It’s the apps that really set iOS apart from other platforms – there are higher quality apps available on the App Store for the iPad than any other tablet. So which ones are worth your cash? And which are the best free apps?
Luckily for you we’ve tested thousands of the best iPad apps so that you don’t have to. So read on for our selection of the best iPad apps – the definitive list of what applications you need to download for your iPad now.
- Haven’t bought an iPad yet and not sure which is best? We’ve got them listed on our best iPad ranking – or you can check out the best tablets list to see the full range available now.
If you are looking for games, then head over to Best iPad games – where we showcase the greatest games around for your iOS device. Or if you’re using an iPhone 7 (or one of its excellent brethren) head over to our best iPhone apps list.
With visible pixels essentially eradicated from modern mobile device screens, it’s amusing to see retro-style pixel art stubbornly clinging on.
But chunky pixels are a pleasing aesthetic, evoking nostalgia, and you know thought’s gone into the placement of every dot. is an iPad pixel art ‘studio’, ideal for illustrators, games designers, and animators.
At its most minimal, the interface shows your canvas and some tool icons: pencil; eraser; fill; shapes; select; color picker. But there are also slide-in panels for layers/palettes, and the frame-based animation system.
Bar a slightly awkward selection/move process, workflow is sleek and efficient (not least with the superb fill tool, which optionally works non-contiguously across multiple layers), and the app has robust, flexible import and export options.
Perhaps most importantly, Pixaki’s just really nice to use – more so than crafting similar art on a PC or Mac, and although pricey it’s worth the money for anyone serious about pixel art.
The iPad may not be an ideal device for shooting photos, but its large screen makes it pretty great for editing them. And is perhaps the finest app around for anyone wanting to infuse their digital snaps with character by way of textures, grunge, and gradients.
The editing process is entirely non-destructive, with you building up effects by adding layers. In each case, textures, blend modes and rotation of scanned objects can be adjusted to suit, and you can experiment without fear of edits being ‘burned in’.
Particularly interesting combinations can be saved as ‘formulas’ and shared with the Mextures community – or you can speed along your own editing by downloading one of the many formulas that already exist.
There are quite a few dictionary apps on iPad, and most of them don’t tend to stray much from paper-based tomes, save adding a search function. has a more colorful way of thinking, primarily with its entry screen. This features rows of illustrated cards, each of which houses an interesting word you can discover more about with a tap.
The app is elsewhere a mite more conventional – you can type in a word to confirm a spelling, and access its meaning, etymology, and Wikipedia entry.
The app’s lack of speed and customization means it likely won’t be a writer’s first port of call when working – but it is an interesting app for anyone fascinated by language, allowing you to explore words and their histories in rather more relaxed circumstances.
First impressions of might lead you to think it’s yet another filter app. And to some extent it is, given that Oilist enables you to feed it a photo and end up with something resembling an oil painting.
However, Oilist also has much in common with generative creativity apps, since it keeps painting over and over, to mesmerizing effect. Additionally, it’s not an app where you select a preset and then sit back and wait – instead, while Oilist is painting, you can adjust settings, and even splatter the virtual canvas with ‘chaos’ paint if the mood takes you.
This is all entertaining in and of itself, but Oilist also has practical benefits – at any point, you can snap the in-progress painting, and the resulting high-res image can be exported for sharing online or even printing on a canvas.
Virtual cabling might not sound sexy, but it hugely boosts creative potential. You can send live audio or MIDI data between apps and through effects, mix the various channels, and then send the entire output to the likes of GarageBand.
Much of these features are new to Audiobus 3, and this latest update also adds Audio Unit support, enabling you to open some synths and effects directly in the app.
With support for over 900 iOS products in all, Audiobus 3 is an essential buy for anyone serious about creating music on an iPad.
Young children love wooden puzzles, where you plug a load of letters into letter-shaped holes (with a little luck, ones that actually fit). The thing is, those puzzles never change, whereas has over a hundred words to play with.
On selecting a word, a horde of colorful monsters sprints across the screen, scattering the letters, which must then be dragged back into place. As you do so, the letters entertainingly grumble and animate. Once the entire word’s complete, a short cut-scene plays to explain what it means.
From start to finish, Endless Alphabet is an excellent and joyful production. The interface is intuitive enough for young toddlers to grasp, and the app’s tactile nature works wonderfully on the iPad’s large display.
The ‘pro’ bit in ’s name is rather important, because this astronomy app is very much geared at the enthusiast. It dispenses with the gimmickry seen in some competing apps, and is instead packed with a ton of features, including an explorable planetarium, an observation planner and sky diary, 3D models of the planetary bodies, simulations, and even the means to control a telescope.
Although more workmanlike than pretty, the app does the business when you’re zooming through the heavens, on a 3D journey to a body of choice, or just lazily browsing whatever you’d be staring at in the night sky if your ceiling wasn’t in the way.
Generally speaking, music apps echo real-world instruments, as evidenced by the piano keyboards found in the likes of GarageBand. is different – along with creating loops and riffs (either by bashing out a tune on a grid of pads, or tapping out notes on a piano roll), you also create the play surface itself.
Designing your instrument in KRFT is all based around shapes and icons – diamonds trigger loops, dials adjust sound properties, and squares can be set to trigger several loops at once.
Admittedly, staring at a blank canvas can intimidate, because you must consider composition and instrument construction as one. But KRFT bundles several inspirational demos to show what it can do – and they’re so much fun they might be worth the entry fee on their own.
Billing itself as a kind of 3D sketchbook, is designed for people who want to quickly draw isometric artwork. Its toolset is simple – you get a line tool for connecting magnetic dots, a shape fill tool, undo, panning and zooming.
That might sound reductive, but isolad’s straightforward nature means anyone can have a crack at doodling the next Monument Valley, and you end up focusing more on what you’re creating rather than being deluged by a load of tools you’ll never use.
Future updates promise the addition of selections and layers, but for now isolad’s elegant simplicity is enough to make it a winning app.
The idea behind is to transform your photos into vintage printed art. You load a photo (or choose from one of the demo images), press a filter, and are suddenly faced with something that could have fallen out of a 50-year-old book, or been posted on a wall many decades ago.
But Printed is more than a tap-and-forget filter app: beyond the filter selection are tools for adjusting dot pitch, brightness, borders, and color saturation.
There are some shortcomings: changes to settings are initially displayed as a thumbnail you tap to approve, which only then gets rendered at full-size (whereupon it may look different from how you thought it would); and landscape orientation appears to have been an afterthought.
But on a large iPad display, the actual filters – which are excellent – are shown off to their fullest, in all their retro dotty glory.
If you’re the kind of person who likes spinning virtual decks, you’ll tell right away with that you have in your hands something special. On the iPad – and especially on an – the app has room to breathe, lining up all kinds of features for being creative when playing other people’s music.
You get four-deck mixing, a sampler, varied waveform layouts, and useful DJ tools like cue points and beat-matching. There are also 70 keyboard shortcuts for quickly getting at important features, such as matching keys and adjusting levels.
The app connects to local drives and cloud services, and plays a wide range of file types, including MOV, MKV and VIDEO_TS. If the files are named sensibly, Infuse downloads cover art and can optionally grab soft subtitles. The interface throughout is superb.
On iPad, you also get full support for Split View and picture-in-picture, so you can pretend to work while watching your favorite shows. And if you continue on another device – this universal app is compatible with iPhone and Apple TV – cloud sync lets you pick up where you left off.
Reasoning that sketchbooks aren’t complicated, and so nor should your iPad be, offers a friendly approach to digital sketching. The main interface puts all of the app’s tools within easy reach – colors on the left, and layers and brushes on the right. Scribble nearby and they get out of the way, or you can invoke full-screen with a tap.
There’s Pencil support, but no pressure sensing by other means. Also, although some of the pens offer blend modes, the end result still looks quite digital rather than realistic. Even so, Linea’s straightforwardness and smart design tends to make it a joy to use, even if the app lacks the range of some of its contemporaries.
If you find iMovie isn’t quite doing it for you from a video editing standpoint, take a look at . This multitrack editor is designed with the more demanding user in mind, and is packed full of features to keep you editing at your iPad rather than nipping to a Mac or PC.
The main timeline provides you with three tracks for photos, videos, titles and graphics, and you get another three audio tracks for complex audio mixes involving narration and sound effects. Should you wish to take things further, LumaFusion includes a slew of effects and clip manipulation tools seemingly brought over from the developer’s own – and similarly impressive – LumaFX.
Occasionally, the app perhaps lacks some of the elegance iMovie enjoys, and LumaFusion is certainly a more involved product than Apple’s. But if you want fully-fledged video editing on your iPad, it’s hard to think of a better option.
On iPhone, lets you switch between a virtual retro camera and a sleek modern camera app. On iPad, it all goes a bit weird, with the former option giving you a camera floating in space, and the latter making you wonder why you’d use a tablet for taking snaps.
But Hipstamatic nonetheless gets a recommendation on the basis of other things it does. Load an image from your Camera Roll, and you can delve into Hipstamatic’s editor. If you’re in a hurry, select a predefined style – Vintage; Cinematic; Blogger – and export.
Should you fancy a bit more fine-tuning, you can experiment with lenses, film, and flashes. And plenty of other adjustments are available, too, such as cropping, vignettes, curves, and a really nice depth of field effect.
Wikipedia is, in reality, a massive web of articles, but when browsing, it looks more like a sea of links. WikiLinks rethinks exploring Wikipedia through the use of spider diagrams, providing a clever visual overview of the relationship between subjects.
On iPhone, you switch between views, but the app makes use of the iPad’s larger display by splitting it in two. On the left is your mind map, which grows as you tap on new articles. On the right is your current selection to peruse.
As a reader, WikiLinks is less remarkable – article sections irritatingly begin life collapsed, and it all feels a bit cluttered. But when using Wikipedia for research, no other app is so helpful in enabling you to see the links between the site’s many pages.
You fire up the app on your iPad and a companion app on your computer, and connect the two devices using a cable – like it’s 2005 or something. Minimalist fetishists might grumble, but a wired connection means there’s almost no lag – even when using Duet Display’s highest detail settings and frame rates.
With macOS Sierra, you also get one extra goodie: a virtual Touch Bar. So you needn’t splash out on a brand-new MacBook Pro to check out Apple’s latest interface innovation – you can use Duet Display instead.
Setup is almost comically simple: launch iStat Server on a computer, then install iStat 3 on your iPad. If the devices are on the same network, everything should start communicating; if not, enter some network details and you should be good to go.
iStat itself is all about graphs and histories. It’ll show all kinds of wiggly lines and numbers to represent CPU, memory, disk space, network usage, fan speeds, and temperatures. You can check out what’s happened over the past hour, day, week, month, or year, along with performing a ping or traceroute.
Naturally, this kind of thing largely lends itself to professional users, but there are home applications, too – for example, keeping an eye on a home server that sends media around your house – and iStat’s user-friendliness makes it approachable for anyone.
It’s fair to say that the original WAVESTATION was one of the weirder synths that showed up in the 1990s. It worked by combining and sequencing multiple waveforms, allowing you to morph and mix what you heard by twiddling a joystick. The result was a synth where you could conceivably fashion an engaging loop simply by holding down a single key.
As ever, the digital recreation is authentic, but adds further smarts by way of enabling editing of sounds through the touchscreen. You also get a delightful pad-based controller option for tapping out sounds.
There are some drawbacks, though, in this not being the most intuitive of synths to dig deep into, and the morphing joystick not being available on all screens.
However, if you want an iPad synth that sounds like nothing else out there, and with a huge library of noises to explore, iWAVESTATION is an excellent choice.
Each ‘non-place’ is somewhere you’d usually ignore or stay only on a very temporary basis, but here, the mundane is subverted through unusual and unexpected juxtapositions.
You’ll find yourself staring at a luggage carousel, before the bags begin a lazy Mexican wave. Elsewhere, palm trees ride mall escalators, while a run-of-the-mill seating area is suddenly flooded, a warning siren slicing its way through inane background chatter.
The result is frequently disorientating, but Islands also has the capacity to surprise, and is often oddly beautiful.
You either take a photo or load an image from your iPad and then select a preset. You get everything from the chunky character-oriented Commodore PET, through to relatively powerful fare such as the detailed 16-bit graphics of the SNES and Atari ST.
From an authenticity standpoint, Retrospecs wins out, but the app also affords plenty of tweaking potential. You can switch modes for those machines that offered multiple resolutions, choose alternate dither patterns, and adjust contrast, vibrancy, and other settings. Best of all, you can use any of the existing presets as the basis for your own unique slice of retro-filter joy.
It’s all very simple: drag weird cartoon characters (each of which plays their own instrument) to spots on the stage, and they automatically jam along with the only song that Toca Band appears to know. Lob a musician at the star and they start a unique solo improv with a modicum of user control.
Toca Band is a very sweet app, which even toddlers should be able to grasp. A word of warning, though: that Toca Band riff will quickly become an earworm you’ll be hard pressed to remove.
The main screen is smartly designed, with a custom keyboard bar offering Markdown and navigation buttons; if you’re using a mechanical keyboard, standard shortcuts are supported.
Further focus comes by way of a typewriter mode (auto-scrolling to the area you’re editing) and graying out lines other than the one you’re working on.
Elsewhere, you get an optional live character count, iCloud sync, and a robust Markdown preview. We’d like to see a split-screen mode for the last of those (as per the Mac version), but otherwise iA Writer’s a solid, effective and affordable minimal writing app for iPad.
1972’s ARP Odyssey was a classic of the era, and reborn in 2015 with a smart new design and modern connectors. Now, the duophonic synth is on iPad and, if anything, the digital incarnation beats the hardware original.
With , you still get the many synthesis controls of the real-world kit, allowing for a huge diversity of sound. The sliders are a mite fiddly, but any frustration is mitigated by the wealth of presets and ability to save your own.
The best bit, though, is the programmable arpeggiator, which transforms sounds into rich, exciting loops. Sadly, the feature is omitted from ODYSSEi’s Korg Gadget incarnation, but as a standalone synth for iPad, this one’s hard to beat.
You can grab PDFs from iCloud or Dropbox, and then get to work rearranging pages, adding new content, creating notes, completing forms, making highlights, and even doodling with your finger.
As a reader, the app is impressive, too, ably dealing with large PDFs. There’s also a text-to-speech mode that reads documents at a speed of your choosing, highlighting words as it goes.
The app also wisely integrates the kind of smarts found in the developer’s own Documents app, so you can use PDF Expert as a central repository for your iPad PDFs, filing, merging, archiving, and sharing them as needed.
We're not sure what makes this edition of the famous mockney chef's recipe book 'ultimate', bar that word being very clearly written on the icon.
Still, is certainly a very tasty app. The 600 recipes should satisfy any given mood, whether you're after a sickeningly healthy salad or fancy binging on ALL THE SUGAR until your teeth scream for mercy.
Smartly, every recipe offers step-by-step photos, so you can see how badly you’re going wrong at any point. And when you've nearly burned down the kitchen, given up and ordered a pizza, you can watch the two hours of videos that reportedly tell you how to "become a real kitchen ninja".
Note: this doesn't involve wearing lots of black and hurling sharp objects at walls, sadly.
You start by selecting a color and shape. The former dictates an instrument and the latter the number of leaves on your lily. Tap + to open the flower, and then the flower itself to access a pulsating playback head.
You then tap spaces to lay down notes, which can be shifted entire octaves by prodding adjacent vertical lines. Repeat the process with more lilies and you'll soon have an oddly delicate cacophony serenading your ears.
Lily's a very sweet app. It's perhaps a touch too abstract to be as immediate as it wants to be, but all becomes clear with a little play. We do wish songs could be saved (although you can export a recording) – the lives of these lilies are all too fleeting.
The moody black and red graphic design is very 1990s, but it's Poison-202's sounds that hurl you back to the halcyon days of electronic music. Aficionados of The Prodigy, Chemical Brothers and Orbital will be overjoyed at the familiar (and brilliant) sounds you can conjure up simply by selecting presets and prodding a few keys.
And if you're not satisfied by the creator's (frankly awesome) sound design smarts (in which case, we glare at you with the menace of a thousand Keith Flints), all manner of sliders and dials enable you to create your own wall-wobbling bass and ear-searing leads.
There are iPad synths that have more ambition, and many are more authentic to classic hardware; but few are more fun.
For free, provides the means to record the odd bit of audio, bookmark important bits, and mash together a few such recordings into something resembling a podcast. But pay the $19.99/£14.99 IAP and this app gives desktop podcast-creation products a run for their money.
Using the smartly designed interface, you can import clips and sounds from various sources, craft multi-track edits that make full use of slicing, fading, ducking, and silence stripping, and add professional effects to give vocals that bit of extra punch.
On an iPhone, this is an impressive app, but on iPad, the extra screen space you get makes for significantly faster editing of your audio and a far superior user experience compared to the cramped screen.
Rather than be all things to all people, is a painting app with a sense of focus, emulating the feel of an East Asian ink brush. It's therefore suited to flowing, semi-abstract artistic effort with your finger to offer a digital take on calligraphy.
On iPhone’s teeny screen this app feels a little redundant, but it comes alive on the iPad's larger display, especially if you have a stylus. The selection of tools is intentionally limited to keep you focused, but you can still swap between a red and black brush, experiment with alternate brush sizes or dryness values and swap out the underlying canvas.
There is a sense of give and take about Zen Brush 2's level of realism: strokes are applied wonderfully, but inks don't interact with each other nor the paper beneath. Still, the strong sense of character gives artwork created in Zen Brush 2 a unique feel and it's a relaxing, almost meditative, app to spend time with.
The iPad Google Maps app has a perfectly serviceable (if, in recent updates, somewhat fiddly) Street View mode, and so the notion of paying for an app to browse such panoramas may seem strange. But proves itself to be interesting and genuinely entertaining.
Although you can browse locations in Streets 3 by dragging a map and dropping a pin to define a location, the app speeds things along with a gallery. This showcases famous sights and places, including museums, zoos, and even the Large Hadron Collider.
Using the old arrows movement system (rather than the newer Google Maps swiping model) makes for fast, efficient navigation.
Usefully, a little extra context is provided about the famous sites, so you can learn rather than just gawp; and favorites can be stored for return visits. None of which perhaps cements Streets 3 as essential, but it's certainly fun for the armchair tourist.
There are loads of great painting apps for illustrators and artists, but tries something a bit different, introducing you to a world of tessellation and symmetries. This makes for an app that has plenty of potential for professional use, but also one that anyone can enjoy.
To begin, you select a style. The simplest is a split-screen mirror, but there are also kaleidoscope-like options, and those that create tiled, repeating patterns. It's then a question of scribbling on the canvas, and watching a pattern form before your eyes.
The toolset is quite basic (with a bafflingly overthought color palette selector), but Amaziograph chalks up a big win when it comes to flexibility.
At any point, you can adjust the settings of the current grid, or choose a different symmetry/tessellation type. This propels the app far beyond 'toy' territory, opening up avenues for creativity regardless of your level of artistic prowess.
As a combination clock and weather app, works well across all iOS devices, but use it with an iPad in a stand and you've got something that'll make other clocks in the immediate vicinity green with envy.
As you might expect, your first job with the app is to define the cities you'd like to keep track of. At any point, you can then switch between them, updating the main clock and weather forecasts accordingly. Tap the weather and you can access an extended forecast for the week; tap the location and you get the current times and weather for your defined locations.
But it's the Earth that gets pride of place, taking up the bulk of the screen. It shows clouds by default, although weather geeks can instead choose colors denoting temperature, wind speed or humidity values. Then with a little swipe the globe rotates, neatly showing heavily populated locations during night time as lattices of artificial man-made light.
Whether you need a few minutes of peace or help to fall asleep after hours of stress, offers meditative splashy reflection. Choose from six scenes, plonk headphones on and then just sit and listen to gorgeous 3D audio recordings of streams, waterfalls and rivers.
Should you feel the need, noodle about with the parallax photo – although that’s frankly the least interesting bit of the app.
There is room for screen interaction though – the slider button gives you access to a mixer, to trigger ambient soundtracks by composer David Bawiec, and add birdsong and rain; while the Flowing icon houses guided meditations by Lua Lisa.
There’s also a timer, so you can fall asleep to a gently meandering brook without it then burbling away all night. In all, even if you don’t make use of every feature, Flowing is an effective, polished relaxation aid.
It caters to various kinds of animation: you can use your iPad’s camera to capture a scene, import images or videos (which are broken down into stills), or use a remote app installed on an iPhone. Although most people will export raw footage to the likes of iMovie, Stop Motion Pro shoots for a full animation suite by including audio and title capabilities.
There are some snags. Moving frames requires an awkward copy/paste/delete workaround. Also, drawing tools are clumsy, making the app’s claim of being capable of rotoscoping a tad suspect. But as an affordable and broadly usable app for crafting animation, it fits the bill.
The basics are ably dealt with – the app automatically locates documents in front of your iPad’s camera (assuming there’s contrast with the desk underneath), and you can crop, rotate, color-adjust, and save the result.
Buy the Pro IAP, though, and Scanbot becomes far more capable. It’ll run OCR text recognition on any document, and attempt (with a reasonable degree of success) to extract details for single-tap ’actions’, such as triggering a phone call or visiting a website, based on what it finds.
There are annotation and PDF signing tools, and the means to reorder pages in multi-page documents. So rather than being a tap-and-done scanner, this app keeps helping once the scans are done, making it an essential purchase for the office-oriented. (We do miss the smiling robot icon, though – the new one is so dull.)
For the majority of iPad users, Apple’s iMovie is the go-to app for cutting footage and spitting out a movie. However, is a great option for anyone who wants a more desktop-like video editing experience.
The interface is efficient, enabling you to pre-trim clips, and quickly navigate your in-progress film by way of a standard timeline, or quickly jumping to scenes by tapping clip thumbnails. Additionally, there are tools for complex audio edits across three separate tracks, and adjusting a clip’s rotation.
The only downside is an initial feeling of complexity and an ongoing sense of clutter – this isn’t an especially pretty app. However, it is a usable, powerful and effective one, and that more than makes up for any niggles.
Another example of a book designed for kids that adults will sneak a peek at when no-one's watching, Namoo teaches about the wonders of plant life. Eschewing the kind of realistic photography or illustration you typically see in such virtual tomes, Namoo is wildly stylized, using an arresting low-poly art style for its interactive 3D simulations.
Each of these is married with succinct text, giving your brain something to chew on as you ping the components of a plant's cells (which emit pleasingly playful – if obviously not terribly realistic – sounds and musical notes) or explore the life cycle of an apple.
Wikipedia is one of the most amazing resources around, but it looks like a dog's dinner. You might find certain subject matter thrilling, but your eyes will glaze over before you get through half an article on an iPad. V for Wikipedia rethinks this entire experience, unassumingly describing itself as "a nice reader for Wikipedia".
Every aspect of V for Wikipedia feels like output from a careful, considerate designer. There's a smart nearby places view, where lines snake from an overhead map to Wikipedia article titles awaiting a tap, search results include brief synopses and images, but best of all, the articles themselves look great – more like a book to lean back and read than a website you'd prefer to flee from.
There are plenty of apps that enable you to plonk text over photos, but Over excels when it comes to control. Load a photo (or start with a blank canvas) and you can add words, stickers and additional imagery, gradually fashioning a card, poster or slice of social media genius.
For free, you get the basic app, but a one-off IAP unlocks handy additional features, such as drop shadows and adjustments. In combination with editable layers and saved projects, these things make Over resemble something you’d find on the desktop, albeit with the kind of intuitive and immediate interface you only find in the best iPad apps.
On the desktop, Scrivener is widely acclaimed as the writer’s tool of choice. The feature-rich app provides all kinds of ways to write, even incorporating research documents directly into projects. Everything’s always within reach, and your work can constantly be rethought, reorganised, and reworked.
On iPad, Scrivener is, astonishingly, almost identical to its desktop cousin. Bar some simplification regarding view and export options, it’s essentially the same app. You get a powerful ‘binder’ sidebar for organizing notes and documents, while the main view area enables you to write and structure text, or to work with index cards on a cork board.
There’s even an internal ‘Split View’, for simultaneously smashing out a screenplay while peering at research. With Dropbox sync to access existing projects, Scrivener is a no-brainer for existing users; and for newcomers, it’s the most capable rich text/scriptwriting app on iPad.
At the last count, there were something like eleven billion sketching apps for iPad, and so you need something pretty special to stand out. Concepts shoots for a more professional audience – architects, designers, illustrators, and the like – but in doing so presents a far more flexible product than most.
When scribbling on the infinite canvas, you’re drawing vector strokes, which can be individually selected and adjusted. The tools area is customizable and colors are selected using a Copic color wheel.
Pay the pro IAP and you unlock all kinds of features, including precision tools and shape guides, endless layers, and the means to export your work as high-res imagery, SVG, DXF or PSD. In use, whether using a finger or stylus, Concepts is elegant and usable but powerful.
So for free, this is an excellent tool for wannabe scribblers, and for the price of a couple of coffees, a high-end digital sketchbook suitable for professionals. Sounds like a bargain either way to us.
Your eyes might pop at the price tag of this iPad synth, but the hardware reissue of this amazing Moog was priced at a wallet-smashing $10,000. By contrast, the Model 15 iPad app seems quite the bargain. To our ears, it’s also the best standalone iOS synth on mobile, and gives anything on the desktop a run for its money.
For people used to messing around with modular synths and plugging in patch leads, they’ll be in heaven. But this isn’t retro-central: you can switch the piano keyboard for Animoog’s gestural equivalent; newcomers can work through straightforward tutorials about how to build new sounds from scratch; and those who want to dive right in can select from and experiment with loads of diverse, superb-sounding presets.
From its earliest days, the Mac was in part a product of Steve Jobs’s obsession with typography. Although iOS includes a large range of fonts, your iPad lacks the extensibility of a Mac, which is where AnyFont comes in. Using the app, you can load new fonts from a PC or Mac by way of iTunes or import from Dropbox. Said fonts then become available in the likes of Pages, Keynote and Microsoft’s Office suite.
There’s no bulk import via Dropbox; and the app must create a separate profile for each imported font. These limitations initially irk, but also force a sense of focus, having you import only the fonts you really need rather than a collection of thousands.
Relaxation aids have a tendency to be a bit ‘right on’, but Windy frames itself as part story, part artwork, and comes across as elegant and interesting rather than preachy. You get six scenes to explore and each offers a parallax image to drag about and a piece of text to read.
But it’s the audio experience that really grabs hold. Each scene features a unique 3D wind recording, which sounds superb through decent headphones. Using the app’s settings, you can mix in rain, water, birdsong and cricket noises. The composition you create plays indefinitely, or you can set a timer, to help you nod off to your custom soundscape.
There are plenty of apps that enable you to add comic-like filters and the odd speech balloon to your photos, but Comic Life 3 goes the whole hog regarding comic creation. You select from pre-defined templates or basic page layouts, and can then begin working on a Marvel-worrying masterpiece.
Importing images is straightforward, and you get plenty of control over sound effects and speech balloons. For people who are perhaps taking things a bit too seriously (or actual comic creators, who can use this app for quick mock-ups), there’s a bundled script editor as well.
Oddly, Comic Life 3’s filters aren’t that impressive, not making your photos look especially hand-drawn. But otherwise the app is an excellent means of crafting stories on an iPad, and you can export your work in a range of formats to share with friends – and Stan Lee.
It’s been a long time coming, but finally Tweetbot gets a full-fledged modern-day update for iPad. And it’s a good one, too. While the official Twitter app’s turned into a ‘blown-up iPhone app’ monstrosity on Apple’s tablet, Tweetbot makes use of the extra space by way of a handy extra column in which you can stash mentions, lists, and various other bits and bobs.
Elsewhere, this latest release might lack a few toys Twitter selfishly keeps for itself, but it wins out in terms of multitasking support, granular mute settings, superb usability, and an interesting Activity view if you’re the kind of Twitter user desperate to know who’s retweeting all your tiny missives.
This music app is inspired by layered composition techniques used in some classical music. You tap out notes on a piano roll, and can then have up to four playheads simultaneously interpret your notes, each using unique speeds, directions and transpositions. For the amateur, Fugue Machine is intuitive and mesmerising, not least because of how easy it is to create something that sounds gorgeous.
For pros, it’s a must-have, not least due to MIDI output support for driving external software. It took us mere seconds to have Fugue Machine working with Animoog’s voices, and the result ruined our productivity for an entire morning.
(Unless you count composing beautiful music when you should be doing something else as ‘being productive’. In which case, we salute you.)
There’s a miniature revolution taking place in digital comics. Echoing the music industry some years ago, more publishers are cottoning on to readers very much liking DRM-free content. With that in mind, you now need a decent iPad reader for your PDFs and CBRs, rather than whatever iffy reading experience is welded to a storefront.
Chunky is the best comic-reader on iPad. The interface is simple but customisable. If you want rid of transitions, they’re gone. Tinted pages can be brightened. And smart upscaling makes low-res comics look good.
Paying the one-off ‘pro’ IAP enables you to connect to Mac or Windows shared folders or FTP. Downloading comics then takes seconds, and the app will happily bring over folders full of images and convert them on-the-fly into readable digital publications.
You’re probably dead inside if you sit down with Metamorphabet and it doesn’t raise a smile — doubly so if you use it alongside a tiny human. The app takes you through all the letters of the alphabet, which contort and animate into all kinds of shapes. It suitably starts with A, which when prodded grows antlers, transforms into an arch, and then goes for an amble. It’s adorable.
The app’s surreal, playful nature never lets up, and any doubts you might have regarding certain scenes — such as floaty clouds representing ‘daydream’ in a manner that doesn’t really work — evaporate when you see tiny fingers and thumbs carefully pawing at the iPad’s glass while young eyes remain utterly transfixed.
Pop music is about getting what you expect. Ambient music has always felt subtly different, almost like anything could happen. With generative audio, this line of thinking became reality. Scape gives you a combined album/playground in this nascent genre, from the minds of Brian Eno and Peter Chilvers.
Each track is formed by way of adding musical elements to a canvas, which then interact in sometimes unforeseen ways. Described as music that “thinks for itself”, Scape becomes a pleasing, fresh and infinitely replayable slice of chillout bliss. And if you’re feeling particularly lazy, you can sit back and listen to an album composed by the app’s creators.
Illustration tools are typically complex. Sit someone in front of Adobe Photoshop and they’ll figure out enough of it in fairly short order. Adobe Illustrator? No chance. Assembly attempts to get around such roadblocks by turning graphic design into the modern-day touchscreen equivalent of working with felt shapes — albeit very powerful felt shapes that can shift beneath your fingers.
At the foot of the screen are loads of design elements, and you drag them to the canvas. Using menus and gestures, shapes can be resized, coloured, duplicated and transformed. Given enough time and imagination, you can create abstract masterpieces, cartoonish geometric robots, and beautiful flowing landscapes.
It’s intuitive enough for anyone, but we suspect pro designers will enjoy Assembly too, perhaps even using it for sketching out ideas. And when you’re done, you can output your creations to PNG or SVG.
Typography is something that doesn’t come naturally to everyone. And so while there are excellent apps for adding text to images, you might want more help, rather than spending hours fine-tuning a bunch of misbehaving letters. That’s where Retype comes in.
You load a photo or a piece of built-in stock art, and type some text. Then it’s just a case of selecting a style. The type’s design updates whenever you edit your text, and variations can be accessed by repeatedly prodding the relevant style’s button. Basic but smart filter, blur, opacity and fade commands should cement Retype’s place on your iPad.
Even though the iPad is an immensely powerful mobile device, there’s no getting away from it sometimes being fiddly for performing complex tasks; this is all the more frustrating if said tasks are something you must do regularly. Fortunately, Workflow is here to help.
It includes over 200 actions that work with built-in and third-party apps, enabling you to fashion complex automation that’s subsequently activated at the touch of a button.
To help you get started, the gallery houses dozens of pre-built workflows, and for added flexibility, you can access those you create or install from inside the app, via the Today widget, or by way of a custom Home screen app-like shortcut.
There are plenty of great distraction-free writing apps for iPad, but Ulysses for iPad adds serious management and editing clout to the mix. The idea is you use the app for all your writing — notes; in-progress text; final edits; and export. Items in your library can be manually sorted, grouped and filtered; text can be processed to PDF, DOCX, TXT, Markdown, HTML and ePub.
But what’s most astonishing is how the app’s interface mirrors its Mac counterpart’s, and yet still feels entirely at home on the iPad. (And for iPad Pro users hankering after a top-notch writing app to use in Split View, look no further).
The lofty boast with RealBeat is that you can use the app to make music with everything. The remarkable thing is, you really can. The app has eight slots for samples, waiting for input from your iPad’s mic.
You can record snippets of any audio you fancy: your voice; a spoon smacking a saucepan; a pet, confused at you holding your iPad right in front of its face. These samples can then be arranged into loops and songs using a familiar drum-machine-style sequencer and pattern editor.
Completed masterpieces can be exported using Audio Copy and iTunes File Sharing, and the app also integrates with Audiobus.
On the desktop, Panic's Transmit is a perfectly decent FTP client. But when it was first released for iPad, Transmit felt rather more like the future. It was smart and elegant, utilising all of the then-new iOS features, such as Share sheets.
Even today, its interface seems a step beyond its contemporaries — the vibrant icons and dark lists look gorgeous and modern. Most importantly, the app remains very usable, with an excellent drag-and-drop model, smart previews, and support for a huge range of services, including local shared Mac folders.
Calling Editorial a text editor does it a disservice. That’s not to say Editorial isn’t any good as a text editor, because it very much is. You get top-notch Markdown editing, with an inline preview, and also a TaskPaper mode for plain text to-do lists.
But what really sets Editorial apart is the sheer wealth of customisation options. You get themes and custom snippets, but also workflows, which can automate hugely complex tasks. You get the sense some of these arrived from the frustrations at how slow it is to perform certain actions on an iPad; but a few hours with Editorial and you’ll wish the app was available for your Mac or PC too.
Previously known as iDraw, Graphic is now part of the Autodesk stable. Visually, it looks an awful lot like Adobe Illustrator, and it brings some suitably high-end vector-drawing smarts to Apple’s tablet.
All the tools and features you’d expect are present and correct; and while it’s admittedly a bit slower and fiddlier to construct complex imagery on an iPad than a PC, Graphic is great to have handy when you’re on the move. Smartly, the app boasts plentiful export functions, to continue your work elsewhere, and will sync with its iPhone and Mac cousins across iCloud.
Depending on your age and media preferences, Molecules by Theodore Gray might appear to be the future of books, a modern take on a CD-ROM, or something that’s escaped from a Harry Potter movie. At its core, it is, of course, a textbook. But this is a textbook that begs to be explored, primarily due to dazzling your senses with dozens of animated photographic objects that you can interact with.
This is a trick publisher Touchpress has used before, but it never really gets old. Spinning objects beneath your fingers adds a playful side to a subject that could be considered quite dry; this is further enhanced by videos you can drag to scrub through, and molecule simulations.
The simulations are perhaps the smartest aspect of the app, not because they’re the most visually exciting, but because of what they represent. In dragging their component parts around and seeing how molecules react to changes in temperature, you’re suddenly very aware these aren’t static building blocks, but are always alive and in motion.
A printed tome can only hint at such things, but this digital volume brings a level of intrigue and immersion paper simply cannot match – making it well worth the higher cost.
One of the curious things about the iPad is the absence of major Adobe apps from the App Store. The creative giant instead seems content with smaller, simpler ‘satellite’ apps, assuming users will continue to rely on the desktop for in-depth work. Pixelmator thumbs its nose to such thinking, reworking the majority of its desktop cousin (itself a kind of streamlined Photoshop) for the iPad.
Given the low price tag, this is an astonishingly powerful app, offering brushes, layers, gorgeous filters, levels editing, and more. You need to invest some time to get the most out of Pixelmator, but do so and the app will forever weld itself to your Home screen.
There are loads of sketching tools for iPad, but it feels like Procreate is the one really forging ahead, bringing artists a well-balanced mix of power and accessibility.
If you want to keep things simple, Procreate gets out of your way. The toolbar doesn’t distract, and the only on-screen controls are handy sliders for brush size and opacity; but even these can all be auto-hidden after a user-defined period, leaving the entire screen to display your masterpiece.
Whether drawing with a finger or a stylus, Procreate proves responsive and feels surprisingly tactile. The tool selection is straightforward but offers real depth, not least in how you can really delve into brushes and mess about with their characteristics.
But the app has also taken to heart the fact it’s running on a touchscreen. To straighten a stroke, you simply hold its end point for a second. Undo and redo are merely a two – or three – finger tap away. And the strength of layer effects is determined by swiping across the canvas, in a pleasing and precise manner.
There are plenty of apps that provide the means to turn photos into messages and poster-style artwork. Elsewhere in this list we mention the excellent Retype, for example. But if you hanker after more control, Fontmania is a good bet.
This isn’t the most complex or feature-rich app of its kind, but it is extremely pleasing to use. On selecting your photo, you can add a filter. Then it’s down to business with typography. The ‘Art’ section houses frames, dividers, shapes and pre-made ‘artworks’. The ‘Text’ section is for typing out whatever you like, and you can choose from a range of fonts.
Really, it’s the interface that makes Fontmania. The simple sidebar is clear and non-intrusive, providing quick access to tools like Color and Shadow. All items added to the canvas can be manipulated using standard iOS gestures, avoiding the awkwardness sometimes seen within this sort of app.
Perhaps best of all, though, Fontmania is a pay-once product. Download and you get access to everything, rather than suddenly discovering a drop shadow or extra font will require digging into your wallet again.
iPad video editors tend to have a bunch of effects and filters lurking within, but with VideoGrade you can go full-on Hollywood. On launch, the app helpfully rifles through your albums, making it easy to find your videos. Load one and you get access to a whopping 13 colour-grading and repair tools.
Despite the evident power VideoGrade offers, the interface is remarkably straightforward. Select a tool (such as Vibrance, Brightness or Tint), choose a setting, and drag to make a change. Drag up before moving your finger left or right to make subtler adjustments.
Smartly, any tool already used gets a little green dash beneath, and you can go back and change or remove edits at any point.
All filters are applied live to the currently shown frame, and you can also tap a button to view a preview of how your entire exported video will look. Want to compare your edit with the original video? Horizontal and vertical split-views are available at the tap of a button. Usefully, favorite filter combinations can be stored and reused, and videos can be queued rather than laboriously rendered individually.
Freed from the confines of pesky reality and plastic, building blocks have become hugely popular in the digital realm. Tayasui Blocks isn’t Minecraft, but does have some of that giant’s elegance and social smarts.
Straightforward tools enable you to add and colour blocks and layers. Blocks almost stomp into place, emitting a pleasingly chunky sound effect; and if you find quietly deleting errors dull, you can lob a bomb or shuriken at errant cubes.
Tayasui Blocks is gesture-aware. You can zoom, move and spin your creation, making it simple to add blocks to any surface. And the aforementioned social aspect works very well, offering downloads of existing models and uploads of your own. (Wisely, the app knows if you make very minor alterations to someone else’s design and blocks attempts at sharing.)
During testing, we found the odd bit of lag with very large, complex builds (a blocky Death Star even made an iPad Air 2 stutter), and optional stickers (mouths, eyes, and the like) seem broadly pointless. Otherwise, this is a first-rate, elegant and simple building-block toy for your tablet.
Korg Gadget bills itself as the “ultimate mobile synth collection on your iPad” and it’s hard to argue. You get well over a dozen varied synths, ranging from drum machines through to ear-splitting electro monsters, and an intuitive piano roll for laying down notes.
A scene/loop arranger enables you to craft entire compositions in the app, which can then be shared via the Soundcloud-powered GadgetCloud or sent to Dropbox. This is a more expensive app than most, but if you’re a keen electronic-music-oriented songwriter with an iPad, it’s hard to find a product that’s better value.
There are quite a few apps for virtual stargazing, but Sky Guide is the best of them on iPad. Like its rivals, the app allows you to search the heavens in real-time, providing details of constellations and satellites in your field of view (or, if you fancy, on the other side of the world).
Indoors, it transforms into a kind of reference guide, offering further insight into distant heavenly bodies, and the means to view the sky at different points in history. What sets Sky Guide apart, though, is an effortless elegance. It’s simply the nicest app of its kind to use, with a polish and refinement that cements its essential nature.
Every now and again, you get an app that ticks all the boxes: it's beautiful, audacious, productive, and nudges the platform forwards. This perfectly sums up Coda, a full-fledged website editor for iPad.
The app's graphic design borrows from the similarly impressive Transmit for iOS, all muted greys and vibrant icons. It's a style we wish Apple would steal. When it comes to editing, you can work remotely or pull down files locally; in either case, you end up working in a coding view with the clout you'd expect from a desktop product, rather than something on mobile.
Naturally, Coda is a fairly niche tool, but it's essential for anyone who regularly edits websites and wants the ability to do so when away from the office.
Mind-mapping is one of those things that's usually associated with dull business things, much like huge whiteboards and the kind of lengthy meetings that make you hope the ground will swallow you up. But really they're perfect whenever you want to get thoughts out of your head and then organise them.
On paper, this process can be quite messy, and so MindNode is a boon. You can quickly and easily add and edit nodes, your iPad automatically positioning them neatly. Photos, stickers and notes can add further context, and your finished document can be shared publicly or privately using a number of services.
When you’re told you can control the forces of nature with your fingertips that probably puts you more in mind of a game than a book. And, in a sense, Earth Primer does gamify learning about our planet. You get a series of engaging and interactive explanatory pages, and a free-for-all sandbox that cleverly only unlocks its full riches when you’ve read the rest of the book.
Although ultimately designed for children, it’s a treat for all ages, likely to plaster a grin across the face of anyone from 9 to 90 when a volcano erupts from their fingertips.
For most guitarists, sound is the most important thing of all. It’s all very well having a massive rig of pedals and amps, but only if what you get out of it blows away anyone who’s listening. For our money, BIAS FX is definitely the best-sounding guitar amp and effects processor on the iPad, with a rich and engaging collection of gear.
Fortunately, given the price-tag, BIAS FX doesn’t skimp on set-up opportunities either. A splitter enables complex dual-signal paths; and sharing functionality enables you to upload your creations and check out what others have done with the app.
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, saving chunks of maps offline, 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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
On opening Toca Nature, you find yourself staring at a slab of land floating in the void. After selecting relevant icons, a drag of a finger is all it takes to raise mountains or dig deep gullies for rivers and lakes.
Finishing touches to your tiny landscape can then be made by tapping to plant trees. Wait for a bit and a little ecosystem takes shape, deers darting about glades, and fish swimming in the water. Using the magnifying glass, you can zoom into and explore this little world and feed its various inhabitants.
Although designed primarily for kids, Toca Nature is a genuinely enjoyable experience whatever your age.
The one big negative is that it starts from scratch every time — some save states would be nice, so each family member could have their own space to tend to and explore. Still, blank canvases keep everything fresh, and building a tiny nature reserve never really gets old.
The fairly large screen of the iPad means you can access desktop-style websites, rather than ones hacked down for iPhone. That sounds great until you realise most of them want to fire adverts into your face until you beg for mercy.
Old people will wisely suggest ‘RSS’, and then they’ll explain that means you can subscribe to sites and get their content piped into an app.
Reeder 3 is a great RSS reader for iPad. It’s fast, efficient, caches content for offline use and — importantly — bundles a Readability view. This downloads entire articles for RSS feeds that otherwise would only show synopses.
Like on the iPhone, Reeder’s perhaps a bit gesture-happy, but it somehow feels more usable on the iPad’s larger display. And we’re happy to see the app continue to improve its feature set, including Split View and iPad Pro support, font options for the article viewer, and the means to sync across Instapaper content.
It says something about the flexibility of LumaFX that we initially thought it broken during review. It wasn’t — we’d in fact accidentally applied so many effects to a video that it ended up looking like a nightmarish Eastern European animation from 1977. We weren’t counting on a video app enabling rapid layering of advanced effects just by blithely tapping away, you see.
But that’s LumaFX in a nutshell — it makes mucking around with videos almost laughably simple. You can crop and fit videos in various ways, reorient those that are the wrong way round, change their speeds, adjust colours, and fiddle about with that effects catalogue. There are vignettes, blurs, and weird pixelation effects, all of which render almost absurdly quickly. It’s all rather brilliant.
Given the sheer photo-editing power available for nothing in Google’s excellent Snapseed, paid apps in this space need to be something special.
Enlight covers all the basics, much as you’d expect, with a range of tools for cropping, making adjustments, adding filters, and so on. Where it excels is in shooting for a more artistic and professional approach.
From an art standpoint, you get a bunch of painterly and classic film filters that really look the part. When it comes to professional retouching, you can process up to 50MP images on an iPad Pro, work with noise reduction, freeze areas of images when transforming them, and precision-mask any effect.
The first time you try any tool, a tutorial leads you through the process, but on the whole Enlight has the kind of interface that’s easy to click with.
The destructive nature of effects and editing is a pity – you can’t later adjust something you changed a while ago, only undo. But that’s the only niggle in this otherwise excellent photo editor for iPad.
Although Apple introduced iCloud Keychain in iOS 7, designed to securely store passwords and payment information, 1Password is a more powerful system. Along with integrating with Safari, it can be used to hold identities, secure notes, network information and app licence details. It's also cross-platform, meaning it will work with Windows and Android.
And since 1Password is a standalone app, accessing and editing your information is fast and efficient. The core app is free – the company primarily makes its money on the desktop. However, you’ll need a monthly subscription or to pay a one-off $9.99/£9.99/AU$14.99 IAP to access advanced features (multiple vaults, Apple Watch support, tagging, and custom fields).
The vast majority of iPads in Apple’s line-up don’t have a massive amount of storage, and that becomes a problem when you want to keep videos on the device. Air Video HD gets around the problem by streaming video files from any Mac or PC running the free server software. All content is live-encoded as necessary, ensuring it will play on your iPad, and there’s full support for offline viewing, soft subtitles, and AirPlay to an Apple TV.
Perhaps the best bit about the software is how usable it is. The app’s simple to set up and has a streamlined, modern interface – for example, a single tap downloads a file for local storage. You don’t even need to be on the same network as your server either – Air Video HD lets you access your content over the web. Just watch your data downloads if you’re on 3G!
Dropbox is a great service for syncing documents across multiple devices, and chances are you’re familiar with it already. On the iPad, we used to consider Dropbox essential as a kind of surrogate file system.
Even now that Apple’s provided easier access to iCloud Drive, Dropbox remains a useful install, largely on the basis of its widespread support (both in terms of platforms and also iOS apps). The Dropbox app itself works nicely, too, able to preview a large number of file types, and integrating well with iOS for sending documents to and from the various apps you have installed.
Apple's own Calendar app is fiddly and irritating, and so the existence of Fantastical is very welcome. In a single screen, you get a week view, a month calendar and a scrolling list of events. There's also support for reminders, and all data syncs with iCloud, making Fantastical compatible with Calendar (formerly iCal) for macOS.
The best bit, though, is Fantastical's natural-language input, where you can type an event and watch it build as you add details, such as times and locations. On iPad, we do question the layout a little – a large amount of space is given over to a month calendar view. Still, in portrait or, better, Split View, Fantastical 2 is transformative.
GoodReader is the iPad’s best PDF reader, and also a means of editing documents on the move. Using the app’s excellent toolset, you can annotate documents and extract text. Pages within documents can be rearranged, and files split and combined.
Beyond working specifically with PDF, the app will preview many other file types, and includes the ability to archive and extract ZIPs, and connect to a wide range of online services. It therefore goes far beyond the likes of iBooks, becoming a handy tool for anyone who regularly works with PDFs and sends them on elsewhere.
You’re not going to make the next Hollywood hit on your iPad, but iMovie‘s more than capable of dealing with home movies. The interface resembles its desktop cousin and is easy to get to grips with. Clips can be browsed, arranged and cut, and you can then add titles, transitions and music. For the added professional touch, there are ‘trailer templates’ to base your movie on, rather than starting from scratch.
And should your iPad be powerful enough, this app will happily work with and export footage all the way up to 4K, which will likely make anyone who used to sit in front of huge video workstations a decade or two ago wide-eyed with astonishment.
There’s something fascinating about animation, and iStopMotion is a powerful and usable app for unleashing your inner Aardman, enabling you to create frame-by-frame stories. The camera overlay makes it easy to check your current scene against the previous one, and you can preview your work at any time.
There’s also time-lapse functionality built-in, and the means to use the free iStopMotion Remote Camera with an iPhone on the same network.
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.
For instructors, it’s similarly a boon, enabling them to build lessons, collect and grade assignments, and have one-to-one or group discussions. It’s also an app that gels well with Apple’s modern design sensibilities, the interface getting out of the way and letting content shine through.
Touch Press somewhat cornered the market in amazing iOS books with The Elements, but Journeys of Invention takes things a step further. In partnership with the Science Museum, it leads you through many of science’s greatest discoveries, weaving them into a compelling mesh of stories.
Many objects can be explored in detail, and some are more fully interactive, such as the Enigma machine, which you can use to share coded messages with friends.
What’s especially great is that none of this feels gimmicky. Instead, this app points towards the future of books, strong content being married to useful and engaging interactivity.
The idea behind Launch Center Pro is to take certain complex actions and turn them into tappable items — a kind of speed-dial for tasks such as adding items to Clear, opening a URL in 1Password, or opening a specific view in Google Maps. Although the list of supported apps isn’t huge, it’s full of popular productivity apps; and should you use any of them on a regular basis, Launch Center Pro will be a massive time-saver and is well worth the outlay.
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.
There are loads of note-taking apps for the iPad, but Notability hits that sweet spot of being usable and feature-rich. Using the app’s various tools, you can scribble on a virtual canvas, using your finger or a stylus. Should you want precision copy, you can drag out text boxes to type into. It’s also possible to import documents.
One of the smartest features, though, is audio recording. This enables you to record a lecture or meeting, and the app will later play back your notes live alongside the audio, helping you see everything in context. Naturally, the app has plenty of back-up and export options, too, so you can send whatever you create to other apps and devices.
We mention Microsoft’s iPad efforts elsewhere, but if you don’t fancy paying for a subscription and yet need some spreadsheet-editing joy on your iPad, Numbers is an excellent alternative. Specially optimised for Apple’s tablet, Numbers makes great use of custom keyboards, smart zooming, and forms that enable you to rapidly enter data. Presentation app Keynote and page-layout app Pages are also worth a look.
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.
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.
Unlike on the iPhone, where Skype clearly wants to be a Windows Phone app, the iPad version feels a lot more like a restrained desktop app. Usefully, Skype works well in Split View, too, so you can message people while referring to an open document or web page.
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 tools and filters, and proceed to pinch and swipe your way to a transformed image. You get all the basics — cropping, rotation, healing brushes, and the like – but the filters are where you can get really creative.
There are blurs, photographic effects, and more extreme options like ‘grunge’ and ‘grainy film’, which can add plenty of atmosphere to your photographs. The vast majority of effects are tweakable, mostly by dragging up and down on the canvas to select a parameter and then horizontally to adjust its strength.
Brilliantly, the app also records applied effects as separate layers, each of which remains fully editable until you decide to save your image and work on something else.
Soulver is more or less the love child of a spreadsheet and the kind of calculations you do on the back of an envelope. You write figures in context, and Souvler extracts the maths bits and tots up totals; each line’s results can be used as a token in subsequent lines, enabling live updating of complex calculations. Drafts can be saved, exported to HTML, and also synced via Dropbox or iCloud.
Initially, the app feels a bit alien, given that people have been used to digital versions of desktop calculators since the dawn of home computing. But scribbling down sums in Soulver soon becomes second nature.
We’re big fans of the Foldify apps, which enable people to fashion and customise little 3D characters on an iPad, before printing them out and making them for real. This mix of digital painting, sharing (models can be browsed, uploaded and rated) and crafting a physical object is exciting in a world where people spend so much time glued to virtual content on screens.
But it’s Foldify Dinosaurs that makes this list because, well, dinosaurs. Who wouldn’t be thrilled at the prospect of making a magenta T-Rex with a natty moustache? Should that person exist, we don’t want to meet them.
When someone talks about bringing back the sounds of the 1980s, your head might fill with Human League and Depeche Mode, but if you played games, you’ll instead think of Rob Hubbard and Martin Galway, chip-tune pioneers whose music graced the C64, leveraging the power of the MOS Technology 6581/8580 SID (Sound Interface Device) chip.
SidTracker64 is a niche but wonderfully designed iPad app that’s a complete production package for creating SID tunes. It’s unashamedly retro in terms of sound, but boasts a modern design, with powerful editing and export functionality. If you’re only into raw chip-tune noises, Audiobus and Inter-App Audio are supported; but if you’re an old-hand, you’ll be delighted at the bundled copy of Hubbard’s Commando, ready for you to remix.
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