Every time a popular app or game like Pokemon Go hits the top of the App Store charts, the copycats come out, and so do unlicensed complementary apps. Inevitably, some of those apps are junk; occasionally malware sneaks past Apple; and some apps are nosy, asking for more information and permissions than you should give up. Learn to navigate the App Store swiftly and safely with our guide to finding and vetting iOS apps.



Download directly from the App Store

For iOS, the only legit download source is Apple's App Store. Access it via the App Store app on your iOS device, the iTunes client for Mac OS or Windows, or Apple's website. We wouldn't recommend the website as your main source of info, though, as it's not searchable or built for easy navigation.

The App Store may not be visible in your iTunes desktop client by default. If it isn't, click the drop-down menu in the upper left corner (where you choose music, movies, and TV shows). Then click Edit Menu, check the box next to Apps, click the Done button at the bottom, and click Apps. This will send you to the App Store within iTunes.

itunes change content category menu

In iOS, the App Store has its own app that's separate from the iTunes store. Look for the blue icon with a stylized A in the middle, not the pink icon with the musical note on it.

Who makes the app?

It's important to avoid copycat apps, because they frequently ask for more device permissions than they should, in order to harvest and sell your personal data. This has been more of a problem on Android -- Apple polices its store more stringently -- but you should still be careful and make sure you're getting the app you want and not a knockoff.

When a hugely popular game like Pokemon Go drops, use the developer's name to distinguish the official app from the fakes. Pokemon Go ( read our review) is made by Niantic, and you'll see that developer's name on the App Store product page, usually right below the name of the app.

itunes developer name

You can also check the Download.com product page -- scroll down to Full Specifications and click or tap on the + sign to see the full details. If those tactics don't work, Google the name of the game or app and "developer" -- for Pokemon Go, you'd search for "pokemon go developer."

download.com catalog publisher listing

For less well known apps, the developer's name alone may not help you decide whether the app is trustworthy. In that case, click the developer's name in the App Store and look at what other apps they've developed, and check out how many users have rated the app and how many stars they've given it. If the developer hasn't made a lot of apps or there are only a handful of reviews, that's not necessarily a sign of a bad app -- it might be new or not well known -- but proceed with caution.

Checkout, installation, and Automatic Downloads

Even if the app is free, if it offers in-app purchases -- which the App Store page will indicate -- you will be prompted to buy it and confirm your payment information. You will probably also be asked to re-enter your Apple ID password to protect your account.

itunes in-app purchases notification

If you're making the transaction from a Mac or Windows PC and have your iOS device plugged in to it, iTunes can send the app right to your device if you enable Automatic Downloads. The feature is disabled by default. To enable it, tap the Settings app icon on the device's home screen, scroll down to and tap iTunes and App Store, and tap the slider next to Apps. While you are in this section, you can also toggle on Automatic Downloads for music, books and audiobooks, and iOS updates.

iOS Automatic Downloads setting

If you can't find the Settings icon, slide your home screen all the way to the left to reach the iOS search function. The Settings app should be listed there. If not, use the search function to find it on your device.

Checking app permissions

When you install an iOS app, it may ask for certain permissions, like access to your camera, contacts, or location. Decide how much access you want to grant, considering whether the app really needs that info. Some apps won't work or won't work as well without the permissions -- Pokemon Go, for example, needs to use your phone's camera and GPS for its augmented reality to show you Pokemon.

After setup, if you want to change permissions, open the Settings app and scroll down to the bottom, where the apps you've installed are listed alphabetically. Tap the app whose settings you want to tweak, and you'll see a list of permissions it has asked for. Sometimes a particular permission has a toggle, while other times there are subpermissions that you can turn on and off individually.

ios app permission settings

Manual app installation in iTunes

If you don't want to enable Automatic Downloads, you can install the app manually with a few clicks in iTunes. Go back to the upper left corner of iTunes, where you clicked to access the App Store. To the immediate right of that menu is a little icon representing your iOS device (assuming it's plugged in). Click it, then click Apps in the left-hand pane. Your freshly downloaded app should now be listed to the right. Down at the bottom of the screen, iTunes will show how much space is available on the device. The app's description will show how much space it takes up.

When you're ready to install the app from within the desktop version of iTunes, click the Install button, then Apply at the bottom of the screen. If you change your mind, click the Install button again (which has changed its label to Will Install, because you haven't clicked the Apply button yet). If you click the Done button next to the Apply/Sync button, iTunes will return you to the app's product page in the App Store.

Deleting apps and managing space on your iPhone or iPad

If you need to remove an app to make room for a new one, you have to do that on the device itself. Go to the app's icon on your home screen and long-tap it. A little X will appear in the upper left of the app icon (unless you are selecting a pre-installed app in iOS 9 or earlier -- Apple doesn't let you delete those). Tap the X, then tap Delete to confirm. When you are done deleting apps, click the Home button below the screen.

When iOS 10 comes out -- it's due in September -- you'll be able to "delete" some of Apple's native apps, like News or the Apple Watch app. However, the apps aren't actually removed from your device, just hidden from view. And a number of system apps in iOS cannot be hidden at all, including the App Store.

More resources

Tom is the senior editor covering Windows at Download.com.