WEB REVIEW: Padding out the functions on your new iPad

January 1, 2011

Judging by the action at the local Apple store, I think it’s safe to assume that many of you rang in 2011 with a new iPad.

Congratulations!They truly are amazing.

But you may have also experienced that moment—after you’ve checked your mail and used the Web browser to read the newspaper—where you thought, “What’s next?”

The answer, of course, is one of the half a million applications (“apps”) available in the iTunes Store, many for free. The problem with this answer is that there are half a million of them.

To help with this overwhelming abundance, the Rare Bird staff and I have compiled a list of the most used and most amazing apps we’ve found so far.

“Most used” is the easiest category. Excluding the standard Apple apps like Mail, Calendars, Safari and iBooks—they include NewsPro, USAToday, Wall Street Journal and BBC News, all great for news junkies. These all work as you’d expect with content updated regularly, some including video, most providing entirely free content. The WSJ has both free and paid access. 

Two others that deserve a little more attention are NPR and CNBC Realtime. If you’re a fan of NPR, you’ll love its app. It provides complete news coverage, in both written and audio form, an easy-to-understand and easy-to-use interface, and the ability to share stories across social networks. Aside from news, it allows you to listen to your favorite programs at your convenience—very handy if you missed the last episode of “Car Talk” or “Wait Wait … Don’t Tell Me!”

CNBC Realtime features live real-time quotes and streaming business news. It’s like watching CNBC while being able to customize the data to match your needs. And it’s free. Amazing.

Outside of news, favorites include Flipboard, which presents all your social networks in a magazine format; Hulu+ (like the service on your computer, but for the iPad; it’s very good, but needs more content); Instapaper, an aggregator of all the things you mark to read later; CalcBot, a great little app that fills the void left by Apple’s not including a calculator; Weatherbug; Penultimate (handwriting, note-taking, drawing); and Pandora, the same awesome functionality you love on your computer. Other favorites are Kindle for iPad, with access to Amazon’s unmatched bookstore; and iTeleport, which allows you to access and work on your main computer from the iPad. One of our developers says it’s “worth every penny.”

For video, there are several great entries outside of Hulu+. Netflix (if you have an account) provides access to their instant-streaming content, which is small but growing; ABC Player lets you watch nearly anything shown on the network; 60 Minutes provides complete video playback of shows, enhanced with additional coverage in “60 Minutes Overtime.”

There are some other general-purpose apps that come up time and again: Epicurious provides a vast library of great recipes; Eyewitness shows one photo each day from the news; Windowshop allows you to shop Amazon through an app instead of your web browser; Articles takes the content on Wikipedia and formats it in a reader-friendly way; Twitter is, well, Twitter; ESPN ScoreCenterXL offers everything sports-related from the de facto king of sports, including video highlights, live play-by-play and more; and Quick Voice, which is a surprisingly accurate voice-to-text convertor.

Last, but not least, are the games. There are thousands of them, and many of them aren’t even worth 99 cents.

But there are some real gems out there. WordsHD and Scrabble are both great and allow you to play against your friends. Monopoly allows four different ways to play, including a tabletop mode where the iPad becomes the board. Plants vs. Zombies defies explanation, but I will tell you my mom played for five hours straight on the way home to North Carolina. Field Runners is a modern version of a tower strategy game. VeggieSamurai requires that you use your fingers like swords to slice and dice. And Angry Birds lets you shoot birds out of a catapult to knock over the pigs that have taken their eggs (or something like that).

I’ve never really tried to explain any of those games before. Now that I’ve done it, they all sound odd, but trust me, they’re all fun.

The last entry is the one app to have for those moments when someone looks at your iPad and asks, “What does it do?” Open Starwalk, show them the screen (which is synced to your location) and raise it to the sky. Starwalk instantly maps the heavenly bodies that are above you, at any time, wherever you are.

Even better, take them outside on a clear night and start naming everything. This is truly amazing, and the best example I’ve found of the magic in Steve Jobs’ “magical” device.

This list has been shortened somewhat due to space constraints. To see my entire list, stop by http://blog.rarebirdinc.com).

Do you have a favorite that I’ve missed? Be sure to let me know and I’ll check it out and consider adding it.•


Cota is creative director of Rare Bird Inc., a full-service advertising agency specializing in the use of new technologies. His column appears monthly. He can be reached at jim@rarebirdinc.com.


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