Since the Apple iPad is such an excellent mobile companion, you’ll probably find yourself using it quite a bit in conjunction with your favorite social networks such as Facebook and Twitter. Perhaps blogging or chatting via IM is more your style, or maybe you’re a Facebook refugee or a post-Twitter type looking for the next big thing. Which apps are worth the purchase? Read on to find out how your iPad can keep you connected with friends and family, no matter which network you use.
BlogPress ($2.99, universal)
Are you a blogger? Do you use the Apple iPad as an on-the-go writing solution, but find yourself frustrated with some of the free platform-specific apps that don’t have many features? If so, BlogPress just might be the best $2.99 you ever spend in the Apple App Store. It works with all of the major blogging platforms, including Blogger, Drupal, Live Journal, MovableType, TypePad, and WordPress. Enter the appropriate login information for your blog account and you will instantly be presented with a list of all of your draft and published articles.
You can edit any of them, and while you’re in edit mode you’ll see the bar at the top of the screen change to include a couple of extra buttons. HTML includes several handily code snippets you can insert with a single tap. The camera is what you’ll use to select a photo from the photo library on your device in order to illustrate the story. Tapping the small info button to the right of the screen close to the article title will add post tags and categories, or set up a future publication date.
BlogPress is elegantly designed, easy to use, and does a great job of getting out of the way so that you can do what you want–which is update your blog on the go with a minimum of fuss. Of course you could stick to the web interface and use Safari, but that can be rather clunky. The same is true for many of the platform-specific apps–they’re generally free, but don’t always have the features you need. The WordPress app is a good example of this, because I’ve always been frustrated by the fact that it doesn’t separate drafts from published articles–I don’t like having to scroll through a long list of articles when what I really need is a separate ‘drafts’ section at the top of the page. BlogPress has earned a permanent home in my blogging toolkit, and if you’re serious about using the iPad as a mobile blogging tool, you should definitely add BlogPress to your wish list–or even better, just go ahead and buy it.
Boxcar (Free with advertising, universal)
Boxcar is the app for social butterflies, the types who live on Facebook, Twitter, and everything in between, from email to Foursquare and Gowalla to Reddit. Using all of those apps is fun, and push notifications on iOS devices let you know when it’s time to check for an update or a new message. But if you’re using several different social networking apps it can be a pain to keep checking all of them to see what’s happening.
Boxcar aims to make your life easier and more streamlined by giving you just one place to check for all of those updates. Add each of your services one by one, and you’ll receive a push notification as soon as something new happens, like a new follower on Twitter, an email message from someone important, or even a list of new articles from your favorite web site via the RSS portion of the app.
The setup process is quite simple, though there are a few extra steps for email. When you enter the email address of the account you want to monitor, you will be sent a unique forwarding address. Set up a few filters in your email box to automatically forward messages from important people like your husband or your boss and Boxcar will take care of the rest, sending you a copy of the person’s name and the subject line of the message. In order to conserve privacy, the app just strips that information from the header and does not keep a copy of the actual message.
I really like this app because it has one goal and it does what it says. If you’re a member of several different social networks and want to check one place for updates instead of six, then you need Boxcar. It’s free, but if you want to remove the advertising, you can do so via a $4.99 in-app purchase.
Facely for Facebook (99 cents, universal)
The main attraction for Facely is the ability to customize the color scheme and background to make it exactly what you want to see. In all other respects it’s very similar to the other Facebook apps in the App Store. When you first launch the app you’ll see that the default color scheme is a rather glaring red that you will probably want to change immediately for the sake of your eyesight.
Once that little task is completed, you’ll find that Facely has a nice interface with large tabs for home, profile, friends, and inbox, plus icons at the top for search, notifications (the globe) and chat. The Facebook logo at the top center of the screen is what you’ll tap to upload photos or change the settings for the app. The photo viewer does look nicer than the other Facebook apps, especially since it seems to crash every time in Facepad+ and is faster than Friendly Plus. The only other advantage Facely for Facebook has is that it’s a universal app that you can use on your iPhone as well. Then again, the official Facebook iPhone app is good enough that you may not need to pay for Facely, unless you really enjoy using it on your iPad enough to justify the purchase.
Facepad+ (99 cents)
The best way to describe this app is that it’s almost identical to the new Twitter for iPad, with the same menu on the left side of the screen and windows that slide over one another as you drill down to more detail–from search results to an individual Facebook page, for example. The effect is sharp and clean and so easy to navigate that I actually prefer it to the Facebook web site.
Facepad+ suffers from a couple of issues, most notably pages that sometimes don’t want to be swiped over to the right and close like they should when I want to go back to my news feed. When that happens, the only option is to choose one of the other options from the menu on the left and then go back where I was, which is frustrating. There’s also a glitch when I go to the Friends area and tap on a person’s name, then choose photos. The photo page will start to load, but then the page disappears and takes me right back to my friends list. If the developer would fix those issues, Facepad+ could become the only Facebook app on my iPad.
Friendly Plus (99 cents)
This app takes a while to load, but once it does, you’ll find a streamlined interface. Your news feed takes center stage, of course, with tabs for Events and Places as well. Icons at the top of the screen take you to your profile, your list of friends, messages, notifications, friend requests, and games. There’s also a handy Google button in the top right corner if you find yourself needing to look something up on the web. When you tap on a link or on the games or Google buttons, you are taken to an internal web browser, not Safari.
Friendly Plus can handle multiple Facebook accounts and you can even set a PIN code to restrict access. Photo uploads are a snap, and you can change the color scheme and text size to your liking. Friendly is the first Facebook app I tried, and still my favorite (though Facepad+ is a very close second.) The only slight frustration is the relatively long loading time when I first open the app, and sometimes photos can take a while to load as well. Everything else is laid out so nicely though, that I can overlook those small faults.
GetGlue for iPad (Free, also available for iPhone)
Are you a pop culture guru, with wide-ranging interests from books to movies, TV, and popular personalities? How about books, wine, music, and popular recording artists? GetGlue is a social networking app that revolves around everything pop culture. Just like Facebook, you can connect with friends, “like” particular books or shows, and discover potential new favorites. Checking in and/or liking particular topics earns you stickers; earn enough and GetGlue will actually print out and send you the stickers you’ve earned. Other apps like the Psych fan app from USA, also work with GetGlue.
The app works perfectly and provides the full functionality of the web site in a more iPad-friendly interface. It’s fun to explore and find new things based on your tastes, and it’s perfect for social networking fans who are more interested in popular culture than up-to-the-second relationship updates on Facebook.
Google Apps Browser by G-Whizz! ($2.99, universal)
This app is similar to Boxcar, except that it focuses almost exclusively on Google (plus Facebook and Twitter, of course). If you’re a Google fan like me, you’ll love this app. Once you log in, you’ll find everything at your fingertips, from GMail to Google Reader, Picasa to YouTube. It is so fast and efficient–no longer do you have to switch between the Mail app and Safari, navigating from page to page and waiting (what seems like) forever for things to load.
Your most used services are located in a button bar at the bottom of the page, and you can choose which seven items you want to appear. All of the other services are just a tap away on the More tab. You can choose which Google services you want to receive notifications from, such as when you receive a new GMail message or a voicemail in Google Voice. Instapaper and Read it Later are also supported, making the Google Apps Browser one of the most useful apps you’ll ever load on your iPad. It has certainly earned a permanent spot on the dock of my iPad–it’s that useful and I can’t imagine going back to the old way of doing things.
IM+ Pro ($9.99, universal)
This app supports just about every chat service you can think of, from AOL and Skype to Google Talk, ICQ, Jabber, and Yahoo. Once you set up each of your accounts, a list of contacts appears on the left side of the window. Pick someone online and start chatting, it’s as simple as that. If you’re a bad typist, you’ll be glad to know that IM+ includes an autocorrect feature. If you’re a really bad typist, you’ll be even more excited to know that IM+ includes a voice transcription feature. You can just talk your text messages instead of typing them, and it works surprisingly well. There are plenty of fun emoticons, some animated, though those will only be seen by other iOS app users. The app looks nice with several different high quality wallpapers from which to choose.
If the allure of simplifying your life extends to using just one app for all of your chatting needs, and you haven’t been able to get all of your friends and family to pick just one service, IM+ Pro is what you need. It’s a little expensive at $9.99, but it works perfectly and has some cool extra features like voice transcription and auto correction.
Text 2 Talk HD (Free, requires in-app purchase of credit to use)
This app has an interesting concept–type in your text messages and the app will call your friend and read it out over the phone. It’s great for folks who may not have a smartphone or may have a hard time understanding exactly how to text, like your mother or grandmother. Considering the rather silent nature of text messaging, this seems to be more of a novelty than something that will get a great deal of use. That’s a good thing in my opinion, because it is relatively expensive at ten message credits for $1.99 or 100 message credits for $10.99.
Unfortunately the app has some issues. I had to buy credits via in-app purchase twice in order to make it work. And when I got the “please buy credits” message the first time, it completely wiped out the message I had already typed in, not saving it as a draft. Even worse, my test subject said that the voice message he got sounded terrible, “like an elderly, sleepy, drunk computer.” Considering the credit purchase issues and the poor quality voice message results, I can’t recommend this app to anyone in its current state.
textPlus Ad-Free + Unlimited Free Text & App-to-App Messages ($2.99, universal)
If you’re a texting fiend, and you’re either looking to get rid of your phone (and the high monthly bills) or you have a lot of friends with iPads who are concerned about exceeding their monthly messaging limits, then you need textPlus. It allows anyone with an iOS device to send free text messages to others, either app-to-app or app to phone. Getting started is as simple as choosing a contact from your address book or just typing in any mobile number. Use the onscreen keyboard to write out your message and send it, exactly as you would on a mobile phone.
When you receive a text message on your iPad, you will instantly be alerted by a sound and a badge on the app icon. I tried the app out with several friends and for all intents and purposes, it worked exactly like the texting experience on a mobile phone. The app is free to use, though if you’re sending text messages to mobile phones, your friends will be responsible for the normal texting charges. If you want everything to stay completely free, they’ll need to get textPlus as well; you’ll then use a textPlus account name instead of a mobile phone number to get the conversation started.
The only catch is that the $2.99 cost is for an annual subscription, so you’ll need to renew at the end of the year for another $2.99 to keep the ad-free subscription going. That’s still a bargain price for this no brainer download, but if you’re not ready to commit, there is also a free ad-supported edition available. Or if you’re ready to go straight to the premium version, try textPlus4, which includes several premium options via in-app purchase to get a premium phone number, get additional sound packs, and remove the advertising.
Trickle for Twitter (currently on sale for 99 cents, universal)
Do you enjoy Twitter, but find it a little overwhelming how fast the tweets can come in? Do you feel like you’re missing something when you have to keep going back to the Twitter site to see what’s happening in the Twittersphere? Trickle is for those who like Twitter, but prefer it in more manageable bite-size doses. As the name suggests, the app slows your Twitter stream (or flood, depending on how many people you follow and how often they tweet) down to a trickle, providing just one tweet at a time.
You can choose how often Trickle looks for updated tweets, and how long it displays each one. Large buttons at the bottom of the screen allow you to quickly retweet a message or mark it as a favorite. Tapping on a link opens mobile Safari and takes you to the specified page. The developers suggest that you let the app run while your iPad is charging or in a desktop dock, making Trickle into a digital slideshow of tweets. The effect is a pleasant one, and gives you the opportunity to take small breaks during the day by glancing at your iPad rather than surfing over to the Twitter site, when you might spend more time than you should. Recommended.