11 Apps That Help You Customize Your iPhone

An iPhone is legally yours once you buy it, but it's not truly yours until it reflects your style, interests, and way of organizing things. In short, your iPhone isn't yours until you customize it. The basic customization options included the phone let you change your wallpaper, display your battery as a percentage, or make folders. But, by using the apps in this list, as well as some of the built-in features of the iOS, you can go far beyond those simple changes (or at least give the appearance that you have).

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Pimp Your Screen

Pimp Your Screen iPhone customization app
Pimp Your Screen. Pimp Your Screen copyright Apalon

The main way that these apps let you customize your iPhone is to give you tools to create new styles of iPhone wallpaper. That might sound boring, but by adding some optical illusions--like making apps appear to rest on shelves or be surrounded by borders--you gain a lot of flexibility. Pimp Your Screen (US$0.99) is one of the best apps in this area. It offers hundreds of different onscreen elements like backgrounds, shelves, and icon skins. You can mix and match those items in thousands of combinations and save different images for your wallpaper and lock screen. Pimp Your Screen gives you a lot of tools to do just what its name promises.
Rating: 4 out of 5 stars


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Call Screen Maker

Call Screen Maker
Call Screen Maker. Call Screen Maker copyright AppAnnex LLC

Wallpapers and lock screens aren't the only things you can change to give your iPhone some visual flair. You can also change the images that come up when people call you, known as call screens. Call Screen Maker ($0.99) offers a library of pre-made images and patterns to help you customize your iPhone's call screens. Doing this lets you change the image background and what appears beneath the calling bar and answer/decline buttons. Using the image you create means replacing the photo in a person's address book entry. I didn't love the look of a lot of the images in this app, but tastes vary.
Rating: 3.5 out of 5 stars

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iCandy Shelves & Skins

iCandy Shelves & Skins iPhone wallpaper app
iCandy Shelves & Skins. iCandy Shelves & Skins copyright Life's DNA

Many of the customization apps available for the iPhone work in roughly the same way: combine images, icon skins, and shelves into different styles, then save those images and use them as your wallpaper. iCandy Shelves & Skins ($0.99) does this but also adds some other features that, surprisingly, make it less useful. First, it offers many more images than other apps I tested, including the ability to download more from the web. With so many images, though, actually browsing them all is next to impossible (and slow). More interestingly, it gives you the ability to add text and clip art to your wallpapers, which I hadn't seen before. That's a nice touch, but it's not enough to overcome the app's problems.
Rating: 3 out of 5 stars

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Pimp My Keyboard

Pimp My Keyboard
Pimp My Keyboard copyright Cocopok

All of the color keyboard apps work the same: they're standalone apps that you write text in, then export that text to other apps. Apple doesn't let developers replace the systemwide keyboard on the iPhone and these apps can't get around that. As a result, these apps force you to write text in one place, then go to another app to use that text--and in those new apps, you don't get to retain the colors and styles from the first app. To make matters worse, Pimp My Keyboard includes intrusive ads and promises an upgrade that doesn't exist.
1 star out of 5

Pimp Keyboard++
Pimp Keyboard++ copyright Pimp Color Keyboard

Pimp Keyboard++ works like other colored keyboard apps but adds a pair of twists. First, it saves all of your writing as separate files and lets you passcode-protect access to the app. Second, it adds a gesture-based input system that's designed to make typing faster and simpler. Unfortunately, it does the opposite. The keyboard here is slow, unresponsive, and inaccurate. The swipe system is inaccurate, too. Not a great app.
1 star out of 5 More »

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Color Keyboard

Color Keyboard
Color Keyboard copyright Seventh Generation

About.com recently switched to a new product-rating tool that no longer allows us to give 0-star reviews (not that About wants us to increase review ratings; this is just a quirk of the tool that I expect will be fixed in the future). If that hadn't happened, this app would have gotten a 0-star review. The app is misleading in its description, seems to claim to do things that it can't, and it crashes every time you try to do anything in iOS 7. Stay far, far away.
Rating: 0.5 out of 5 stars


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Display Block

Display Block iphone customization app
Display Block. Display Block copyright New Technology Development

It's pretty rare that I give an app a 0-star rating, but Display Block ($0.99) earned it thanks to misrepresenting what it is and what it does. Most crucially, the app doesn't do what the screenshots and description at the App Store indicate. It sells itself as a way to customize the iPhone's lock screen with greater levels of security and challenges more complex than the iOS passcode. It's not that at all; it's a collection of static images with no functionality or enhanced security you can use for your lock screen. To make matters worse, a number of features of the app don't even work. Stay far, far away from this one unless major changes are made.
Rating: 0 out of 5 stars

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While there are dozens, maybe hundreds, of emoji apps available in the App Store, you don't need to download a single one in order to spice up your communications with emoji. That's because there's an emoji keyboard built into the iOS. It's not turned on by default, and it's not obvious where it's hiding, but once you know how to turn it on, you'll probably never turn it off. Learn how to enable the emoji keyboard in the article linked to here.  
Not Rated More »

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Ringtone Apps


Visual tools aren't the only ways to make your iPhone yours. There are also audio options. Just like Call Screen Maker lets you change the image that appears when someone calls you, ringtone apps let you change the ringer that plays for each person in your address book. Some ringtone apps are paid, some are free, but nearly all allow you to take songs from your iPhone's music library and transform them into 30-40-second clips. Some apps let you add effects to the ringtones. When you've created them, you can then assign a different ringtone to each person who calls you.
Not Rated


install new keyboard on iphone
Swype running in the Mail app.

None of the keyboard apps mentioned so far on this list have been true keyboard replacements. They're really more basic text editing apps whose keyboards can be customized, but they don't let you replace the default iOS system keyboard throughout the iPhone. That's because that sort of replacement wasn't possible. That's changed in iOS 8. In iOS 8 and up, users can now install keyboard apps can be used instead of the built-in iOS keyboard everywhere a keyboard appears. These keyboards provide all sorts of innovations, from swiping to create words instead of tapping keys to emoji keyboards to GIF keyboards and beyond. They not only help you customize your phone, they also make using it faster and more fun.
Not Rated


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Notification Center Widgets in iOS 8
Widgets from Yahoo Weather and Stocks in Notification Center.

One of the cool features of iOS 8 is the ability to add mini-programs, called widgets, to your Notification Center pulldown. With these widgets, you can get snippets of information, or even take action on some items, without opening an app. Not every app in the App Store includes a Notification Center Widget, but those that do make life a lot easier. Imagine being able to get a weather forecast without opening a weather app or to cross an item off your to-do list without even having to see the full list. Pretty useful.
Not Rated More »