iPad Starters Guide: Essential Apps for New iPad Owners

There’s no question that one of the biggest advantages that the iOS platform has over its competitors is a robust ecosystem of apps. No doubt this wide array was one of the things that attracted you to the iPad in the first place. But in a sea of over 60,000 choices, how do you know what apps to choose? How do you know which apps are worth your time – and more importantly your money – when you’ve only just bought your iPad?

Well that’s where we come in. Today we’re going to showcase the best apps in 6 different categories for those who are just getting started with their iPad.

Reading

eBooks are all the rage these days, and one of the big features that draws people to an iPad is its skill as an eReading device. Here are our picks for the best reading apps to get you started.

iBooks - Free

iBooks - Free

iBooks

When you turn on your iPad, and launch the App Store for the first time, you’ll actually get a notification, prompting you to install iBooks. Do it.

Follow the on-screen instructions, you won’t regret it. Even though some feel the skeuomorphic design of iBooks not to be their taste, there’s no denying its ease of use, and the adeptness with which it handles PDFs.

Price: Free
Developer: Apple

Kindle for iPad - Free

Kindle for iPad - Free

Kindle for iPad

Who says you can’t have your iPad and use Kindle too? The Kindle for iPad app boasts the largest eBook library around, practically guaranteeing that the title you’re looking for is there. Kindle for iPad’s UI design is more understated than iBooks, but that lets the text of what you’re reading really shine.

If you’re serious about reading eBooks on your iPad, then the Kindle app is a must. It could quite possibly be the only eReading app you’ll ever need.

Price: Free
Developer: Amazon

Instapaper - $4.99

Instapaper - $4.99

Instapaper

Moving from the typical ePub and PDF readers, we come to Instapaper. Instapaper is an online service, the strength of which lies in a bookmarklet. When you encounter something on the web that you’d like to read later, use that bookmarklet to send it to Instapaper. Being built-in to a lot of other content sources on iOS, like Twitter apps and RSS readers, helps you funnel online content into Instapaper.

And once you get your content there, it’s a true joy to read. Marco Arment, the sole developer of Instapaper, has done a beautiful job creating an elegant and simple reading experience. In my estimation, it’s the way good writing is meant to be enjoyed.

Price: $4.99
Developer: Marco Arment

Social Media

On the verge of becoming a buzzword, “social media” is a category almost too broad to truly define. Here are our picks for the can’t miss social media apps on the iPad.

Flipboard - Free

Flipboard - Free

Flipboard

Flipboard could well fall into the category of a reading app. It beautifully displays content from across the web, some of it curated by Flipboard staff, but most of it coming from social media feeds like Facebook and Twitter.

That’s where the real value of Flipboard lies. It lets you transform your river of news and information into something more akin to reading a magazine or newspaper – except it’s custom tailored to your tastes.

Price: Free
Developer: Flipboard

Twitter for iPad - Free

Twitter for iPad - Free

Twitter for iPad

If Twitter is your cup of tea, then you should certainly install the official Twitter for iPad client. In time you may want to explore and see what the other third-party clients have to offer, but from the start, Twitter for iPad will serve you well when you’re itching to know what’s happening now.

Price: Free
Developer: Twitter

Friendly for Facebook - Free, or 99¢

Friendly for Facebook - Free, or 99¢

Friendly

Facebook doesn’t offer a native iPad app, in their eyes it’s not a mobile experience. This simply leaves the field open to third-party developers to rise to the challenge and create something great.

That’s what Friendly’s done. Offering both free and paid versions, this app gives you a view into your Facebook page, offering all the functionality of the website, in an attractive iPad-native package.

Price: Free, or 99¢
Developer: Oecoway

Video

Being able to hold video in your lap, in such a close and personal way, is a big feature of the iPad. And, thanks to the App Store ecosystem, you’re not limited to what you’ve got in your iTunes library. Here are the must-have apps to expand your viewing potential.

Netflix - Free, but requires a Netflix subscription

Netflix - Free, but requires a Netflix subscription

Netflix

Even though the Netflix app requires a subscription that includes access to Netflix streaming in it, I couldn’t help but include it in this list of essential apps. Because if you are one of the millions of people out there with a Netflix account and are now the proud owner of an iPad, then you’re going to want to download this app immediately.

This effectively turns your iPad into a window to a massive library of video content available to you whenever you want. Oh, and did I mention it’s got a pretty nice UI too?

Price: Free
Developer: Netflix

Air Video - Free, or $2.99

Air Video - Free, or $2.99

Air Video

For those of us with a massive library of video content at home on our desktop machines, Air Video is a dream come true. Instead of needing to transfer all of that content to your iPad, you can have access to it whenever you have a connection to the Web.

Simply run the free Air Video Server app on the desktop of your choosing, and you’ll be presented in the Air Video app with all of your available videos. Air Video will even convert videos in formats that the iPad can’t natively play in real time while your streaming it. Very handy, and at a great price.

Price: Free, or $2.99
Developer: InMethod

TED - Free

TED - Free

TED

If you’re not familiar with TED, then don’t waste anytime in downloading this app and getting acquainted. Their tagline – “Ideas worth spreading” – is apt, a wonderful summation of the purpose behind TED.

Always loading in new content the TED iPad app is my favorite way to be inspired by the incredible things the speakers at TED talk about. High quality information, at a price you simply can’t argue with.

Price: Free
Developer: Matt Drance

Games

Games are a tricky thing, the merits of one are always subjective. So rather than get bogged down in myriads of games available for the iPad, here are two that show off why the iPad is such a special gaming device.

Fruit Ninja - Free, or $2.99

Fruit Ninja - Free, or $2.99

Fruit Ninja

Ah, Fruit Ninja. Who doesn’t love slicing and dicing virtual fruit as you race to beat gravity. It’s quite possibly one of the best examples of a touch-based game UI that I’ve ever seen.

Top to bottom, the way you both navigate the app and play the game are absurdly simple yet incredibly fun. Both free and paid versions are available, but don’t cheap out. Give these hard working developers the $2.99, they’ve more than earned it.

Price: Free, or $2.99
Developer: Halfbrick

Real Racing 2 HD - $9.99

Real Racing 2 HD - $9.99

Real Racing 2 HD

In a completely different direction from Fruit Ninja, we have Real Racing 2 HD. Where Fruit Ninja exemplifies the casual game experience, Real Racing proves the iPad can go toe-to-toe with the big boys of console gaming.

A truly beautiful and immersive experience, Real Racing is not to be missed. Once you try it, you’ll be hooked.

Price: $9.99
Developer: Firemint

Productivity

Laptop replacement. That’s a touchy subject when it comes to the iPad. While it may not be possible for every circumstance, here are some essential apps to help you be productive on your iPad.

GoodReader for iPad - $4.99

GoodReader for iPad - $4.99

GoodReader

GoodReader walks the line between eReader and productivity tool. While it does allow for you to view and read a wide array of content types – from PDF files and Word docs to Excel spreadsheets and Quicktime videos – it functions far more easily as a tool to aid you in getting work done, rather than a more casual reading experience. If moving, editing, and viewing files like that are a daily part of your workflow, adding GoodReader to your iPad will dramatically increase its usability in your life.

Price: $4.99
Developer: Good.iWare

PlainText - Free

PlainText - Free

PlainText

Dropbox has been something of a saving grace for those who want to conveniently move files to and from their iOS device. If you use Dropbox to store your notes, or want a Dropbox-enabled notebook for easy access to your notes from anywhere, then PlainText is what you need.

In a beautifully understated UI, PlainText allows for you to access and edit any text file in your Dropbox account. For many, this is the holy grail of note taking apps on the iPad.

Price: Free
Developer: Hog Bay Software

OmniFocus for iPad - $39.99

OmniFocus for iPad - $39.99

OmniFocus for iPad

Undeniably the most expensive of the essential apps on our list here, but without a doubt a powerful one. If task lists are something you struggle with, and you think a solution like the GTD method is right for you, then get OmniFocus for iPad. Many long time OmniFocus users say its the best implementation of OmniFocus across any of their supported devices, and it might be the only to-do app you ever need.

Price: $39.99
Developer: The OmniGroup

Lifestyle

I know it’s kind of a cheesy category name, but it fits. These are the apps that take the iPad into other parts of your life, the parts that perhaps technology hadn’t quite broken into yet. These apps express just what makes the iPad so gosh-darned exciting – its unlimited potential.

The Video Cookbook - $5.99

The Video Cookbook - $5.99

The Video Cookbook

I know when I saw the iPad for the first time, and heard the rumblings about ebooks taking off, I immediately thought of cookbooks. A multimedia device like this could combine the best of both cook books and cooking shows, showing the visual learners among us how to cook a specific recipe.

The Video Cookbook does just that, with an impressive library of content, you’re sure to enjoy exploring the range of cooking techniques and styles it introduces you to.

Price: $5.99
Developer: Futura Group

Star Walk - $4.99

Star Walk - $4.99

Star Walk

If you’ve got a keen eye, you’ve probably spotted this app in one of Apple’s iPad commercials. If you tried to describe Star Walk to someone, they’d probably think you were making it up.

It’s the kind of thing you only find in sci-fi stories – except it’s real and it works. At $4.99, Star Walk is a real a steal when you think of all the fun you can have with your little slice of augmented reality.

Price: $4.99
Developer: Vito Technology

Wrap Up

So, there you have it, my essential list of iPad apps. This is by no means an exhaustive list, and far from the final word when it comes to the best iPad apps. Its purpose is to give new iPad owners a starting point, somewhere to go after they’ve charged up their iPad for the first time.

Did I miss something big? Some glaring omission your just dying to mention? Post a comment, I’d love to hear about it.