The iPad may not have changed the world of computing quite yet, but it is still a pretty nifty device. An e-book reader, a newspaper, an entertainment center and a workstation, this device can do a lot in a very small package.
This guide features the 40 best free apps for the iPad, this easy-to-follow guide contains a treasure trove of information that will make using your tablet that much easier. Learn the ins and outs of the market’s premier tablet, for free!
If you’re reading this you either already own an iPad or are seriously thinking about getting one (here’s an iPad simulator to help you decide). This guide will help you to get the most out of your shiny new tablet. I’ll show you how to effectively manage your device and keep it organised and tidy. I’ll give you some tips and tricks, and present you with the MakeUseOf app picks for pretty much anything you’d want to do.
Some things in this guide you may already know, but I’ve tried to write it with a variety of readers in mind – even experienced iPad owners are sure to find something here they weren’t aware of, or some new apps that will change their usage of the device. There’s something for everyone, so read on and enjoy.
The iPad manual from Apple is also a great compliment to this guide, feel free to download it as well: http://manuals.info.apple.com/en_US/iPad_User_Guide.pdf
If you’re a seasoned iPad pro, you can probably skip this part of the guide. For everyone else, the home screen interface is the best place to start learning about your new iPad. Though we won’t be covering it here, we have covered the Settings screen in detail before, so be sure to read that too if you’re exploring the settings. We will assume default settings for most of this guide, though.
2.1 Managing your Home Screen
Use your iPad regularly for a few months and you’ll no doubt end up with a disorganised mess of applications. Let’s do some sorting.
Touch and hold on any icon on the home screen for about 3 seconds and the icons will all start wobbling. In this mode, each icon has an X in the corner, to quickly and easily delete icons from your home screens. Apps deleted like this will still be stored in your iTunes library, so to delete the app entirely do so in iTunes and sync your device.
You can also drag the icons around to re-arrange them in this mode – dragging to the edge of the screen will push you onto the next home screen.
Remember: You don’t need to stick to the sliding home screen areas – you can add up to 6 of your favourite apps to the main dock area too, or move the existing ones off there if you don’t use them.
As of iOS version 4.2 you can drag an application icon on top of another icon in order to create a folder, or drag an application into an existing folder. Of course, you can also rearrange the location of apps within a folder. If you have a lot of apps that you really need one-click access to, just create a folder of essential apps and add that folder to your main dock launch area.
The easiest way to manage your apps, however, is through the app tab of the iTunes sync screen. You can read about this more in the iTunes Sync section of this guide.
2.2 Searching for specific items
If your home screens are often as disorganised as mine are, and you find yourself with hundreds of apps or a badly organised media library, the easiest way to find something instantly is through the Spotlight search tool. To access it, press the home button and scroll across to the furthest home screen on the left. Just start typing in the file, song, app name, contact or email that you wish to find, and the search results are displayed instantaneously.
I often use this search function to quickly launch apps without searching across the home screens, or to find a certain song I’m craving to hear.
If you’re running version 4.2 or higher your iPad is equipped for multitasking. When you click an Internet link or a mail link, you will no longer need to shut down whatever app you are running. Instead “quick switch” to the new one. When you are done, you can switch back by pressing the Home button twice quickly to bring up the multitasking menu. The multitask menu can also be used to quickly dim the display or control iPod functionality.
2.4 Screen Rotation Lock
Locking the screen orientation of your iPad is essential for reading in bed and lazing on the sofa, but Apple can’t quite decide how to do it. In 3.x versions of iOS, the switch on the side of the iPad – next to the volume rocker – could used to do this quickly and easily. In version 4.2 of iOS, Apple changed the switch so it behaved as a mute button instead, choosing to move the screen rotation lock to a touch button on the multitask menu. Understandably, users were distraught. In version 4.3, you can choose the behaviour of this switch from the Settings screen.
Since any typing you do on the iPad is on a small keyboard and with no haptic (touch) feedback, it will take a while to get used to. With the device horizontal, I can now type almost as fast as I can on a regular keyboard. Even so, there are a few tips we can all learn to make typing on the iPad that little bit easier.
3.1 International Keyboards
If you need to type in another language, iOS is remarkably well adapted without the physical limitations of real keyboards.
From the settings screen, select General -> International Keyboards. This can be great for studying, and it’s an absolute life-saver in international marriages, let me tell you! Switching between Chinese handwriting, Japanese romaji input system, and plain old English couldn’t be easier. Even if you don’t need to type regularly in a foreign language, the natural handwriting keyboards are great for practising your Kanji if you’re learning Chinese or Japanese, as you need to get the exact stroke order correct for it to be recognised.
3.2 Quick Symbols
For most people, the occasional accented letter is more than sufficient. For languages based on the Roman alphabet, just hold down the base letter and variants will appear. The same also applies to quotations and other symbols.
3.3 Copy and Paste
Selecting, copying and pasting items on the iPad is somewhat of a black art. Let us guide you on the way to being a copy-paste ninja and save you the frustration. It’s easy when you know how.
Triple-tap a block of text to select all of it – this will grab the entire paragraph. Double-tap to select a single word. From here, you can adjust the selection by dragging the blue tags to expand or contact it.
To paste, hold your finger on the screen until the magnifying area appears. Carefully drag into the desired position, and simply hit paste.
Finally, you need not bother using the period key. Simply double tap the space bar when you are done with your sentence and your iPad will automatically add a period and begin a new sentence. Also note that by default the first letter of any sentence is automatically capitalised, so don’t bother pressing the shift key (even though your typing instinct tells you to!)
By default there are built in settings for Gmail and Yahoo to easily add your webmail account to your iPad. From the settings screen, select Mail, Contacts, Calendar then Add Account, select the account provider, and fill in your name and password.
For some reason, Hotmail isn’t listed by default, but it’s just as easy to add. Choose Other as your account type, then simply select Add Mail Account. You’ll need to fill in the same details, but there are no complicated settings or server addresses. If your password and username were correct, just click save on the next screen and you’re done!
4.1 Syncing Your Google Calendar and Contacts:
Setting up your iPad to sync calendar and contact data with your Google account is a little more difficult, but not impossible. Follow these steps:
1. From Settings, select -> Mail, Contacts, Calendar -> Add Account -> Microsoft Exchange
2. Type in your full Google email address for email, as well as the same again for username.
3. Leave the domain field blank, and fill in your password.
4. Press Next. A box labelled Server will magically appear.
5. Enter m.google.com
6. Select the services you want to sync.
The iTunes Sync screen is a remarkably powerful tool that new iPad users tend to overlook. Let me show you all the great things you can do with the iTunes Sync screen to enhance and customise your iPad experience. Not an iTunes fan? Try this iTunes alternative.
5.1 Manage your storage space
You actually have a high degree of control over precisely what gets synced onto your device. With the default settings, you often get a little of everything – some music, the latest podcasts, some videos, all of your apps – but with a little micromanagement of the storage area you set your iPad up to be even more useful to you. With your iPad connected and recognised in iTunes, take some time to go through each tab and personalise the content you really want on your iPad.
For instance, I like to use my iPad to show family and visitors particular photo albums – so under the photos tab, I’ve set it up to sync the latest X events, plus some favourites like wedding photos and vacations. On the other hand, I have an iPhone to listen to music and audio podcasts, so I’ve completely disabled music syncing.
5.2 The easy way to manage your apps
Truth be told, moving a large number of apps around using “wobble” is quite time consuming. The easier way is to plug in your iPad and use the Apps tab of the iTunes Sync screen. Just drag the icons around with your mouse. You can also drag the icons from one screen straight on to another by dragging the icon to the preview of your preferred screen on the right.
If you’re having trouble finding which screen you want to put an app onto, just find an app from the screen you’re looking for on the alphabetical list of apps to the left and double click it. iTunes will show you where the app is currently placed.
5.3 Add files to use in your apps
Toward the bottom of the App sync tab there is a section devoted to apps that can exchange files (such as Apple Pages, or various PDF and ebook reader apps). To share a file with that app, simply click on the app name, then drag your files into the box on the right, or select them manually using the Add button.
5.4 Converting Videos For Watching on the iPad
One of the most common uses of the iPad is for watching videos, but it isn’t simply a case of dragging your movie into iTunes. Though there are alternatives we’ll look at later for streaming movies from your computer over WiFi, sometimes you find yourself without WiFi – like on a long haul flight. For this, you’ll need to convert the video beforehand, then import it into iTunes.
The best way to do this is with Handbrake, for Mac or Windows. Once you’ve downloaded and installed it, click the Source button to select the original file, then select the iPad preset from the right hand sidebar. Hit the big start button to begin. If you’re working from large HD files, it may take an hour or two to convert a full length movie, so you might want to add it to the queue, find more to convert, then convert the entire queue overnight.
With two or three iPad owners on the writing staff, we’ve tested a lot of apps. Here are our personal favourites, with a quick screenshot and summary of what they do, as well as a link to the app store where you can download them.
As ever all apps are free to download, so you can MakeUseOf them right away. Whether you’re viewing this guide on your PC or iPad, the links should take you straight to the app
BBC News: My personal favourite for unbiased news reports from the world over, the app also features live streaming audio and embedded video for most stories. You can customise the news selection screen to hide categories you have no interest in and shuffle the important ones to the top. [iTunes]
Flipboard: “A personal iPad magazine”, Flipboard is a beautiful way to merge all your news sources. The interface is ground breaking, and it will automatically pull in the Facebook and Twitter news stories, pictures and videos that your friends are posting. You can share, like, or reply from within the app. [iTunes]. Check out the spin-off Surfboard, for browsing webpages in flip-style.
MobileRSS HD Free: Whilst the free version is ad-supported (not heavily, though), this app syncs with your Google Reader account and simply offers the best way to view your feed items and share them. One particular feature I like is the one-click image save feature, and the choice of dark or light themes. Try it now if you’re not into the magazine style viewing experience and I’m sure you’ll love it. [iTunes]
Guardian Eyewitness: For those of you who are more visual learners, this app from the British newspaper The Guardian features a stunning new high-resolution image everyday. Each image is meticulously chosen to make you examine every part of the detail, not simply flip to the next, and a quick blurb explaining the context. [iTunes]
6.2 Book and PDF Reading
Stanza: A competent no-frills PDF and e-book reader, and my personal choice for reading mostly anything on the iPad. The quick brightness adjustment and text size make this suitable for any time of day, and it handles any format ebook file, including obscure comic-book formats like CBR and DjVU. Add books by iTunes, or browse the built-in library of out-of-copyright works. [iTunes]
Bookman: [iTunes] For comic books and large PDF files that are graphic intensive, Stanza just doesn’t quite cut it. Bookman has a much faster PDF rendering engine, and the thumbnail overview of PDFs is great for quick navigation. If you’d prefer to use Apple’s own iBooks reader, then you can always use these tools to create your own iBooks to read on your iPad.
Kindle: [iTunes] If you’d rather leave your book purchases to Amazon, or are already a Kindle owner, the Kindle app is your only choice. The book selection is also far greater than Apple’s own iBooks, but do consider the new Barnes and Noble app too. If you’re looking for your kids, the Barnes and Noble Nook for Kids might be the answer.
Kobo: A curious eBook app that claims to have 1.8 million free books (and not just ancient classics, either) that tries to make reading into a kind of game, with achievements, a personal dashboard, Facebook sharing, and a page full of stats. You can even set up a daily newspaper deliver of your Instapaper clippings [iTunes]. Give it a go, I quite enjoyed it.
6.3 Drawing and Photo Apps
Draw for iPad: For the kids, Draw for iPad offers a familiar crayon and paper interface, and you can even draw co-operatively over Bluetooth, and play some simple built-in games like tic-tac-toe. Your kids can keep their digital masterpieces forever, or email them to…the fridge? [iTunes]
Adobe Ideas: While the free version is limited to one layer, this app is the ultimate sketching tool for adults. Anything you sketch is automatically vectorized, so zooming in on any part of it loses no clarity. It’s also quite good if you have shaky fingers, as it removes any imperfections when it renders your stroke – making an artist out of anyone. Great for sketching up logo ideas or just doodling, you can then save the results or email them as a PDF. [iTunes]
Adobe Photoshop Express: Everyone’s favourite photo editor has officially made it to the iPad, and it’s free. With a bunch of basic editing tools and whizzbang effects, it’s simply the best photo editor the iPad has to offer, and I applaud Adobe for making it free. [iTunes]
Photobucket: Looking for inspiration? Sadly, there’s no free way of getting Flickr on the iPad yet, but if you ’re happy with Photobucket then their iPad app is just perfect, showcasing featured photography or letting you search simply and view slideshows. It has a 17+ rating due to the fact that you could theoretically get access to some of the adult content. [iTunes]
6.4 Blogging and Writing
PlainText: From the makers of Writeroom, PlainText is a simple distraction-free writing app that does exactly what it says on the box. PlainText also syncs with your DropBox to avoid file sharing issues, though this free version is somewhat supported by ads (not particularly intrusive ones, though). [iTunes] If you’re using the iPad as a study tool, be sure to check out these 3 great study aid apps too.
WordPress: If you have a WordPress.com or self hosted blog, you can be blogging from the official iPad WordPress app in no time. Though the WSYIWG editor is absent, and inserting pictures and media is limited to either above or below the content, it’s a great way to quickly draft up your ideas before publishing them when you get home. [iTunes]
Evernote: While not strictly a writing-only or blogging app, Evernote is an incredibly competent personal data organiser with options to include audio recording too, and it all syncs with your Evernote account online and on your desktop. It’s not just an app -it’s a whole lifestyle choice, and some would say a religion! Find out more at evernote.com then download the app [iTunes].
Clockwork Notebook: [iTunes] A simple notebook app within which is hidden lots of advanced functionality, including handwritten doodles, sticky notes, and an undo button -all in one free package. If you’re looking for something to jot down ideas this is for you. Bakari also wrote an extensive article on free iPad writing apps that we didn’t have space to include here, so be sure to read that too.
6.5 Live TV and TV Guides
ABC Player: (US Only) Watch the latest episodes of all your favourite ABC shows, with fast streaming and limited commercials. Doesn’t appear to be HD, but certainly watchable. UK users should look towards BBC iPlayer instead as even with a US iTunes account it will still detect your ISP location. [iTunes]
BBC iPlayer: (UK only) Though not strictly an app, the BBC iPlayer site has been fully iPad optimized and all the current BBC shows can be watched, streaming in HD, for free. To get the full app experience, just click the + button in Safari and select “Add to homescreen”-this will give you an icon just like an app and remove the Safari address bar. [BBC iPlayer iPad optimized site]
TV Guide for iPad (UK): If you do still insist on watching the box live, this is the essential free app for UK viewers. The interface is gorgeous and functional, and it lists every digital channel as well as hooking into your Sky account if you have one, and even gives you a quick link to search BBC iPlayer for past episodes if you need to catch-up. Perfect! [iTunes]
Yahoo! Entertainment: For American users, this seems to be the most popular app of choice to get all your TV listings, though it’s a little clunkier than the UK alternative and the interface is certainly slower. If you know a better one, let us know! [No longer available on the iTunes Store]
6.6 Music and Streaming Media
Netflix: Though I’m not a Netflix subscriber myself, those of you with unlimited accounts will find you can not only manage your Netflix queue, but stream movies in HD straight to the iPad, with very little lag and simply superb quality. Netflix was one of the first professionally developed iPad apps that helped launch the system, and it’s easy to see why. [iTunes]
Pandora: With this app you really don’t need to store music on your iPad. If you haven’t heard of Pandora it’s a personalized radio station that learns your preferences over time, delivering new music it knows you will love. If you don’t, just say so -you’ll never hear that track again! This app was the top free download of 2010, so what are you waiting for? [iTunes]
Air Video Free: [iTunes] Though the free version limits the number of files you can view in any one folder, this app is simply amazing. With the movie server software on your PC or Mac setup, you can stream movies directly to the iPad without ever having to care about format issues -it will basically play anything and re-encode on the fly so you can begin watching immediately.
Soundhound and Shazam: These are both pretty incredible apps that allow you to identify songs by recording a short clip, or even by humming and singing with the Soundhound app. When Nancy covered both apps on MakeUseOf, she found it quite difficult to decide between the two, so be sure to read the full article for the low down on each app. [iTunes Shazam, SoundHound]
6.7 Social Media
Tweetdeck: [No longer available on the iTunes Store] Hands-down the best Twitter client for the iPad and the app of choice for “power tweeters”, the interface is identical to the desktop version and gives you a nice 3-column customizable overview of your latest tweets, direct messages, mentions, or twitter searches. Anyone familiar with the PC app will have no problem. Find more iPad twitter clients online here.
Friendly: Until Facebook releases it own official Facebook client, Friendly seems to be the client of choice for most. The free version is unobtrusively ad-supported, and lets you do all your essential Facebook functions much the same as the actual website does, including chat. Simple but effective. [iTunes]
AIM: Instant messaging fans need look no further than the official AIM app. Looks great, and free. No bells and whistles here, just simple chat. Even if you don’t have an AIM account the app interfaces with Facebook chat. Perfect if you’re stuck watching a commercial break. [iTunes]
Gowalla for iPad: [No longer available on the iTunes Store] For social sharing junkies, Gowalla is the ultimate location sharing tool, where you can check-in, tweet and Facebook share it all. It’s great way to discover the highlights of a new town too, and my wife and I make sure to check-in whenever we visit London. FourSquare user? You’re stuck with the ugly iPhone app I’m afraid. Switch to Gowalla!
6.8 Remote Control
TeamViewer HD: This remote viewing and control app is simplicity itself. After downloading, you get a quick address and passcode, and you can connect. I use the PC version of this app daily to oversee new employees and occasionally give a helping hand, and I’ve always been impressed by the fact it’s so easy to setup and simply works. [iTunes] and teamviewer.com
Connect My Mac / PC: For local networks only, Connect My Mac [iTunes] or it’s sister app iRemoteDesktop Free [iTunes] let you view and control your computer without any additional software -though it doesn’t work with the Home edition of Windows 7. It uses built-in Windows and OSX functionality, but check out TeamViewer if you need cross- platform support via the internet.
Wifi Touchpad HD Free: If you ever thought how cool it would be to use your iPad as a giant trackpad to control your Mac or PC, then this app is for you. With both trackpad and fully functioning keyboard, it’s great for your living media center and works over the Wifi network, so no BlueTooth problems or loss of signal after a few meters of distance. [iTunes]
Apple Remote: Let’s not forget that Apple provides a great free remote that you can use to control iTunes on your computer or your Apple TV, from your iPad. The interface is identical to iTunes, so you’ll have no problem navigating. Remember, this will only remote control iTunes on your computer so the sound will come out of your PC speakers – it won’t stream music to your iPad. [iTunes]
6.9 Productivity and Business
Roambi: If charts and data visualisation are your thing, Roambi will give you visual ecstasies you never thought possible. Just upload an excel file to your free personal online Roambi account, and the data will be transformed into interactive charts and graphs on your iPad. Read more and sign up at Roambi.com [iTunes], and be sure to read our iPad business tools write-up too.
Dropbox: Sometimes simply emailing a file to yourself is enough, but for everything else there’s Dropbox. It’s a personal hard drive in the cloud, which syncs with your local computer. While you can’t edit the files, it is simply the easiest way to view basic documents on your iPad – and it supports nearly all the major text, spreadsheet and presentation file formats. [iTunes] and sign- up.
Wunderlist HD: This incredible to-do list app has all the features you could want while keeping things basic! Wunderlist is not only beautiful and simply functional, it also syncs automatically with the Wunderlist PC, Mac and iPhone versions so you can keep abreast of what you have to do wherever you are. [iTunes] Read more on this amazing cross platform app in Bakari’s article.
Easy Books: After you’ve finished being super productive on your iPad, you can total up all your new earnings and write the iPad off as a business expense with this great free accounting app. Ideally suited to small businesses, sole traders and the self employed, this app will handle every aspect of basic bookmaking. For UK users, it’ll even help calculate your VAT payments. [iTunes]
Harbor Master HD: If you do decide to download this, make sure you don’t have anything important to do for the next 3 weeks. Harbor Master is a ridiculously addictive game of steering boats into harbors. [iTunes]
While you’re downloading this, there’s another 10 great addictive games here.
Pocket Legends: Though it requires a heavy investment of time, Pocket Legends is a massively multiplayer online role-play game that is simply unparalleled in quality -and free. Featuring a detailed 3D world and the usual assortment of fantasy cliches. [No longer available on the iTunes Store]
Angry Birds HD Free: How to explain this game best? You catapult some angry red birds at poorly built structures full of green pigs who stole the birds eggs. Understood? Suffice to say it’s incredibly fun and addictive, and has been single handedly responsible for a global 5% loss in productivity. [iTunes]
Game Room: A collection of no less than 8 classic board games for you and a friend, with beautiful graphics that really emulate the feel of the originals. It even includes a custom game mode, where you can design your board size and pieces. [iTunes] Be sure to check out my article on the best iPad board games for more classics.
For the most part, you shouldn’t have too many problems with the iPad. The most common issues are app crashes, wifi connections, and general slowdown. I’m also going to show a little about how to get the most from your iPad battery – though even with full on usage you should get a good 6-10 hours.
7.1 App Crashes
Though iPads are often more stable than their iPhone counterparts due to less hardware configurations, Apple cannot test every function of every app that passes through the store. Fortunately, if a bug has been reported and the software updated, then a quick check on the Updates tab of the App store should put things right again.
With the advent of multitasking, the multitude of apps left partially running in the background can sometimes cause problems. To close these, double press the Home button, then hold over an app icon to enter wobble mode. Click the red X to close down as app as you would to delete one from the Home screens.
If you’re trying to run a complicated 3D game try a complete reset of the device in order to get all the available video memory. Hold down the On/Off Switch and the Home button until the Apple appears to reset the iPad.
7.2 Wifi Problems
Early versions of iPad software were known to have lots of wifi issues, so the first thing you should check is if you are running the latest version. Plug your iPad into your computer as you would to sync it, and select Check for Update.
Apple also suggests you try resetting the network settings, but bear in mind this will delete your wifi password so make sure you have it handy. Do this from General -> Reset -> Reset Network Settings
If you can, you should see if there’s a firmware update available for your router, though this is beyond the scope of this guide. Refer to your router manual or ISP technical support line to help you with this.
Finally, I’ve found that while playing with router settings, certain configurations of passwords and Wifi security levels are incompatible with the iPad. Try lowering or simply changing the security level, or shortening the password.
7.3 Getting the Most From Your Battery
There are 3 things that will deplete your battery life quickly – videos, brightness, and wifi. If you turned off the wifi, didn’t watch any videos, and reduced the screen brightness to its lowest level – your iPad battery would last about a week of regular daily use before it needed charging. At full brightness, with wifi on, and constantly watching videos, you can probably get about 6 solid hours out of it.
Batteries do get less effective as they get older, and 100% in a year’s time may mean half as much battery life as it does now – but there are precautions you can take to reduce the aging effects on your battery.
1. Don’t charge your battery all the time just because it isn’t at 100%
2. Use the iPad until the battery is 100% depleted. If possible, leave it for an hour after
3. When charging, allow it to charge fully back to 100%
4. Heat will also decrease your battery life, so take your iPad out of the case while
5. Don’t leave the iPad plugged into a sleeping computer, as the battery will drain.
By taking these steps you can ensure the battery is fully “cycled” every time and should have minimal loss of battery life. Remember, every time you charge the device it will hold a little less charge, so avoid charging when it isn’t necessary.
The success of the iPad lies in the fact that it is precisely what you make of it, and no two people will use their device in exactly the same way. While we can show the best apps for the most common use cases, there are thousands of fantastic but entirely niche apps we couldn’t hope to fit within these pages. For those times, there is the app store. Whatever it is you’re looking for – there’s an app for it (though not all free).
I hope we’ve also managed to teach you a few tips and tricks for using the iPad, no matter what your level is. If you can follow our simple battery-saving advice, you should get a good battery life for at least a few years.
For the latest iPad tutorials, tips, and free app reviews, make sure to visit MakeUseOf often or subscribe to the RSS feed in your shiny new iPad RSS reader. We have a team of dedicated and knowledgeable iPad owners just waiting to show you the latest cool apps, and we love getting feedback from you – about this guide, or any of the other fantastic MakeUseOf guides available for free download.
Thank you for reading, and I hope you get as much enjoyment and use from your iPad as I do.
- Best iPad Apps Page
- The Best 5 Amazing News Apps For the iPad
- How To Use Your iPad / iPhone Camera To Scan Documents To PDF [iPhone & iPad 2]
- 4+ More Websites To Find Free eBooks for iPad
- 4 Ways To Use The iPad To Enhance The Use Of Your Personal Computer
Guide Published: April 2011