Part I: History
When I was a kid Palm devices had just begun the enter the mainstream consciousness, and as a geek I was immediately enthralled with the idea of a small touchscreen computer that I could take everywhere with me. For my 13th birthday I asked my mom to get me a Palm m100, its plastic creaked loudly at the slightest touch and it took two AAA batteries—you had to be quick when changing them or the tiny backup battery would die and all of your data would be lost. Eventually I convinced my parents to upgrade me to the Sony Clié PEG-T615c, a name that rolls off the tongue in such a way that it will never be forgotten and would absolutely not require a 10 minute google search to remember. Sadly, the Palm OS became stagnant and Palm only made the problem worse by insisting on building more on top of the same crumbling foundation. I decided to jump ship and try a shiny new Pocket PC—the Toshiba e740 Pocket PC, somehow in this product Toshiba had managed to cram wifi into a package the size of a box of cereal with a battery that lasted nearly a full minute. Windows Mobile was by far the worst mobile OS I’ve ever used, every moment spent with my then top of the line device was like watching a kitten try to pull a cart full of bloated elephants. As soon as I could save up enough money I bought a Palm TX, the first thing I noticed when I turned it on was that by then Palm’s OS had evolved so much that it looked and worked exactly the same as the Palm OS I had abandoned a couple of years before. Despite its stone age operating system it was the first Palm device I ever genuinely liked, it had a decent battery life of about five hours. Palm basically settled on this model and kept selling the same thing, in a couple of years Apple released the iPhone and I’m sure you can guess how the story goes after that.
Part II: The List
What I had really been looking for all those years was a device that let me have a real computer with me at all times. None of them ever came close until the iPhone but even it didn’t seem quite right. The iPad was that device I had been waiting for. From the moment I got my iPad I was using my computer noticeably less, now my iPad is the only thing I carry with me and it goes nearly everywhere. After using it as a laptop almost-replacement for a year, these are the apps that I found most essential:
Reeder – This app is a contender for most used app on my iPad, it has a simple interface that’s easy to understand and easy on the eyes. It requires a Google Reader account to use, but if you’re reading a lot of internet content you should be using Google Reader anyway. When using Reeder I find myself skimming through the news and reading short articles right away, but when I come across a longer or more in-depth article I use the integrated send it to Instapaper button.
Instapaper – That’s why this is the perfect compliment to Reeder, it really seems made for lying on the couch and doing some longer reading. One feature I like about Instapaper is the custom scroll bar, it’s always visible but barely noticeable which makes it easy to see how far along you are at a glance.
PlainText – This app is the best way to take notes, period. I use my iPad to take detailed notes every day and I’ve tried dozens of note taking apps on the iPad, most of them try to do too much and as a result are cumbersome and buggy. PlainText syncs all of your notes with Dropbox so they’re instantly available on your iPhone, Mac, or the web and for this you need to sign up for a free Dropbox account. The best part of PlainText is that by integrating with Dropbox it’s able to take advantage of Dropbox’s versioning system. If you accidentally delete half of your document or just need to go back to an earlier version then a visit to the Dropbox website will let you roll back time as needed.
Dropbox – If you haven’t already been convinced to sign up for Dropbox then consider this: imagine a folder on your computer that exists everywhere you go, if you put something in that folder then within seconds it’s also on your other computers, your iPhone, your iPad, and on the web. That’s the basic idea behind Dropbox, it’s really what iDisk should have always been—fast, simple, and free.
TouchUp – My iPad doesn’t have a camera but I still use it all the time for photo editing just because TouchUp is so good. TouchUp has all of the standard adjustments you’d expect but it lets you draw or erase each adjustment with your finger instead of applying it uniformly across the image.
Carcassonne – Originally iPhone only, this medieval board game was updated to be iPad native a few weeks ago. TheCodingMonkeys have been making Mac software like SubEthaEdit for years and it really shows with Carcassonne. The graphics are detailed, the music sets the mood without getting on your nerves, the sound effects make it feel like a real board game, and it all starts out with an fantastic voiceover to teach you how to play the game. If anybody wants me to kick their butt they can invite me to a game via my email, firstname.lastname@example.org.
Screens – The big screen of the iPad makes it really easy to use it for controlling your computer remotely. More than ever, our computers are a mothership to all of our portable electronics, and when you just need to use your computer for two seconds to get a file or launch an app while on the go having a remote desktop solution is the difference between getting stuff done or feeling frustrated and getting that “I wish I would have brought my laptop” feeling.
Windowshop – I’ve worked in retail jobs for six years or so and as such I’ve come to despise malls and shopping in general. Amazon’s Windowshop app makes getting what you need easy and with an Amazon Prime membership (hint: students get them for free) you get it quick and don’t have to waste money on shipping.
Deliveries – Speaking of shipping, there’s little worse than knowing you have a package coming but not knowing where it is. Deliveries is a universal app that syncs with the iPhone version and a free dashboard widget, it’s another beautiful iOS app that’s almost so much fun to use that it’ll make you want to buy stuff online just to use it. Well, it would be if you aren’t as cheap as me.
Dead Space – Every new iPad owner should have at least one app that really shows off the horsepower of the device and if there ever was an app that fills that niche, this is the one. In addition to looking like a console game, it plays like one too—the gameplay is immersive and fun and the controls are completely intuitive. Infinity Blade deserves an honorable mention here for being just as beautiful, but Dead Space is easier to pick up and play and will appeal to a wider audience.
Unannounced – A game I’m working on that is played on the iPad. Ever since the first LittleBigPlanet my love for platforming games has been rekindled and I’ve been yearning for a similar multiplayer experience on my iPad that I could take with me wherever I go. Nobody else is making anything close, so I’m taking a stab at it myself. More to come in the future.