Ten Essential... iPad Apps
Have tablet, will download
Product Round-up It’s early days for iPad apps, as developers are still learning how to make best use of the larger screen and greater processing power provided by the iPhone’s new big brother. The early emphasis is very much on practical tasks such as file transfer and viewing, as well as the inevitable tweeting and social networking apps. However, the iPad’s great strength is its large, attractive screen and this is pointing towards some exciting new apps for e-books, photography and video – not to mention games – all of which we’ll look at in the coming weeks.
I’ve got far more videos stored on my Mac than I can fit onto my 16GB iPad, but Air Video comes in handy for watching my favourite films and TV programmes. You first need to install the free Air Video server on your Mac or PC, and this allows you to stream video across a local network to the Air Video app on your iPad. It can also convert file formats such as DivX into iPad-compatible MPEG 4/H.264 for you. The free version limits the number of files that the app will display, but the full version is well worth £1.79 if you like to use the iPad for watching video.
Apple's iBooks  Store is a little underwhelming at the moment - it currently offers less than 300 novels and non-fiction titles, so anyone interested in using the iPad as an e-book reader should download Amazon's Kindle app straight away. This allows you to buy a wide range of books, magazines and newspapers in the Kindle format and either download them straight onto the iPad or keep your main library on your computer and just download individual titles onto the iPad as required. Many Kindle books also allow you to download the first chapter for free, so you can check them out before unleashing your credit card.
Apple’s iWork suite includes apps for wordprocessing, spreadsheet and presentations work, but the missing item in that suite is a database. Bento fills that gap by providing a visually attractive and easy-to-use database application for the iPad. It uses the iPad interface well, allowing you to focus on design and data entry in portrait mode, and then switching into a split-screen landscape mode for browsing records. It’s not very good at sharing info with other databases on desktop computers, but it’s handy for compiling lists of recipes and other info that can just live on the iPad.
Once you’ve signed up for a Dropbox account you can install Dropbox on any number of computers and mobile devices, and create a central space that allows you to store files and sync them to all your devices via the Internet. Marking a file as a ‘favourite’ will automatically download it onto the iPad so that it’s available even when you’re offline, and there’s also an option for putting files into a public folder that's available to others. You can store up to 2GB of files in your Dropbox for free, or sign up for an account that provides 50GB for $10 (£7) a month.
Filterstorm is a must-download app if you use your iPad for viewing photos. The app includes a number of basic photo-editing tools, such as the ability to scale, crop or rotate photos, along with more advanced controls for improving image quality. There are hue and saturation controls for adjusting colour balance, sharpening filters, and even luminance curves for people that understand that sort of thing. Adjustments can be made globally, or just applied to specific areas of a photo by using the brush tool. Firestorm is free at the moment, although developer Tai Shimizu plans to charge for it in the future.
There are plenty of PDF readers for the iPhone and iPad, but GoodReader is one of the most popular. The iPad version makes good use of the extra screen size by providing a preview panel so that you can quickly check a file before opening it, along with options for downloading files from the internet or FTP servers. The app can read other types of files too, including MS Office files, photos and videos, and can link in with other apps and services, such as Dropbox or Google Docs, so that you can quickly download and view all your important files.
The Safari web browser on the iPad already has a Google search option built into it - though who knows how long that will last with Google and Apple increasingly staring daggers at each other these days. However, the Google Mobile app provides an instant search facility, along with the ability to connect to other Google services such as Google Docs and Maps. Its piéce de resistance, though, is the Voice Search option that allows you to search by using voice commands. The speech recognition is a little dodgy, but it can handle "reghardware" okay – which is all that really matters.
There are loads of Twitter and instant messaging apps, but IM+ draws them all together, allowing you to connect to IM services such as Yahoo!, MSN and GoogleTalk, as well as chatting on social networking sites such as FaceBook and MySpace. It uses ‘push’ notifications to keep you updated on new messages, and there’s even a built-in web browser which allows you to switch between chats and web pages without having to quit the app and launch Safari. The Lite version is supported by ads, but these are small and unobtrusive so there’s no real need to upgrade to the full £5.99 version unless you need the additional Skype support that it offers.
Even if you’ve got the 3G version of the iPad there will be times when you don’t have internet access. However, Instapaper allows you to download web pages and store them on the iPad so that you can read them whenever you want. It also reformats the text on the web page to provide a more book-like reading experience. The only disadvantage is that it can only download one page at a time – it can’t automatically download articles such as a Reg Hardware review that continues across several pages, forcing you to download each page separately. Tip: download the printer-ready version.
This streamlined little web browser is actually designed for the iPhone rather than the iPad – but on this occasion that turns out to be an advantage. The mobile version of the BBC iPlayer  doesn’t work with the iPad as yet, and routes you to the Flash version of the site. The mobile version of iPlayer uses the iDevice-friendly H.264 video format. But when you use Sphere to access iPlayer, the BBC site it thinks you’re using an iPhone and lets you stream both audio and video with no problems. The iPhone-sized video has to be scaled up on the iPad’s larger screen, but is still perfectly watchable. The ‘Lite’ version is supported by ads, but these are hidden when you’re watching video so they don’t intrude too much.