhone version offers sound effects and the opportunity to grow a tree, a branch at a time, with every meditation session.

There are only two things I have against Timefully.

The app contains an advert to TM.org, the official organisation that has trademarked Transcendental Meditation. TM.org promotes the benefits of TM but at a high cost. Once known as the meditation made famous by The Beatles, official TM teaching will cost you over £600 or more. Hardly an ethos of love and peace.

The second negative doesn’t concern the app but my changing approach to meditation. I am losing the desire to track my meditation practice.

How many minutes, hours or days? How long is my current streak?

Who cares?

I need to meditate, but I don’t need to track every minute or disappoint myself when I break a streak.

Paste Clipboard Manager £10 per year

Paste switched to a subscription model and, like other apps, attracted the ire of its users. I rage-quit the app too and searched for an alternative.

The competition, however, is lacklustre, and it wasn’t long before I returned to the invaluable little tool.

It’s hard to wax lyrical about a clipboard manager, but Paste is the last subscription I would give up.

For a writer, the ability to copy a snippet, a URL, an image etc., one after another and then call them up when needed at the drafting or publishing stage is invaluable.

Paste syncs your copied bits across all devices over iCloud, and it works.

To Sum Up

My overriding ambition is not to avoid paying for iOS subscription apps. I don’t always want something for free. But I need to ensure I pay for apps I use.

However, despite the pros and cons of the subscription model, I still prefer the one-off payment model. Some developers offer the opportunity to make voluntary contributions via Patreon or Ko-Fi.

Here are some of my favourite pay-once apps:

  • Spectre – a snazzy long exposure app providing high-quality images even when with handheld shots.
  • Reeder – a longtime established RSS aggregator and now with bookmarking features.
  • Gluon – for posting to your blog on Micro.blog and engaging with its fabulous community.
  • Goodlinks – another excellent bookmarking/read it later app and more than equal to Pocket.

The above apps are proof survival doesn’t depend on a subscription.