Best free iPad apps
OK – you’ve probably noticed on the Apple App Store that iPad apps cost more – sometimes a LOT more – than their iPhone equivalents. But trust us, it’s worth the extra cash.
Many of the best free iPhone apps cost money in their iPad incarnations, and the quality level of what’s still free for the tablet is often ropey. But among the dross lie rare gems – iPad apps that are so good you can’t believe they’re still free.
Of those we unearthed, here’s our pick of the best free iPad apps. Note that apps marked ‘universal’ will run on your iPad and iPhone, optimising themselves accordingly.
New this week: Twitterrific
We elsewhere say nice things about the official Twitter client, but Twitterrific is a better bet for the more discerning Twitter user. It has a beautifully designed interface that’s a delight to use, helpfully merging mentions and messages into a unified timeline, saving you mucking about switching tabs.
Customisation options give you the means to adjust the app’s visual appearance (and the app can optionally automatically switch to a dark theme at night), and powerful mute and muffle features block users and hashtags you want no part of.
Pay $4.99/£3.99 and the app adds notifications, Apple Watch support, and translation support, along with removing ads.
It’s not like Microsoft Word really needs introduction. Unless you’ve been living under a rock that itself is under a pretty sizeable rock, you’ll have heard of Microsoft’s hugely popular word processor. What you might not realize, though, is how good it is on iPad.
Fire up the app and you’re greeted with a selection of handy templates, although you can of course instead use a blank canvas. You then work with something approximating the desktop version of Word, but that’s been carefully optimized for tablets. Your brain keeps arguing it shouldn’t exist, but it does — although things are a bit fiddly on an iPad mini.
Wisely, saved documents can be stored locally rather than you being forced to use Microsoft’s cloud, and they can be shared via email. (A PDF option exists for recipients without Office, although it’s oddly hidden behind the share button in the document toolbar, under ‘Send Attachment’, which may as well have been called ‘beware of the leopard’.)
Something else that’s also missing: full iPad Pro 12.9 support in the free version. On a smaller iPad, you merely need a Microsoft account to gain access to most features. Some advanced stuff — section breaks; columns; tracking changes; insertion of WordArt — requires an Office 365 account, but that won’t limit most users.
Presumably, Microsoft thinks iPad Pro owners have money to burn, though, because for free they just get a viewer. Bah.
Zen Studio (universal)
According to the developer’s blurb, Zen Studio is all about helping children to relax and focus, by providing a kind of finger-painting that can only exist in the digital realm. Frankly, we take issue with the ‘children’ bit, because Zen Studio has a welcoming and pleasing nature that should ensure it’s a hit with every iPad user.
You start off with a grid of triangles and a column of colored paints. Tap a paint to choose your color and then tap individual triangles or drag across the grid to start drawing. Every gesture you make is accompanied by musical notes that play over an ambient background soundtrack. Bar the atmosphere being knocked a touch by a loud squelch noise whenever a new paint tube is selected, the mix of drawing tool and musical instrument is intoxicating. When you’re done, your picture can be squirted to the Photos app, ready for sharing with the world.
This is, however, a limited freebie in some ways. You get eight canvases, which can be blank or based on templates. If you want more, you pay $1.99/£1.49 to unlock the unlimited premium version of the app. Still, for no outlay at all, you get a good few hours of chill-out noodly fun — more, if you’re happy drawing over the same canvases again and again.
Kitchen Stories (universal)
As you launch Kitchen Stories, you catch a glimpse of the app’s mantra: “Anyone can cook”. The problem is, most cooking apps (and indeed, traditional cookery books) make assumptions regarding people’s abilities.
Faced with a list of steps on a stark white page, it’s easy to get halfway through a recipe, look at the stodge in front of you, reason something must have gone terribly wrong, and order a takeaway.
Kitchen Stories offers firmer footing. You’re first met with a wall of gorgeous photography. More importantly, the photographs don’t stop.
Every step in a recipe is accompanied by a picture that shows how things should be at that point. Additionally, some recipes provide tutorial videos for potentially tricky skills and techniques. Fancy some Vietnamese pho, but not sure how to peel ginger, prepare a chilli or thinly slice meat? Kitchen Stories has you covered.
Beyond this, there’s a shopping list, handy essentials guide, and some magazine-style articles to peruse. And while you don’t get the sheer range of recipes found in some rival apps, the presentation more than makes up for that — especially on the iPad, which will likely find a new home in your own kitchen soon after Kitchen Stories is installed.
Annoyingly, some free iPad weather apps refuse to believe that the UK has any weather (or that the country exists), so AccuWeather gets props for merely working.
Happily, AccuWeather also proves to be a decent – if quirky – weather app. The interface is odd (but fun) and there’s a ‘lifestyle’ page that determines how your current local conditions might affect over 20 activities, including dog-walking and stargazing.
The social networking giant has gone back-and-forth with its mobile apps, finally settling on this smart, native implementation. Much like the slightly simpler iPhone equivalent, Facebook on iPad is such that you won’t want to use the comparatively clunky website again for seeing which of your friends really shouldn’t have internet access after midnight.
Safari’s embedded in iOS to the extent that there’s not a great deal of point in using any rival browser by default. But that doesn’t mean alternatives shouldn’t be considered at all. Opera Coast is a case in point. The browser’s bookmarks pages house massive icons, and its search is fast and to the point. With an interface that’s helpful and yet stays out of your way, Opera Coast therefore becomes an excellent lean-back browser for key sites you like to spend a lot of time with, leaving Safari for hum-drum day-to-day web browsing.
Beatwave is a simplified Tenori-On-style synth which enables you to rapidly build pleasing melodies by prodding a grid. Multiple layers and various instruments provide scope for complex compositions, and you can save sessions or, handily, store and share compositions via email. You can also buy more instruments via in-app purchases.
Bloomberg Business for iPad
It used to boast an eye-searing white-and-orange-on-black colour scheme that was a little like being repeatedly punched in the eyes, but now Bloomberg has grown up, discovered a palette (a subtler, serious ‘things on black’, for the most part), and has subsequently become a much more usable business news and stocks app.
We already have comic readers in this list, but Electricomics is something different. Spearheaded by a wealth of creative talent, including writers Alan and Leah Moore, it’s more akin to a collaborative art project that seeks to find new ways of creating and presenting comics.
The app itself is (for now) a one-off publication, with a small selection of comics to read, playing with the artform’s conventions by way of structure, interaction and navigation. Behind everything lies a self-publishing ecosystem and open source code; if inspired by what you find, add to and improve what’s there, or make and publish your own digital comics that dare to think a bit different.
The iPad’s well catered for in spreadsheet terms with Google freebie Sheets and Apple’s Numbers, but the reality is the business world mostly relies on Microsoft Excel. Like Microsoft’s other iOS fare, Excel is surprisingly powerful, marrying desktop-style features with touchscreen smarts.
You can get started with a blank workbook or choose from one of the bundled templates, which include budget planners, schedules, logs, and lists. Wisely, the app has an optional custom keyboard when you’re editing cells, filled with symbols, numbers, and virtual cursor keys. This won’t make much odds if you’re armed with a Bluetooth keyboard, but it speeds things up considerably if you only have your iPad handy.
You might be wondering what the catch is, and there aren’t many if you own a standard iPad or a mini. Sign in with a free Microsoft account and you’re blocked from some aesthetic niceties, but can do pretty much everything else. If you’re on an iPad Pro, however, Microsoft demands you have a qualifying Office 365 subscription to create and edit documents, but the app at least still functions as a viewer.
Dropbox is a great service for syncing documents across multiple devices. The iPad client works like the iPhone one (hardly surprising, since this is a universal app), enabling you to preview many file types and store those marked as favourites locally.
Like Dropbox, Evernote (a free online service for saving ideas – text documents, images and web clips – that you can then access from multiple devices) works the same way on the iPad as it does on the iPhone. It benefits from the iPad’s larger screen, which enables you to see and navigate your stored snippets more easily.
When the YouTube app presumably became a victim of the ongoing and increasingly tedious Apple/Google spat, there were concerns Google wouldn’t respond. Those turned out to be unfounded, because here’s yet another bespoke, nicely designed Google-created app for iOS. The interface is specifically tuned for the iPad, and AirPlay enables you to fire videos at an Apple TV.
We could all use a bit of brain training from time to time and Elevate is a great way to do it. It aims to improve your writing, reading, speaking, listening and maths skills through a variety of daily challenges, which keep your brain active and test you in entertaining ways. A beautiful interface makes it a joy to use and the core app is free, but extra features can be added with a subscription.
Going head-to-head with Kindle, iBooks is a decent ebook reader, backed by the iBookstore. As you’d expect from Apple, the interface is polished and usable, with handy cross-device bookmark syncing, highlighting, and various display options. It’s also a capable PDF reader, for your digital magazine collection.
Although the iPad enables a certain amount of basic multi-tasking, anyone who constantly juggles a number of instant messaging services will soon be tired of leaping between apps. IM+ is a good solution, enabling you to run a number of IM services in a single app, and there’s also a built-in web browser for checking out links.
Amazon’s Kindle iPad app for reading myriad books available at the Kindle Store is a little workmanlike, and doesn’t match the coherence of iBooks (you buy titles in Safari and ‘sync’ purchases via Kindle). However, Kindle’s fine for reading, and you get options to optimise your experience (including the ability to kill the naff page-turn animation and amend the page background to a pleasant sepia tone).
Movies by Flixster (universal)
One for film buffs, Movies figures out where you are and tells you what’s showing in your local cinemas – or you can pick a film and it’ll tell you where and when it’s on. The app is functionally identical on iPad and iPhone, but again the extra screen space improves the experience.
You might argue that Google Maps is far better suited to a smartphone, but we reckon the king of mapping apps deserves a place on your iPad, too. Apple’s own Maps app has improved, but Google still outsmarts its rival when it comes to public transport, finding local businesses, and virtual tourism by way of Street View. Google’s ‘OS within an OS’ also affords a certain amount of cross-device sync when it comes to searches. We don’t, however, recommend you strap your cellular iPad to your steering wheel and use Google Maps as a sat-nav replacement, unless you want to come across as some kind of nutcase.
PCalc Lite (universal)
PCalc Lite‘s existence means the lack of a built-in iPad calculator doesn’t bother us (in fact, we’d love to replace the iPhone Calculator app with PCalc Lite as well). This app is usable and feature-rich – and if you end up wanting more, in-app purchases enable you to bolt on extras from the full PCalc.
Spurious anti-competition complaints meant the BBC News app took a while to come to the UK; in the meantime, Reuters offered the next best free news app for iPad. It’s a little US-centric, but can be skewed towards UK coverage via the Settings app, and it’s worth downloading for a more international take on news coverage than BBC News provides.
Airbnb makes travel affordable and social, as rather than staying in a hotel you can stay in someone’s house. Options range from crashing on someone’s sofa to renting a private island, or if you have a spare room you could even rent your own space out. The iPad app is one of the best ways to browse it too, letting you search and book using an attractive image-heavy interface.
Wikipanion for iPad
The Wikipedia website works fine in Safari for iPad, but dedicated apps make navigating the site simpler and faster. Wikipanion is an excellent free app, with a sleek iOS 7-style design, an efficient two-pane landscape view, and excellent bookmarking and history access.
It’s been a long while since we’ve wanted to use a PC or Mac for eBay, because browsing for all kinds of tat you don’t really need is far more pleasant on a touchscreen. With the iPad’s acres, the eBay app is a properly sit-back experience, all about huge images you can swipe, and listings you can effortlessly scroll through.
For some reason, the eBay team messes about with the interface approximately every eleven seconds, but the end result’s usually for the better.
Soundrop is a minimal generative sound toy that offers an endless stream of balls, which make noises when they collide with and bounce off user-drawn lines. The overall result is surprisingly fun and hypnotic. For more advanced features – save, multiple instruments and gravity adjustment – there’s an in-app ‘pro’ purchase option.
After a stint on the iPhone, Kickstarter has now arrived on Apple’s slates and it’s the perfect fit for it, giving you a big window into thousands of projects which you can back with a tap. Browse by categories and sub-categories, select how to sort projects or just search for a specific one. Just be careful. Last time we launched the app we emerged six hours later and hundreds of pounds poorer. We eagerly await delivery of our smart socks.
Google Earth (universal)
It’s not the smoothest app in the world, and it lacks some elements from the desktop, but Google Earth is nonetheless a joy on the iPad. Touch gestures are an intuitive means of swooping around the planet, and the optional layers enable you to display as much or as little ancillary information as you wish.
25. Flickr (universal)
Instagram might be the current online photo-sharing darling, but it’s clear veteran Flickr remains up for a fight. On iPad, it’s a lovely app, with a refined and minimal UI that makes browsing simple and allows photography to shine. Another smart aspect of Flickr is its extremely generous 1 TB of free storage. You can set videos and photos to automatically upload, and they stay private unless you choose to share them.
There are compatibility issues with the most modern Apple toys as Live Photos end up as stills on Flickr. Even so, Flickr makes Apple’s free 5 GB of iCloud storage look pathetic by comparison; and even if you use it only as a belt-and-braces back-up for important images, it’s worth checking out.
SkyView Free (universal)
SkyView Free is a stargazing app that very much wants you to get off your behind and outside, or at least hold your iPad aloft to explore the heavens. Unlike TechRadar favourite Sky Guide, there’s no means to drag a finger to manually move the sky around – you must always point your iPad’s display where you want to look – but there’s no price-tag either. And for free, this app does the business.
There are minimal ads, a noodly atmospheric soundtrack, an optional augmented reality view (to overlay app graphics on to the actual sky), and a handy search that’ll point you in the direction of Mars, Ursa Major, or the International Space Station.
BBC News (universal)
Although the BBC News website works nicely on the iPad, BBC News is still worth downloading. Rather than trying to provide all of the news, it instead concentrates on the latest stories, with inline video. Categories can be rearranged, stories can be shared and the app’s layout adjusts to portrait and landscape orientations.
Tens of thousands of recipes at your fingertips (as long as you have a web connection) ensure Epicurious is worth a download for the culinary-inclined. The app even composes a shopping list for recipes; it’s just a pity it doesn’t include measurements for those of us who use that new-fangled metric system.
This official WordPress app has a reputation for being a bit clunky, but it’s fine for authoring the odd blog post on the go, along with making quick edits to existing content and managing comments. It also offers both text-based and visual approaches to crafting posts, so you’re not stuck with HTML.
Speed Test SpeedSmart (universal)
Truth be told, we’re always a touch suspicious of apps that claim to test your connection speed, but Speed Test SpeedSmart seems to do a decent job. It’s also handy to have installed for when your broadband goes all flaky and you need to record the figures for a subsequent moan at your ISP.
Brushes Redux (universal)
The original Brushes app was one of the most important in the iPhone’s early days. With Jorge Colombo using it to paint a New Yorker cover, it showcased the potential of the technology, and that an iPhone could be used for production, rather than merely consumption. Brushes eventually stopped being updated, but fortunately went open source beforehand. Brushes Redux is the result.
On the iPad, you can take advantage of the much larger screen. But the main benefit of the app is its approachable nature. It’s extremely easy to use, but also has plenty of power for those who need it, not least in the layering system and the superb brush designer.
Find my iPhone (universal)
Find my iPhone would perhaps be better named ‘Find my Apple stuff’, because it’s not just for figuring out where a missing iPhone is – it can also track iPads, iPods and Macs. The app is simple, elegant and, generally speaking, provides an accurate location for devices. It also enables you to remote-lock or wipe a device.
Initially, Flipboard looked like a gimmick, trying desperately to make online content resemble a magazine. But now it can integrate Flickr and other networks, beautifully laying out their articles, Flipboard’s muscled into the ‘essential’ category – and it’s still free.
Find My Friends (universal)
While perhaps less practical than on the iPhone, Find My Friends on the iPad nonetheless works well, enabling you to track any pals that are happy with you digitally stalking them. The iPad’s large display improves the app’s usability, simultaneously displaying your friend list and a map.
IMDB might be a wee bit US-focused at times (much like the movie industry), but the app is a great way to browse more movie-related info than you could ever hope to consume in a single lifetime. Settings enable you to define which sites IMDB and Amazon info is taken from, and the show times finder works pretty well.
Choosing between Pocket and Instapaper for your read-it-later service is a bit like trying to figure out which of your equally lovely kids is the best. Like its rival, Pocket makes it simple to stash web pages for later, stripping them of cruft, leaving only images and text.
This content can then be digested in an easy-to-view layout that’s not desperately trying to punch adverts into your eyeballs. Instapaper probably has the lead on minimalism and typography, but Pocket’s colourful interface is a bit more welcoming, and we prefer it when it comes to saving videos.
TED describes itself as “riveting talks by remarkable people, free to the world”. The app pretty much does as you’d expect – you get quick access to dozens of inspiring videos. However, it goes the extra mile in enabling you to save any talk for offline viewing, and also for providing hints on what to watch next if you’ve enjoyed a particular talk.
The official Twitter app might lack some of the features found in certain third-party clients, but it does provide a sleek and simple means of using the service. It also rapidly rolls in new features from the website, such as the Connect and Discover views, along with expandable tweets that contain photos and videos.
Adult colouring books are all the rage, proponents claiming bringing colour to intricate abstract shapes helps reduce stress – at least until you realise you’ve got pen on your shirt and ground oil pastels into the sofa.
You’d think the process of colouring would be ideal for iPad, but most relevant apps are awful, some even forcing tap-to-fill. That is to colouring what using a motorbike is to running a marathon – a big cheat. Pigment is an exception, marrying a love for colouring with serious digital smarts.
On selecting an illustration, there’s a range of palettes and tools to explore. You can use pencils and markers, adjusting opacity and brush sizes, and work with subtle gradients. Colouring can be ‘freestyle’, or you can tap to select an area and ensure you don’t go over the lines while furiously scribbling. With a finger, Pigment works well, but it’s better with a stylus; with an iPad Pro and a Pencil, you’ll lob your real books in the bin.
The one niggle: printing and accessing the larger library requires a subscription in-app purchase. It’s a pity there’s no one-off payment for individual books, but you do get plenty of free illustrations, and so it’s hard to grumble.
Safari for iPad is a great mobile browser, but if you hanker for more features, Dolphin is a decent alternative. The browser has an Opera-like ‘speed dial’ that provides one-touch access to favourites, and you can create personalised action gestures. There’s also a distraction-free full-screen mode for when you really want to get into a website.
Skyscanner Flights (universal)
Skyscanner‘s website is pretty good, but the iPad app’s another great example of how an app’s focus can really help you speed through a task. You use the app to search over a thousand airlines, and it provides straightforward competitive journey lists and comparison graphs. If you’re planning a flight, it’s an indispensable download.
Every now and again, we get a little bit twitchy at global marketplaces. Certain online stores are getting too big, to the point they’ll probably soon attempt to embed a ‘buy now’ button inside your brain. Etsy feels like little guys fighting back.
It’s a storefront for handmade, vintage and creative goods. Instead of polished iPad stands fresh from Jony Ive’s pencil, you’re more likely to find something beautiful made out of driftwood. The app’s interface is clean and simple, making browsing a treat; and you can of course flag shops and items as favourites, and receive notifications when an order ships.
MeteoEarth for iPad
It’s not the most efficient weather forecasting app around, but MeteoEarth for iPad is perhaps the most fun to fiddle around with. You can spin and explore the Earth with a fingertip, and add overlays for meteorological data you’re interested in, such as temperature, precipitation and wind.
Tap-hold anywhere on the map to get the current conditions, or switch to the climate view for averages. Google ads pop up every now and again, periodically obliterating the geekery, but are easily dismissed.
For a free app, Status Board is rather canny. The idea is to use a dormant iPad for displaying interesting and useful information: a clock, weather reports, calendar entries, unread email subjects, Twitter replies, and RSS feeds. These can be arranged by dragging widgets about on a grid. Status Board works in landscape or portrait, and there’s an alternate HD layout if you want to output to, for example, a wall-mounted telly.
There’s also a single expansion pack IAP (£7.99/$9.99), which gives you access to more widgets: graphs, tables, custom HTML, countdowns, text, and photos. The last of those in particular might convince you to open your wallet; but even if you don’t, get Status Board to make your iPad actually useful during its downtime.
Autodesk SketchBook (universal)
We tend to quickly shift children from finger-painting to using much finer tools, but the iPad shows there’s plenty of power in your digits — if you’re using the right app.
Autodesk SketchBook provides all the tools you need for digital sketching, from basic doodles through to intricate and painterly masterpieces; and if you’re wanting to share your technique, you can even time-lapse record to save drawing sessions to your camera roll. The core app is free, but it will cost you $3.99 / £2.99 to unlock the pro features.
The description for Cove is rather noodly — all about self-expression and creating soundtracks to capture your mood. In reality, it’s a somewhat controllable instrument for creating ambient music loops. You start with a mood (which determines the scale), ‘base’, ‘melody’ and a filter (effect). You can then play your creation, or save it alongside a kind of diary entry, noting how you feel. Unlike many simple iPad music apps, Cove does enable you to create discordant output, but beyond the hippy vibe, there is the potential here to fashion great beauty.
XE Currency (universal)
It’s as ugly as they come, but XE Currency is the best free currency app you’ll find. You define which currencies you want to see, along with the number of decimals to show. Double-tap a currency and you can set it as the base currency by tapping 1.0 in the calculator, or do bespoke conversions by typing any other value.
Airport Utility (universal)
With apps like Airport Utility, it’s increasingly clear Apple now sees the iPad as an independent unit, not merely an accessory to a PC or Mac. The app provides an overview of your Wi-Fi network, and enables you to view and change settings, restore or restart a base station, and get terribly angry at a flashing orange light that denotes your ISP’s gone belly up.
Skype for iPad
In theory, we should be cheerleading for FaceTime, what with it being built into iOS devices, but it’s still an Apple-only system. Skype, however, is enjoyed by myriad users who haven’t been bitten by the Apple bug, and it works very nicely on the iPad, including over 3G.
Jamie Oliver’s Recipes (universal)
It’s strange how iPad cookery apps seem to think they’re books, unhelpfully offering a few lines of text and then abandoning you. Jamie Oliver’s Recipes is a more appetising prospect. From the off, it makes your eyes pop and stomach rumble with mouth-watering foodie photos. Select a recipe and you’ll see steps and ingredients, but tap ‘Cook Now’ and every step is adorned with a full-screen photo.
It feels like the app is helping you along, through showing you how your culinary masterpiece should appear at any given moment. Jamie even (oddly) occasionally pops up with the odd bit of sage advice.
Elsewhere, video tips provide insight into cooking basics, and there’s a one-tap shopping list for any recipe, which you can email to yourself if you don’t fancy lugging an iPad around the supermarket.
Naturally, Jamie needs money to buy his vats of olive oil and piles of lemons, and so access to all of the content costs £1.99 per month. But for free, there are always 15 featured taster recipes, which are regularly rotated.
The latest of the major read-it-later systems, Readability brings with it a clean interface and a lovely set of fonts. As with the likes of Instapaper, Readability strips junk from web pages, leaving only the content. As you’d expect, you can also send on anything particularly interesting to Twitter and Facebook.
iTunes U (universal)
If you’re still convinced the iPad is only a device for staring brain-dead at TV shows and not a practical tool for education, check out iTunes U. The app enables you to access many thousands of free lectures and courses taught by universities and colleges, thereby learning far more than what bizarre schemes current soap characters are hatching.
All 4 (universal)
Despite what we said in the previous entry, the iPad is, of course, a great tool for TV. (After all, once you’re done studying, you need some downtime, right?) Channel 4’s All 4 enables you to view a selection of recent shows, along with a handful of classic programmes.
Google might seem redundant – after all, the iPad’s Safari app has a built-in Google search field. However, Google’s own offering provides a superior search experience that’s been specifically designed for iPad. Highlights include a tactile image carousel, visual search history and Google Goggles integration.
TuneIn Radio (universal)
Output your iPad’s audio to an amp or a set of portable speakers, fire up TuneIn Radio, select a station and you’ve a set-up to beat any DAB radio. Along with inevitable social sharing, the app also provides an alarm, AirPlay support, pause and rewind, and a ‘shake to switch station’ feature – handy if the current DJ’s annoying and you feel the need to vent.
audioBoom is essentially a podcast app, but as well as letting you listen to podcasts and other spoken-word audio you can also record your own clips, follow other users and send messages to friends. So there’s creation and social networking in there too, making it more of a podcast community than just a player. But even if you stick to listening there’s plenty of content here.
Netflix has been described by some in the UK as the perfect way to experience everything a DVD bargain bin has to offer. We do agree there’s a lack of content compared to the US library, but Netflix is cheap and fine for catching up on older shows. And the iPad app includes AirPlay support and a resume function, so you can pick up where you left off on another device.
SoundCloud is a popular service for sharing sounds, and the iPad app enables you to search and play myriad snippets and music tracks hosted on SoundCloud’s servers. If you’re a budding musician or oddball loudmouth, you can also record and upload sounds from your iPad, or record to upload later.
It’s easy enough to ignore a to-do when it’s lurking somewhere in the background on your Mac or PC, but on an iPad, 30/30‘s crystal-clear events (including optional repeating loops for work/break cycles) can’t be so easily dismissed. Fortunately, it looks great and the tactile interface makes creating and removing items a joy.
For a long while, Paper was a freemium iPad take on Moleskine sketchbooks. You made little doodles and then flipped virtual pages to browse them. At some point, it went free, but now it’s been transformed into something different and better. The original tools remain present and correct, but are joined by the means to add text, checklists, and photos. One other newcomer allows geometric shapes you scribble to be tidied up, but without losing their character.
So rather than only being for digital sketches, Paper’s now for all kinds of notes and graphs, too. The sketchbooks, however, are gone; in their place are paper stacks that explode into walls of virtual sticky notes. Some old-hands have grumbled, but we love the new Paper. It’s smarter, simpler, easier to browse, and makes Apple’s own Notes look like a cheap knock-off.
Need to make a newsletter, invitation, or report? Then you need Adobe Slate. The app lets you combine text and images into a visual story that flows like the best digital magazines. It’s simple to use, letting you effortlessly create a professional story and it’s easy to share too, giving you a link which allows your readers to open it on phones, tablets and computers.
There are loads of iPad apps for reading and annotating PDFs, but LiquidText is different. Rather than purely aping paper, the developers have thought about the advantages of working with virtual documents. So while you still get a typical page view, you can pinch to collapse passages you’re not interested in and also compare those that aren’t adjacent.
There’s a ‘focus’ view that shows only annotated sections, and you can even select chunks of text and drag them to the sidebar. Tap one of those cut-outs at a later point and its location will instantly be displayed in the main text. Smartly, you can save any document in the app’s native format, export it as a PDF with comments, or share just the notes as an RTF.
Although Apple introduced iCloud Keychain in iOS 7, designed to securely store passwords and payment information, 1Password is a more powerful system. It can also hold identities, secure notes, network information and app licence details. Your stored data can then be accessed on more than just Apple’s platforms. The core app is free, but you’ll need to pay $9.99 / £7.99 to get access to all its features.
Social network Pinterest is one of the very few to challenge the big guns in the industry. It provides a means to find and share inspiration, working as a place to collect and organise the things you love. The iPad app has an elegant interface that pushes inspirational imagery to the fore, just as it should.
National Rail Enquiries for iPad
For anyone commuting by train, National Rail Enquiries is a handy app to have installed. There’s journey planning, timetables and a location-aware ‘next train home’ option, along with progress tracking, so you can see when a train’s likely to show up. Note that you’ll need a 3G iPad or Wi-Fi to use the app.
One for the graphic designers out there, desktop publishing giant Quark’s DesignPad is an astonishingly useful app for figuring out layouts on the move, or knocking about ideas in meetings. Plenty of ready-made documents can give you a head-start, and your finished work can be exported as a PNG or emailed for use in a QuarkXPress document.
Because of its single-app nature and big screen, the iPad’s become a tool many people prefer to a PC or Mac for email. However, if you’re reliant on Gmail, Apple’s own Mail is insufficient, not providing access to your entire archive nor Gmail’s features. Google’s own app deals with such shortcomings and looks as good as Apple’s client.
We’re not sure whether Slack is an amazing aid to productivity or some kind of time vampire. Probably a bit of both. What we do know is that the real-time messaging system is excellent in a work environment for chatting with colleagues (publicly and privately), sharing and previewing files, and organising discussions by topic.
There’s smart integration with online services, and support for both the iPad Pro and the iPad’s Split View function. Note that although Slack is clearly designed with businesses in mind, it also works perfectly well as a means of communicating with friends if you don’t fancy lobbing all your worldly wisdom into Facebook’s maw.
If you’re into electronic music creation you need to get into SynthMaster Player. The core app is free and comes with 100 factory presets plus 100 more once you register.
But that’s just a starting point, as you can edit the presets to create your own sounds, gradually building electronic soundscapes using the included 2 octave keyboard. If you get really into it there are in-app purchases to unlock even more features, but there’s plenty here to be getting started with.
If you ever have one of those conversations where a friend swears blind they did reply, you say you didn’t get the email, and they sheepishly mutter “on Facebook”, Cloze is for you. It bungs all your social communications (email, Twitter, Facebook, LinkedIn) into a single inbox and also prioritises people who you most often deal with. It’s a great time-saver.
Haiku Deck (universal)
If we’re honest, we rather liked the original version of Haiku Deck, which stripped back presentations, only enabling you to add to each slide a single image, a heading and a sub-heading. The minimalism’s gone (Haiku Deck now includes charts, graphs, bulleted lists and other ‘improvements’), but it’s still fun and easy to use, which is the main thing.
Tumblr has a perfectly serviceable mobile presence, but the Tumblr iPad app gives you a more tablet-oriented interface for using the site. It’s therefore a cinch to manage your blogs, post new entries and reply to messages on your iPad. Additionally, there’s also offline support, enabling you to queue posts, likes, replies and reblogs without a web connection.
In the professional world, Autodesk is best known for high-end 3D products: Maya, 3ds Max, AutoCAD. On the iPad, the company’s been using its 3D smarts to churn out interesting consumer-focussed 3D tools. Homestyler enables you to photograph a room, then paint colours on the walls and add furniture, light fittings and accessories.
Podcasts are mostly associated with small portable devices – after all, the very name is a mash-up of ‘iPod’ and ‘broadcast’. But that doesn’t mean you should ignore your favourite shows when armed with an iPad rather than an iPhone.
We’re big fans of Overcast on Apple’s smaller devices, but the app makes good use of the iPad’s extra screen space, with a smart two-column display. On the left, episodes are listed, and the current podcast loads into the larger space on the right.
The big plusses with Overcast, though, remain playback and podcast management. It’s the one podcast app we’ve used that retains plenty of clarity when playback is sped up; and there are clever effects for removing dead air and boosting vocals in podcasts with lower production values.
Playlists can be straightforward in nature, or quite intricate, automatically boosting favourites to the top of the list, and excluding specific episodes. And if you do mostly use an iPhone for listening, Overcast automatically syncs your podcasts and progress, so you can always pick up where you left off.
Calorie Counter and Diet Tracker HD
The iPhone version of Calorie Counter is a great way of ensuring you’re not eating for several, but the HD iPad release takes things to a whole new level. The extra space enables the interface to breathe, providing plenty of room for charts, calorie breakdowns and interaction with fellow dieters.
Google Drive (universal)
It’s curious to think how rapidly Microsoft made Office irrelevant to so many. Most people just want a simple app for documents and spreadsheets, and that (along with a storage repository) is precisely what Google Drive provides. Like Dropbox, it’s also possible to store documents locally, for when you’ve no web connection.
Modern life is full of interesting contraptions but beyond phones and tablets the workings of many of them are a mystery to us. That’s where HowStuffWorks comes in, doing exactly what it says on the tin through an attractive interface.
As well as explaining how various machines work though it also goes further, with interesting nuggets of history and culture as well as podcasts, videos and quizzes.
PlainText 2 (universal)
The iPhone incarnation of PlainText 2 is good for the odd bit of note-taking, but on the iPad PlainText 2 is transformed into a minimal but highly usable writing tool with Dropbox sync. The lack of clutter provides a real sense of focus – even the single iAd is hidden from view once the on-screen keyboard appears.
There’s no traditional file system in iOS, but the likes of Box can act as a close equivalent, along with enabling cross-device/platform sync. Here, you get 10 GB of free storage, albeit less direct integration with iOS apps than rival Dropbox provides. Still, files are easily shared and opened, and there’s a photo-upload option from the iOS Camera Roll, handy for getting snaps from your shiny new iPhone 7 (when it launches) to your iPad.
Been only really does one thing but it does it well, presenting you with a map of the world and allowing you to shade in the countries you’ve been to, so you can see at a glance how much of a globetrotter you are, or share the map with friends.
You can also go deeper and see what percentage of the world or each continent you’ve been to, to truly quantify your travels.
Amazon Music (universal)
It seems every major player in media must have a cloud music service these days, and Amazon’s no exception. The Amazon Music app is smartly designed, enabling you to easily switch between content stored on your Amazon account and music stored on your device. You can also download from the former to the latter.
The prospect of drawing can fill people with terror, and so the idea of animation probably sends such folks fleeing for the hills. Animatic might calm their nerves, being the friendly face of iPad animation.
Start a new project and you get a small canvas and a bunch of effective and broadly realistic tools – markers, crayons, pencils, biros – for scribbling with. Once you’ve composed a frame, Animatic makes use of traditional ‘onion skinning’ techniques to help you produce smooth motion thereafter: up to three previous frames are shown in translucent fashion behind the one you’re currently drawing. Tap ‘Next’ and you’ll see your animation looping. Its speed can be adjusted, and you can export to video or GIF.
Beyond Animatic’s approachable nature, we’re big fans of its flexibility. You simply return to the main ‘My Animations’ screen to save (which we recommend doing often with lengthy projects, because a crash can take work with it), and can later edit any frame from any animation – nothing’s fixed forever. And while, as the bundled examples suggest, you’re more likely to end up with Roobarb and Custard than Pixar’s finest, Animatic is a superb way to explore making drawings move – entirely for free.
Hanx Writer (universal)
There’s no shortage of word processors available for iOS, but few as unique as Hanx Writer, as it aims to emulate a typewriter and it’s surprisingly successful, getting the look and sounds right while adding modern conveniences like a delete key.
It’s not as full-featured as some word processors, but you can save and share documents and there’s just something compelling about writing on a typewriter, even if it is a virtual one.
Amazon Instant Video (universal)
Much like Netflix, Amazon Instant Video enables you to subscribe and then stream TV shows and movies from the cloud. Quite a lot of them are bargain-bin fodder, but the range continues to grow. Pleasingly, Amazon also enables you to stream whatever you’re watching to an Apple TV via AirPlay.
We’ve elsewhere mentioned Comics, but Sequential has a slightly different take on the medium. It’s an altogether more upmarket affair, aimed at graphic novels and collections of sequential art that are supposed to be taken seriously. Therefore, this isn’t so much everything but the kitchen sink, but a repository for a carefully curated selection of some of the best comics ever created.
Apple’s Photos app has editing capabilities, but they’re not terribly exciting — especially when compared to Snapseed. Here, you select from a number of effect types and proceed to pinch and swipe your way to a transformed image. It’s a fun tool, but there’s plenty of control for anyone determined to get their photos just so.
Concepts: Smarter Sketching, Design & CAD
Anyone can be a digital artist with the help of an iPad, but while there are numerous drawing apps focused on art there isn’t such a selection for technical drawings of the type carried out by architects and engineers.
But thanks to Concepts there’s at least one. With vector brushes, size guides, graph paper, the ability to adjust and fine-tune anything and easily export your finished design there’s a lot here and the core app is free.
Although it’s technically an instant messaging app, GroupMe comes across more like a mini-Facebook, but just for your friends. It has feeds, the means to ‘like’ posts, and private messaging. It’s media-savvy, too, enabling you to post videos and photos, the latter being automatically turned into galleries you can browse from a sidebar.
The majority of comic-book readers on the App Store are tied to online stores, and any emphasis on quality in the actual apps isn’t always placed on the reading part. But with many more publishers embracing DRM-free downloads, having a really great reading app is essential if you’re into digital comics. Chunky is the best available on iOS.
The interface is smart, simple and boasts plenty of settings, including the means to eradicate animation entirely when flipping pages. Rendering is top-notch, even for relatively low-res fare. And you get the option of one- or two-up page views. For free, you can access web storage to upload comics. A single £2.99/$3.99 pro upgrade adds support for shared Mac/PC/NAS drives.
The iPad is the perfect mobile device for composing music, with its fairly large display and powerful innards. This has resulted in a range of involved and impressive music-creation tools, such as Korg Gadget. Sometimes, though, you yearn for something simpler for making some noise.
This is where Figure comes in. Within seconds, you can craft thumping dance loops, comprising drum, bass and lead parts. The sounds are great, being based on developer Propellerhead Software’s much-loved Reason. They can be manipulated, too, so your exported loops sound truly unique.
VPNs (Virtual Private Networks) are becoming very popular, due to issues people increasingly face when browsing the web. A VPN can be used to circumvent region-blocking/censorship and security issues on public Wi-Fi. Such services can baffle people who aren’t technically adept, but TunnelBear is all about the friendlier side of VPNs. With bears.
After installing the app and profile, you’ll have 500 MB of data per month to play with. Tunnelling to a specific location is simply a case of tapping it on the map and waiting a few seconds for the bear to pop out of the ground. Tweet about the product and you’ll get an extra free GB. Alternatively, monthly and annual paid plans exist for heavier data users.
The problem with modern telly isn’t finding something you want to watch, but figuring out where to watch it. There are so many streaming and download services that keeping track of shows is tough. JustWatch speeds up the process: you tell it where you live and the services you use, and it lists shows and films you might like.
Various searches and filters are available, including one for price-cuts, to snag cheapo downloads and rentals. There are bugs and listing errors here and there, but for free this is a great starting point for figuring out where to find a potential new telly favourite.
If you delve into browser developer tools, the size of web pages these days is astonishing. Frequently, the actual content isn’t weighty, but associated ads and tracking scripts are. Moreover, content is often a tiny letterbox surrounded by a sea of ads, and you might not have time to read anything right now anyway.
Instapaper is designed to place content front and centre, and be there whenever you want to read it. You visit a site and send the URL to Instapaper, or share to Instapaper from the likes of a Twitter client. Instapaper then dutifully pulls down text and imagery for later.
The main view is stripped-back, clutter-free and very readable, with plentiful options regarding typography. An optional monthly/annual premium subscription adds full text-search, text-to-speech highlights, send-to-Kindle, and more, but the free version should suffice for most users.
We’re big fans of Duolingo on iPhone. Its bite-size exercises are perfect for quickly dipping into, when you’ve a spare moment to tackle a bit of language-learning. On iPad, the app is basically the same, and the screen’s relative acres make everything feel a touch sparse.
However, Duolingo remains the same impressive and approachable app, and the iPad’s form-factor lends itself to more extended sessions, which is great for when you want to properly crack the next challenge the app throws your way. As ever, we remain baffled that this app remains entirely free. We’ve yet to find the catch.
Learning a musical instrument isn’t easy, which is probably why a bunch of people don’t bother, instead pretending to be rock stars by way of tiny plastic instruments and their parent videogames. Yousician bridges the divide, flipping a kind of Guitar Hero interface 90 degrees and using its visual and timing devices to get you playing chords and notes.
This proves remarkably effective, and your iPad merrily keeps track of your skills (or lack thereof) through its internal mic. The difficulty curve is slight, but the app enables you to skip ahead if you’re bored, through periodic ‘test’ rounds. Most surprisingly, for free you get access to everything, only your daily lesson time is limited.
There are loads of superb music-making apps for iPad, but Auxy is the first we’ve seen that effortlessly combines the immediacy of something like Novation Launchpad’s loop triggers with a piano roll editor. You get four tracks, each of which can have up to ten programmable loops of between one and four bars. During playback, you simply tap a loop to cue it up. Auxy’s selection of drums, bass and synth is geared towards electronic music, but MIDI export makes it a great download even for pros who fancy a no-nonsense scratchpad.
Home movies can be evocative and heartwarming. They can also be really tricky to make. If you’re not a dab hand at the likes of iMovie, you might struggle to get anywhere beyond a random selection of clips with some dodgy titles. With Replay, everything’s so much easier. You tell the app what content to use, and it within seconds spits out a movie based on a selected theme.
If you want more control, you can reorder shots and fiddle with settings. For free, you can save watermarked videos. IAPs unlock further themes, and add features like removing watermarks, trimming videos, changing focus points, adding text and music, and adjusting pacing.
Khan Academy (universal)
Maybe it’s just our tech-addled brains, but often we find it a lot easier to focus on an app than a book, which can make learning things the old fashioned way tricky. That’s where Khan Academy comes in. This free app contains lessons and guidance on dozens of subjects, from algebra, to cosmology, to computer science and beyond.
As it’s an app rather than a book it benefits from videos and even a few interactive elements, alongside words and pictures and it contains over 10,000 videos and explanations in all. Everything is broken in to bite-sized chunks, so whether you’ve got a few minutes to spare or a whole afternoon there’s always time to learn something new and if you make an account it will keep track of your progress and award achievements.