If you find yourself the proud new owner of an Apple iPad tablet computer this holiday season, one of the first things you’ll probably do is start shopping for some apps. Out of the box the iPad has all of the basics you’ll need to get started organizing your personal information, connecting with email and web browsing, and entertaining you with music and video.
But one of the best things about the iPad is the apps, because they allow you to do everything from writing a novel, playing games, and even traveling the world from the comfort of your living room couch.
The following list (in no particular order) includes my personal top ten list of “can’t live without ’em” apps for the Apple iPad. They run the gamut from productivity to fun, and should provide a good start for new iPad owners and perhaps a few new ideas for those who have been enjoying their tablet computers for a while.
Pocket Informant HD ($14.99, iPhone version also available)
The Calendar app that comes with every iPad is functional, but rather basic. If you’re looking for something more powerful that also integrates task management, look no further than Pocket Informant HD. It’s a fully featured personal information management (PIM) application with multiple views for your events and tasks, and it’s truly spectacular on the iPad’s large display. You can easily see five weeks at a glance in Month View, with your choice of event icons, time bars, or mini text. The vertical Day View allows you to see as many as ten days at a time, or as few as one, all you have to do is pinch to zoom in or out. And the Agenda View allows you to see all of your events and tasks on one screen.
Tasks can be managed using the traditional Franklin Covey system of A/B/C priorities, or you can use Getting Things Done. You can customize colors and if you add locations to your events, Pocket Informant will even map them for you by linking directly to the iPad’s built-in mapping application. Pocket Informant has every feature you need, without resorting to a “kitchen sink” approach that adds unnecessary complexity. And it syncs to Google and Toodledo, so that if your life is already online, or you need to keep multiple devices in sync, you won’t have to re-enter any of your information. In other words, Pocket Informant can keep you on track and productive every single day, and I can’t live without it.
1Password ($14.99, universal)
1Password is the latest addition to my iPad app arsenal, and I’m still wondering how I ever lived without it. Passwords are a fact of life these days, and there’s no getting around that, so you’ll have to figure out how to manage them all — hopefully you’re not trying to use the same one for everything! I love 1Password because once you set it up, it just works. 1Password uses Dropbox and features automatic background synchronization, so whether I add a record or just update it on my iPad, my iPod Touch, or my laptop (Windows beta and Mac versions available), the changes magically appear on every platform I use.
Automatic synchronization is the most exciting part of 1Password app, but that isn’t all that it does. 1Password also includes an internal web browser that autofills your login information so that you don’t have to type anything out. That’s a real timesaver when you’re on the go and just need to check one little thing; in effect 1Password can manage your passwords and all of your web bookmarks too. It also tracks all of your email accounts, wallet items (credit cards, bank accounts, etc.), software registrations, and miscellaneous notes, so it will handle just about any sort of information that you want to keep private. It can be relatively expensive when you add up the iOS and desktop app costs, but 1Password is well worth the cost to have peace of mind and easy access to all of your passwords and sensitive data everywhere you go.
Angry Birds HD ($4.99, iPhone version also available)
There are plenty of games available for the iPad, but Angry Birds HD is my absolute favorite. I picked it up on the recommendation of a friend, wincing a little at the relatively high price tag, and I’m so glad I did. I’ve now spent more time playing Angry Birds than any other iOS game, and now I understand the craze.
Angry Birds HD has the whole package — a clever story, cute graphics, great sound effects, and fantastically fun “pick up and play” physics-based gameplay. It’s simple and can be fun even if you have just a few minutes, and it also rewards replay since I keep trying to get three stars in each level. It also has frequent major updates that add new levels and more “golden eggs” to find. Even if you’re not usually a gamer, you owe it to yourself to try Angry Birds HD — you’ll probably be hooked in less than ten minutes.
OK, I cheated a little here since I listed four different apps – iBooks, Kindle, Nook and Stanza — but they’re all ebook readers and the choice is a highly personal one that depends on several factors. (I’ll be covering each of these and a few lesser-known options in depth next week.) Regardless of which one you choose, the iPad makes a fantastic electronic reading device. The large screen is more “book like” than smaller dedicated devices, and eyestrain really isn’t a problem if you turn down the brightness a little. The iPad allows you to carry a full library of books in a very small space, and ebook apps add features like integrated dictionaries that printed books can’t match.
Even if you’re not a voracious reader and don’t want to make a heavy investment in ebooks, an ebook reader app still deserves a spot on your iPad. There are plenty of (legal!) free books that can be yours if you know where to look, and if your tastes run to science fiction and fantasy you most definitely need to check out the Baen free library. You never know when you might have a few free minutes to read, so pick one or more of these free apps and give ebooks a try.
GoodReader for iPad ($1.99, iPhone version also available)
I don’t truly know how to describe this next app; GoodReader does just about everything. It’s a PDF and text reader, handling even extremely large files with ease. It includes PDF annotation features so you can mark up those business documents you need to review before your next meeting, and it even serves as a basic text editor in a pinch (although your paragraph formatting will be stripped out). It also works with Microsoft office and iWork documents, photos, MP3 files, and MP4 video. It connects to Box.net, Dropbox, Google Docs, Gmail, and MobileMe, plus FTP servers and local computers via Wi-Fi. You can rename files and organize them into folders. It also zips and unzips files with reckless abandon, so if you need to send several attachments in one email message, you can do that.
In other words, GoodReader is one of those apps that you buy because it’s an extremely useful utility, and you never know when you might need it. I’ve used it for everything from reading PDF documents and Office files, writing and editing articles on the go, viewing audio and video file email attachments I’ve received that my iPad wouldn’t otherwise play, and uploading a bunch of product shots to Box.net for my editor to review. GoodReader has saved the day more than once, and it has earned a permanent spot on my iPad’s dock at the bottom of the screen.
Netflix (free, subscription required)
Before I got my iPad, I was one of the six people on the planet without a Netflix subscription. I just didn’t see the point and didn’t want to deal with the hassle of sending DVDs back and forth. All of that changed when the Netflix Watch Instantly subscription price dropped to less than $9 a month and I got my 3G iPad. All of a sudden I could watch movies and TV shows anywhere, and watch I did. Even on a 3G connection the quality is impressive.
Of course the app also allows you to manage your Netflix queue, and aside from a little slowdown here and there while browsing all of the options, it works perfectly. I tend to spend most of my Netflix time with the iPad app instead of on my laptop or PS3 because the iPad offers me a great experience. I can’t say the same for using the Netflix web site on my laptop, because that large keyboard gets in the way of the movie and reminds me that I should probably be working/writing in a way that my iPad never will.
Delivery Status Touch ($4.99, universal)
Whether you do way too much online shopping, you’re an eBay PowerSeller, or just need to track a lot of packages for work, Delivery Status Touch will make your life a whole lot easier. Create a free JuneCloud account and then enter your tracking numbers within the app or on the JuneCloud web site, and the app will tell you exactly where each package is, tracking its progress on a map or at the carrier’s web site. I particularly appreciate this app because some vendors don’t include tracking numbers in their shipment notification emails, forcing me to open up a browser window, log in, pick the relevant order, etc. — which can be a real drag if you have to do it over and over and over again.
All of that hassle is eliminated when you use Delivery Status Touch. It’s fast, convenient, and saves a ton of time, letting you know what day each package will be delivered. It works with all of the major delivery services, including FedEx, UPS, and the US Post Office. Many international services are supported as well, and even some major retailers like Amazon and Apple — just enter your login information and the app will pull down your orders and the associated tracking numbers. Since it’s a universal app and requires a free user account, all of your package information is effortlessly kept in sync across your iPhone/iPod Touch, iPad, and Mac or Windows computer.
Do you attend a lot of meetings, or are you a student? If so, check out SoundNote. There are plenty of notetaking apps out there, some of which focus on handwritten notes and sketches and some of which aim to organize your student work. They do a good job, but they don’t do what I really need: record each meeting and sync my typed notes to the recording.
SoundNote does exactly that, and it works brilliantly. It’s great for everyone, because whether you take just a few notes or take down almost every word the professor or meeting chair says, you’ll probably find a recording helpful. If you find that you’ve missed something when reviewing your notes, just tap on the spot you’re interested in and then hit play. The recording made during the meeting will instantly “cue up” to that spot and you’ll hear exactly what was said so that you can fill in your notes.
When you consider that the Lifescribe Echo smartpen is $169.95 (4GB) or $199.95 (8GB) and requires you to purchase special notebooks to work with it at $15 each, the SoundNote app is obviously a good value. Put your iPad to work in lectures, classes, and meetings, and you’ll never miss an important point again.
Star Walk ($4.99, iPhone version also available)
I’m an amateur stargazer at best; while I enjoy contemplating the night sky I can’t point out more than a few major features. It’s a lot more fun with Star Walk, an app that shows me exactly what stars and constellations I’m looking at. When you first start the app you get basic information about sunrise and sunset, the phase of the moon, and the rising of Mars, Jupiter, Saturn, and Venus. Dismiss that screen to get the sky view, which automatically orients to your location and direction.
Other features include search, a picture of the day, and extra information about any star or celestial object you touch on the main screen. You can even move back and forth in time to see the progression of the constellations across the sky. There’s also a Night Mode that switches the display to red mode in order to preserve your night vision. Star Walk is exceptionally well done and brings out the amateur astronomer in kids and adults alike. It’s one of those apps that showcase the “wow” potential of the iPad.
iWork Mobile: Pages, Numbers, Keynote ($9.99 each)
Sure, the iWork apps – Pages, Numbers and Keynote — are rather expensive when compared to other Microsoft Office-compatible apps like Documents to Go, but there’s a reason that these three apps are still at the top of the App Store sales chart: they’re elegantly designed, powerful, and efficient. It’s best to go through the getting-started documentation in order to learn about everything each app can do, but they’re still simple to use and can do some amazing things with a tap of the finger. Some things, like inserting and manipulating images and tables, are even easier on the iPad than they are on a desktop computer, because the power of the touch screen offers precise control.
I wouldn’t suggest trying to do any extremely heavy document creation with any of them, but if you need to create simple documents on the go, or edit that sales document, spreadsheet, or presentation before you share them with your clients, the iWork Mobile apps won’t let you down. For small gatherings, you can even present from the screen of your iPad, instead of lugging along your laptop and a projector. And isn’t that the way things are supposed to be?
There are few more apps I would like to highlight; while they didn’t make the Top Ten list, they’re still exceptional apps that can make your life with the iPad easier and more productive.
7 Wonders HD ($4.99)
A game that elevates the “match 3” genre of gameplay to the next level, with excellent graphics and sound and colorful historical information about the seven ancient wonders of the world. Increasing difficulty on each playthrough ensures that you’ll get your money’s worth out of this tile-matching game.
Art Authority ($9.99, iPhone version available)
If you like art but don’t know a Picasso from Da Vinci, you might want to check out this app. It includes an amazing collection of paintings from around the world, all organized into movements and time periods. You can search by artist, scroll through great works of art with the tip of your finger, even save your favorites to be used as wallpaper on your iPad. Links to Wikipedia provide extra information when you want to know more about a particular artist or work.
The Elements ($13.99)
There’s a reason this one was included in Apple’s iPad commercials — it’s simply stunning. You’ll learn more than you ever thought you would, and feast on delightful eye candy while exploring the periodic table. This is the app that you use to show off your iPad to your friends.
Sudoku ($2.99, universal)
Simply the best implementation of the classic game that you’ll find anywhere in the App Store. An elegant interface, useful features, and a tutorial system that actually help you improve your skills all combine to create an excellent package.
If you love movies and television, you need the IMDB app. It’s free, and you’ll find yourself referring to it all the time. It’s much faster than searching for information on the web, and will help you win all of those bets with your friends.
Photogene for iPad ($3.99)
If you pick just one general-purpose photo editing and management app for the iPad, make it Photogene. Crop, sharpen, resize, apply filters, frames, and special effects, and then share them with friends via email, Facebook, or Twitter. It doesn’t get any easier or any more fun than this.
PocketBible (Free, plus the cost of reference works)
If you’re a serious student of the Bible, you need PocketBible. The app and some references are free; you can either buy a bundle on the App Store or purchase individual Bible translations, commentaries, dictionaries, devotionals, and other references directly from Laridian. The app is easy to use but extremely powerful, enabling you to compare translations, mark your favorite passages, make notes, do original language word studies, and perform other tasks more quickly and easily than is possible with traditional printed resources.