Nobody wants to pay for iPhone apps, and some people simply don't. The good news is, you don't really need to: For almost every paid app, there's a free app that's nearly as good. Here are the best of the best.
A lot of these apps will be familiar to anyone who's checked out our Essential iPhone Apps directory before, and yeah, there is a lot of overlap. What we've done, basically, is strip out the paid apps from the list, then fill in the gaps with more free. With the new list, you can turn a fresh, untouched iPhone or iPod Touch into an apped-out powerhouse without spending a dime.
Amazon: Amazon's usually the first place I look during a fit of impulse buying, which their iPhone app now makes stupidly easy.
Product searches, comparisons and account management are a given, but what really pushes this one over the edge is a new feature called "Remembers". Just snap a picture of a mysterious product or thing, and Amazon will get back to you with a surprisingly accurate, impressively quick suggestion as to what it is. Then it will sell said thing to you. Magic.
Dropbox: Keeps selected files in sync between your iPhone, computer and online account with almost no effort. Comes with 2GB of free online storage.
Dictionary: The best dictionaries on the iPhone are paid, but let's be honest, who pays for a dictionary nowadays?
Epicurious: The only cooking app you really need. With its thousands of recipes, shopping list feature and meal suggestions, Epicurious will make you at least look like a passable cook.
Echofon: What it lacks in bells and whistles, Echofon more than makes up for where it counts, at least for most: It's as quick as Twitter apps get, and it caches Tweets, so you can read them later on without a connection. It doesn't support multiple accounts, but most reasonable people don't need that.
Evernote: Obsessive documenters, take note(s): This is the only scribbling app you need. There's a paid version too, but you get an awful lot for free.
Anything you need to jot down fast, be it in text, a photo or a voice note, Evernote will keep it, index it and sync it to Evernote's online subscription service. Where Evernote trumps all others, aside from its fantastic syncing abilities, is with search: You can sort your notes by all kind of parameters, and it never take more than a few seconds to find one.
Facebook: This was an essential app from the get-go, and it's been steadily evolving - like the site - for the last year. Version 3.0 was a total refresh, and supports nearly every one of Facebook's sprawling features, sometimes better than the site itself.
The new, panel-based interface takes a little getting used to, but once you're acclimated to it it's the most effective way to throw yourself, fingers first, into the black hole timesuck that is Facebook.
Fring: Every major instant message protocol, comfortably crowded under one (free!) roof. The addition of push notifications notched this one up from great to, uh, greaterer.
Obviously Skype is still your safest bet for making Skype calls, but Fring can do it passably well, too. Most people were excited for push notifications precisely because of how they could used for instant messaging, and Fring more or less fulfils this vision for free.
Google Mobile: Google Mobile was a solid app (but not particularly essential) - and then came voice search.
It's a natural thing for a mobile phone - tap a button, say what you want, and there it is. You can search the web, local results - everything the Google app could previously do.
Google Earth: The same amazing Earth touring app found on the desktop, now spinnable via multitouch. Honestly if someone told me two years ago I would have a functional Google Earth app on my phone, I wouldn't have believed them. This is now.
Layar: Layar, the first camera-based AR app to really blow us (or anyone) away, has quietly slipped into the App Store. As with the Android version, the app overlays all kinds of information onto a live view of the world around you.
Layar layers, which let you install user-generated overlays of all different kinds of information, like this one, which tracks government bailout spending. The expansion possibilities here are huge.
Lockbox: An encrypted, safe place to stash all your secret or sensitive information. It's like a really good friend, except it will never ever ever betray you, because it has no free will. Genius!
PanoLab: Who knew multitouch is the perfect interface for stitching photos together into panoramas? It is. Plus if the photo you just took doesn't work, toss it out and take another one immediately. A paid version adds even more features, but the free version do well enough for most panoramas.
Photoshop: This app bears almost no resemblance to the Photoshop we all know and love and steal, always. That's fine though, because it's a serviceable photo-editing (on the iPhone, this means filters, cropping, and a few other tricks) app that is free, unlike virtually all of its competition.
RSS Runner: NetNewsWire was the old choice for best free newsreader, but it's gotten so buggy and slow as of late that it's time to recommend something a little leaner. RSS Runner diligently slurps news stories from your feeds, just like you want it to. That is all.
Skype: On 3G, it's perfect for Skype messaging and long distance texts; on Wi-Fi, it near-magically turns your iPhone into a VoIP handset.
Given that you can't make VoIP calls unless you're connected to Wi-Fi, Skype is surprisingly useful: even if you're tethered to your router's range, having a phone-shaped tool to make Skype calls is really nice, and its messaging service is a solid, not to mention fairly ubiquitous, way to keep in touch with people. Note: This one ceases to be free if you use SkypeOut, but that's pretty hard to do by accident, since you've got to buy credit for it to even work.
ShopSavvy: This is one of the best barcode apps for Android, and now it's available on the iPhone.
Early reviews were a bit harsh, since the app works better with the 3GS (autofocus, y'know?) and the scanning libraries needed some work. At any rate, it's free, works well for most people and the data-even if it can be sparse on some local searches-is invaluable.
Stanza: A free ereader with a decent paid store, and more importantly (for cheapskates), a massive free library.
Stitcher: Collects and stitches together spoken word radio content from a healthy range of news and opinion sources, creating an effectively unlimited stream of stuff to listen to. Think of it as your local public radio station, times 400.
Sugarsync: A file storage and syncing app a bit like Air Sharing, except, you know, it doesn't cost anything. It depends on cloud storage, but you get 2GB of that for free.
TED: The TED conference is the yearly gathering for the world's best minds, many of whom are more than happy to speak, at length, about what they're thinking, doing and dreaming. The TED app gives you more of these lectures that you'll ever have time to sit through, in a variety of formats.
VNC Lite: View and fully control my computer from anywhere, as long as I am on the same network. So I can basically be at my computer without actually being at my computer.
Wikipanion: Why even carry an iPhone if you can't use it to settle petty arguments about things that don't matter?
A mercifully non-literal mobile translation of Wikpedia's interface, Wikipanion gets you to whatever 'pedia article you're looking for a few seconds faster than the regular browser would, and with much kinder navigation once you get there.
Yelp: Yelp is built on the premise that people really, really love to review things, and that this bizarre impulse should be harnessed for good. With a massive database of food/drink/everything else reviews (in the US, Canada and UK for now), easy navigation, inbuilt maps and augmented reality, it's tops.
What counts as an essential iPhone app changes all the time, and so should our guide: If we've missed anything huge, or you've got a much better suggestion for a particular type of app, say so in the comments. We'll be updating this thing pretty frequently, and a million Gizmodo readers can do a better job at sorting through the app mess than a single Gizmodo editor. Enjoy!