When I set out to buy a tablet I had a specific goal in mind. I wanted a device that would allow me to consume information. Entertainment was a distant priority. I watched a lot of iPad Today on the TWiT network to get an idea of what I would be getting and made a list of apps I thought would suit my needs. Those apps now dominate my homescreens and my quick launch bar.
Flipboard: My #1 used app. I use it to read my Google Reader subscriptions, The Guardian, CNET, Wired, Flipboard's Science News, and All Things D. I even use it to read my Twitter lists, such as my News list with NPR's @acarvin, Al Jazeera English, and Boing Boing. Everything is presented in a very snappy, pretty way and it makes it possible for me to interact with my articles.
Zite: Following closely behind Flipboard is Zite. It's the app that lets me enter my curated bubble of news. I give stories a thumbs up or thumbs down and Zite tries to curate stories for me (a la Pandora). It has introduced me to new websites and authors and, of course, to stories and views I might have missed otherwise.
Instapaper: The Instapaper app is amazing. When I'm browsing on my laptop or just don't have time for a particularly long article I save it to Instapaper. Later, I'll pick it up using my Kindle or this iPad app. It doesn't stop there, though. Instapaper also includes an "Editor's Picks" section where you can find new articles. My favorite is to use the "Give Me Something to Read" option. It usually returns very long, very interesting articles covering a variety of topics and events.
TWiT Pad: It's just a really nice app for watching the live stream of shows on the TWiT network and accessing their archives. It includes the chat room, multiple video options (uStream and Justin.tv), supports an audio only option, and supports a toggle for turning on and off streaming in the background while you use the iPad.
iBooks and Kindle: I love eInk displays and won't abandon my Kindle, but the iPad app is great for reading books in the dark. It's sort of my Kindle DX. The big highlight for me is iBooks, though. This was actually very unexpected. I found out my local newspaper offers an electronic edition that is really quite good. Not only that, but I can also download it as a PDF or an eBook for just about any format (PC, Kindle, iBooks Nook, Sony, and others). Downloading a book for iBooks is really simple. I just click the link and Safari will ask if I'd like to save it or add it to m iBooks library. Even better yet, the paper includes a very slick thumbnail of the front page of the paper with the date, so it even looks really good on the bookshelf. My iPad is becoming an archive of daily papers and local news.
Price: iBooks is pre-installed and the Kindle app is free
These apps gave me a big head start on my information consumption. I also enjoy the USA Today app (Price: Free). It's very well done and the price is right. The official Twitter app is also really nice and I still use that for some of my less informative lists and follows (Price: Free). Wikipanion, Qwiki, and NASA HD (Price: All Free) are fantastic reference apps for Wikipedia and NASA's massive database of space facts. I also really like the NHL GameCenter app for watching games, following scores, and checking stats(Price: Free, or $4.99 for video).
The iPad has very strong Email, Calendar, and Contacts apps as well. Google makes it easy to use these with their services (Gmail, Google Cal, and Contacts) in a few different ways. The iPad is like my phone in this regard. I might answer the occasional email or edit my calendar, but I mostly leave that for my laptop.
Consuming content was great, but once I had the iPad I started to think about being productive.
Autodesk Sketchbook: I love to draw and sketch and the iPad is actually really great. I purchased a Targus stylus for $12.99 and have really enjoyed using it to sketch pictures. Sketchbook has an awesome collection of pencils, pens, brushes, and other tools. It's not a complete replacement for a good pencil and paper, but the Undo button, colors, and overall ease of use makes it a killer digital art app.
Evernote, Dropbox, and Carbonite: Each great service has an equally great app designed for the iPad's screen. You can stream video or view pictures stored on Dropbox or access your files inside a Carbonite backup very easily. Evernote is just as useful. I'm still adapting to the idea of Evernote, but I think I like it and it's proven useful as a repository for picture notes.
Price: All free
Penultimate: After seeing how much I liked the combination of Sketchbook and my Targus stylus I bought Penultimate. It's a simple notebook app for written notes. It has become my go to notebook for meetings and research. I can create notebooks for each topic, swap colors for diagrams or different notes, and even change the style f paper for a page (lined, graph, storyboard, wide rule, etc.).
Notability: I also use Notability. It doesn't support handwritten notes, but it does let me insert audio notes, videos, pictures, and web clips. It is possible to insert what Notability calls "Figures". Figures let you draw on the screen (think diagrams), crop them, and insert them with captions. It's a versatile option that includes some solid tools and support for pens of multiple colors and sizes. Notability is, at its heart, an app for typing notes. Penultimate and Notability can serve very different purposes. The biggest strength here is the support for lists, fonts, and formatting that you can't make yourself too easily with a stylus or finger.
I have many, many more apps beyond this list. Some of the other "obvious" ones are Netflix, Pandora, and a wide selection of puzzle and action games. I also have my employer's PlayOn Mobile app, which I use daily for Hulu, CBS, BBC, Al Jazeera, and other videos. The iPad definitely excels as a media consumption device, for entertainment or news. However, it's great for productivity, too. You won't hear about me purchasing Pages and writing reports on the thing, but it's great as my high tech notebook.
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