12 Google Apps to Replace Your iPhone’s Native Apps

Replace some of the iPhone's stock apps with Google apps

You can replace Apple’s stock iOS apps with Google apps instead | Leon Neal/AFP/Getty Images

There are more than 1.5 million apps each in the iOS App Store and the Google Play Store for Android. So it makes sense that it’s pretty overwhelming to set about finding more sophisticated replacements for the apps that come preloaded on a new iPhone. But if you’re looking to keep things simple, Ben Popper reports for The Verge that Google has an app for basically every function of your smartphone, even for iPhone owners.

The idea that you could replace Apple’s stock iOS apps with Google apps isn’t new. In fact, Joel Mathis reported for MacWorld in the summer of 2015 that “it’s entirely possible — if you want — to have the Android experience on an iOS device.” Mathis noted that while most of Apple’s app offerings are tied strictly to Apple’s own devices, Google is more willing to take customers “wherever it can get them,” even on other companies’ platforms. “Don’t have an Android Phone?” Mathis wrote. “That’s fine: Google has an app for many of the things you already want to do on your iPhone, like email, instant messages, news, streaming music, and of course maps.”

Popper reports that Google’s new keyboard, Gboard, is perhaps the last piece of the puzzle, and a signal that “pretty much every major function of my iPhone has now been taken over by Google software.” Smartphone owners, whether on Android or iOS, can use Google apps to send emails, to complete searches, to take and edit photos, to navigate around a familiar or unfamiliar city, to watch videos, or even to make voice and video calls.

There’s a caveat in switching from Apple’s apps to Google’s though. Apple has a better reputation for protecting users’ privacy than Google does, and Apple doesn’t collect users’ personal data to sell to advertisers, since it’s become the most profitable corporation in history primarily by selling hardware. Popper notes that if you’re “offended or frightened by the idea that a big company is tracking everything you say and do, Google apps are not a good fit.” On the other hand, if you’re alright with exchanging some personal information for the use of capable software, then you might consider replacing the apps on your smartphone with Google apps.  Here are the 12 Google apps that can replace just about everything else on your smartphone, whether you have an Android phone or just want your iPhone to be a little bit more like one.

1. Gboard

Gboard is one of the more recently introduced Google apps, one that Mark Bergen reports for Recode is Google’s latest move to undercut any Apple effort to cut Google search out of the iPhone. Gboard “slips into other apps and summons Google search with the touch of a button.” The app also enables users to search for GIFs and emojis, and offers quick access to Google information on restaurant information, flight times, and news articles, not information from competitors like Yelp.

2. Chrome

Chrome may be your default browser on your Mac or PC, but if you’re going all-in on Google apps on your iPhone, then you should try it on mobile, too. Mathis notes that Chrome is a little “iffier” on iOS than on Mac thanks to Apple’s mobile browser restrictions. Nonetheless, Chrome has better voice search options than Safari, plus a Notification Center widget. However, it doesn’t match a few Safari capabilities, like the ability to save bookmarks as app icons.

3. Google

While the Google app may be intended as an alternative to Siri, with the ability to set reminders or conduct voice-enabled searches, the app isn’t quite as capable of acting as an assistant on Apple’s platform. The app can let you know when your next flight is or tell you how the weather is going to be for the day ahead, but there’s no accompanying widget for the iOS Notification Center. That limits the Google app’s capabilities, and means that you have to click through to do a search or to see a reminder, which makes it slower to use Google instead of Siri or Apple’s Reminders app.

4. Gmail or Inbox

Some of the most popular Google apps seem to be its email software, and Google has a couple of apps that can replace Apple’s default Mail app. But in Mathis’s assessment, Apple’s default Mail app makes it easier to sort good communications from bad than Google’s Inbox app, which separates messages by dividing your mail into three inboxes: The main Inbox that contains important messages, plus Updates and Promos. That makes it a little bit of a chore to shift among inboxes. Mathis writes that if Inbox or the regular Gmail app for iOS behaved more like their Android counterparts, they might be more likely to be compatible with your work email. Gmail, however, does open links directly in Chrome instead of insisting on Safari, which is convenient if it’s your browser of choice (at least for the sake of replacing all of Apple’s apps with Google versions).

5. Google Docs

Mathis reports that Google Docs is, in many ways, inferior to Apple’s Pages, which offers more sharing options and more templates for starting specific kinds of documents. However, if you want to use one of the apps to collaborate with friends or coworkers on a document, it’s likely that more of your acquaintances are using Google’s app. And if all you need is simple word-processing capabilities, then you’ll likely be alright with Google Docs.

6. Google Play Newsstand

Apple’s Newsstand app for iOS was replaced by News when Apple rolled out iOS 9. But Google Play Newsstand looks less like Apple’s Newsstand and more like Apple News, with content from many publishers and a layout and design that’s  standardized across publications. Some people think that the design of Google Play Newsstand is more appealing than the lackluster interface of Apple News, and Google’s choice to group stories by subject or category on tabs offers a more organized interface than Apple News’s single feed.

7. Google Calendar

Google Calendar offers an attractive interface and some options that you don’t get in Apple’s Calendar, like an “agenda view” that displays a list of upcoming appointments and events. But Derek Walter reports for MacWorld that the app doesn’t disappoint, with a well-designed interface and the ability to automatically detect events and appointments from your Gmail account and create listings for them in your calendar. The app works with all of the calendar accounts you can use on an iPhone, which means that you won’t need to switch between different apps.

8. Google Maps

While Apple Maps is (finally) equipped with public transit information and directions, which closed the major gap between Google’s app and Apple’s, there are plenty of iPhone users who opt for Google Maps instead. That may because when it comes to public transit directions, Google Maps offers coverage in more major metropolitan areas than Apple, and is better able to make up-to-the-minute adjustments based on real-time delays and scheduling reports. Even though the early days of Apple Maps were pretty rocky, the app is now extremely popular among iPhone and iPad users, which likely has more to do with the app’s prominence within iOS than its merits relative to Google Maps. In reality, choosing between the apps is likely a matter of personal preference.

9. Google Play Music

Mathis reports for MacWorld that if you use the app version of Google Play Music, you can come away not even realizing that the streaming service that competes most directly with Apple Music exists, and thinking that Google’s music app is more similar to Pandora. That’s because there’s no in-app signup for the service, and instead, you have to sign up on the Google Play Music website.

10. Google Photos

If you take a lot of photos with your iPhone, then figuring out what to do with them can pose a bit of a conundrum. While you’re probably paying at least a dollar or two each month to store your photos on iCloud, Google Photos offers free photo and video storage. The app automatically backs up your photos and videos, and helps you find and access your photos anywhere, without taking the time to tag them. You can also use the app to free up space on your phone, which is a winning strategy if you’re making do with a 16GB iPhone.

11. Google Hangouts

Google Hangouts is a popular alternative to Apple’s FaceTime, which you can only use to talk to people who also have iPhones, iPads, or Macs. With Hangouts, you can make voice and video calls to other users, send messages, and share files, which makes the app a pretty convenient way to talk to friends, family, or coworkers.

12. Google Keep

Apple made its Notes app more capable with the upgrade to iOS 9, but a great alternative to this Apple app is Google Keep. You can create, edit, or share notes via Google Keep and add notes, lists, photos, and audio to the app. You can also organize your notes with labels or colors, and you can search your notes, set time or location-based reminders, or share your notes and lists with other uses for real-time collaboration.

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